PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The young Pittsburgh Penguins have been through everything the playoffs can offer over the past three years, but the relatively benign scenario they face in Game 5 against the Ottawa Senators is perhaps the one they’ve been least adept at handling.
In advancing to the Stanley Cup final each of the past two years, defending champion Pittsburgh twice came back to win series after losing the first two games. It also won Game 7 twice on the road and was 4-1 when facing elimination.
But the Penguins have lost four of six times since 2008 in their first opportunity to end a series in a game they do not face elimination themselves?and that’s what they face Thursday.
Pittsburgh leads the series 3-1 after winning three straight, including two in Ottawa.
“Any time you have a chance to beat a team you want to do it,” Penguins centre Max Talbot aid. “Yes, we failed to do that last year. This year is obviously a new year. You learn from it. That is the good thing about the experience we have gained in the last couple years where we have been playing a lot of playoff games.
“If it was our first year then we might feel overconfident here wanting to end their season,” he added, “but we know they are going to come to play. We have learned from it. We can definitely say that we will be at our best and be ready to win this.”
Facing a similar situation in the first round against Philadelphia last season, the Penguins played one of their worst games of their post-season in a 3-0 loss at home in Game 5.
In this season’s first round, the Penguins have seemingly gotten better as the series has progressed. They took a 4-0 lead about 6 minutes into the second period of Game 4 on Tuesday and went on to a 7-4 victory, having outscored Ottawa 13-7 since losing 5-4 in Game 1.
“Playoff series are all about getting four wins and trying to get there as quickly as you possibly can,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “They are playing very hard. They are coming at us physically, and it has been demanding that way.
“We are going to expect more of that. We still think that we can play better. There are areas of our game that we are talking about where we can get better, and we want to make sure that we are doing that.”
The Senators have seen things deteriorate markedly since winning Game 1 and taking an early lead in Game 2?that game tied with five minutes left until Sidney Crosby set up Kris Letang for the winner.
Crosby by far leads the Stanley Cup playoffs with 11 points.
“We’ve got to put a little more pressure on him,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said.
Crosby hasn’t been the only source of Pittsburgh offence, though. The Penguins lead the playoffs with 4.25 goals per game.
Slowing down that attack is the only way Ottawa can come back to win a series from a 3-1 deficit for the first time in franchise history.
“Being down 3-1, it’s a tough position to be in to come back,” Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said. “It doesn’t happen a lot.”
Conventional hockey wisdom dictates the Senators would be best served by a goalie “stealing” a game for them if they are to win three consecutive. But there’s question even as to whom will start Game 5 after Brian Elliott was pulled in favour of Pascal Leclaire in Game 4.
Clouston refused to tip his hand Wednesday, not even discounting the possibility it could be third-stringer Mike Brodeur.
“We played some good games in Pittsburgh, two really good games, I thought,” Alfredsson said. “We played OK in Game 3, not great, and in Game 4 we weren’t good at all.”
“Obviously,” centre Jason Spezza said. “we’ve put ourselves in a big hole.”
NOTES: Bylsma updated the status on two injured Penguins: RW Tyler Kennedy, who left early in Game 3 after a hit by Andy Sutton, has a lower body injury and is “day-to-day.” D Jordan Leopold, the recipient of a hit to the head from Sutton during the first period of Game 2, is “progressing and doing well” but still referred to as day-to-day. LW Ruslan Fedotenko would take Kennedy’s spot in the lineup.