PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins are quickly getting used to this: Playoff hockey where the only energy they expend is clicking the TV remote control.
The Penguins practised Saturday for an opponent they do not know and a second-round series with an uncertain start – one reason they were on the ice for only 50 minutes even though they had two full days off after sweeping Ottawa.
Welcome to the Penguins’ unexpected spring vacation, one they hope doesn’t get them off their game just when they appeared to be peaking. On a day they expected to be playing Game 5 against Ottawa, they had a light skate before many players went home to watch some or all the day’s three NHL playoff games.
“I’ve been watching a lot,” forward Jordan Staal said. “It’s always fun to watch playoff hockey and, even though you’re a part of it, you love watching it, too. I think all of us have been watching a lot of games to see what’s going on.”
Sidney Crosby said not knowing who the Penguins would play next – either the Bruins, Rangers or Capitals, in a series that will start sometime late in the week – made watching the other games more interesting.
“It’s nice that we’re through our first one and we can have a little sit-back and watch,” he said. “I think everyone who’s involved in the playoffs has fun being part of it and follows it.”
Of course, watching the playoffs isn’t the same as playing in them, and the Penguins figure to be off for a week or more until they play again.
The Penguins won’t know their next opponent until at least Monday, when the Flyers return to Philadelphia with a 3-2 series edge against Washington following the Capitals’ 3-2 victory in Game 5 on Saturday.
The longest such break in Penguins franchise history came in 1989, when they swept the Rangers in the first round and had eight days off before playing Philadelphia in the second round. Those Mario Lemieux-led Penguins won Game 1 against the Flyers, though they later lost a 3-2 series lead and were beaten at home in Game 7.
That’s ancient history to these Penguins – Staal was seven months old at the time – and the 19-year-old Staal and the 23-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury would rather be playing.
They’re among the youngest players on the team, so they’re not as eager for down time as the older players who take longer to heal from the bruises, sprains and wear and tear of the playoffs.
“I’ve never really had this before,” Staal said. “Obviously, it’s Saturday and we’re practising, you’d like to say it’s game time. It’s going to be difficult and hopefully the guys will be ready.
Fleury said, “It’s kind of bad to have to wait for that long, but I’m sure we’ll be ready for the next series.”
Crosby, who missed 28 games due to a high ankle sprain during the second half of the season? Give him the time off. Gary Roberts, who turns 42 next month, feels the same way after missing the final two games of the Ottawa series with a sore groin.
“It was good for us, get it done it in four (games) and get some time to rest and recover. Obviously in the playoffs it wears on you a lot, so any rest you can get is important,” Crosby said.
There has been no discernible pattern over the years, with some NHL teams who sat through long breaks losing the momentum and confidence they had while sweeping their previous series. Others have looked as if they’d only had a day off.
The last three teams to sweep – the 2007 Rangers, the 2006 Devils and 2006 Mighty Ducks – all lost in the subsequent round. But Tampa Bay swept Montreal in 2004 and went to win the Stanley Cup, and Anaheim swept Detroit and Minnesota in 2003 before losing the Stanley Cup finals in seven games to New Jersey.
“We’re ready to play tomorrow, if we could,” forward Ryan Malone said. “I think it will be even better if we wait longer because the more excited you’ll be to get back out there.”