PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma recognizes how a team performs in the upcoming round will be the only measure of whether having a week off between playoff series was an advantage.
“The best way to talk about a break is after a break is done,” Bylsma said. “I’ve been part of breaks that were long and good for the team, and I’ve been part of breaks that were long and didn’t turn out the right result for the players.”
Four days into what ultimately will be a week or so between playoff games, the Penguins practised for the second consecutive day Wednesday, not knowing who they would face in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Their opponent was decided later in the day when the Montreal Canadiens defeated Washington 2-1 in Game 7 to earn a spot in the semis.
Many Pittsburgh players said they were planning to watch the Washington-Montreal Game 7 that will determine whom the Penguins will host to begin the second round this weekend.
“It’s starting to feel a little bit long now,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said of a layoff that began Sunday. “It’ll be fun to get back into it.”
The defending champion Penguins were completely off Sunday and Monday, but have been back on the Mellon Arena ice the past two days, emphasizing 5-on-5 scrimmages and other drills that most closely simulate game play.
Perhaps Bylsma said it best when he channelled his inner-Yogi Berra.
“Rest is no good if you don’t work,” he said.
Since the Penguins last played, the field of potential second-round opponents has shrunk to two, eighth-seeded Montreal or No. 6 Boston. If the Canadiens beat Washington on Wednesday night, they would be the team.
Despite the long layoff mostly spent in limbo?the consensus was Game 1 would be Friday, though nothing was official?if the players were getting antsy waiting, they didn’t let on.
“I don’t think we’re in a rush,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We’re getting ready and making the most of our practice time and preparing accordingly. When it’s time, it’s time. We’ll be ready. Until then, you try to make the most of the time we have.”
Pittsburgh’s workouts have focused more on ways to improve and refine internally rather than game-planning. Some players insisted that opponent-specific practice wouldn’t occur until the day before a game anyway.
Bylsma added that the specialized nature of the power-play or penalty-killing dictates the Penguins have largely stayed away from strategies on special teams.
“I don’t think anyone’s anxious,” veteran defenceman Jay McKee said. “We believe in what we have in this room. We can’t control what happens outside what we do, so we’ll just sit back and wait for the other teams. Preparation and focus are the main two words now.
“We’re ready to get going. You like to have a break to heal some bumps and bruises, but you also like to get back at it pretty quick and stay fresh.”
Notes: Wingers Chris Kunitz (undisclosed) and Tyler Kennedy (lower body) did not practice again Wednesday. Kennedy has not played since Game 4 of the Ottawa series. Bylsma termed Kunitz “day to day.” … D Jordan Leopold practised for the first time since a hard check to the head knocked him out of Game 2?although he did wear a “no-contact” jersey. His status will be monitored heading into the series. … The team called up seven more players Wednesday from its AHL affiliate, which has completed its season, bringing the total on the so-called “taxi-squad” to 11.