PITTSBURGH – Veteran rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd took over Mellon Arena for a concert Saturday.
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins hope it’ll once again be Sweet Home Mellon Arena.
“We feel comfortable in this building,” Penguins head coach Michel Therrien said Saturday after practice. “We like to play in front of our fans. They’ve been great and we’ve got their support.
“That’s why we’re glad Game 5 will be at home (CBC, 3 p.m. ET). We’re a tough team to play at home.”
The Penguins are a perfect 7-0 at Mellon Arena in the playoffs and haven’t lost in regulation at home in more than three months, dating back to Feb. 13.
“I think we have great fans, and I think that has something to do it,” said Penguins defenceman Ryan Whitney. “This place is hard to play in for the other team. The fans are right on top of you, it’s loud. We get a lot of emotions from our fans. We score a goal and it’s so loud, we seem to get rolling when we get one or two quick.
“I don’t think other teams like coming here at all.”
A win Sunday over the Philadelphia Flyers would wrap up the Eastern Conference final in five games and clinch Pittsburgh’s first Stanley Cup final berth in 16 years. They can smell it.
“I think we’ll have a good start, we seem to come out real hard here in first period with our fans behind us,” said Whitney. “We’re looking to go to the Stanley Cup final, to win it in front of our own fans would be pretty special. We’ll be better tomorrow, we know that.”
Linemates Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora raised eyebrows Saturday when they skipped practice.
“They should be ready for tomorrow,” said Therrien. “They should be there. It’s sickness. We believe at this time of year, rest sometimes can be more important than practice.”
Captain Sidney Crosby said not to read too much into it.
“Just battling a cold, I guess,” said Crosby. “So they want to make sure they rest their bodies. So I’ll see them tomorrow.”
The Flyers hope to get at least one if not both of their top defencemen back from injury. Of the two, Kimmo Timonen (blood clot) seems more likely than Braydon Coburn (eye).
“Kimmo looks like he’s going to be ready to go,” Flyers head coach John Stevens said Saturday. “Cobe, I’m still not sure.”
Timonen, a hugely important part of Philadelphia’s transition game and special teams, says he’ll be back.
“I think I’m ready to go,” said Timonen. “Now it’s up to coaches. But personally I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
His teammates were pumped when they got the news.
“Huge for us,” said Flyers captain Mike Richards. “He’s our best defenceman. He’s the quarterback on our power play. He kills penalties. He’s really one of the best leaders in our dressing room, and maybe even in the league.
“He does so many great things out there. The confidence that we have in him back there, it just echoes throughout the dressing room.”
Timonen, who hasn’t played in the series, downplayed his likely return.
“I’m just one piece of the puzzle,” said the popular Finn. “Hopefully I can do my job out there and help the team somehow, and hopefully we’ll be able to win the game. That’s what matters to me.”
Coburn, who took a shot in the face early in Game 1, isn’t sure he’ll play.
“Right now, I’m just kind of dealing with some things with the eye and stuff like that,” he said. “So every day it’s been getting better. Tomorrow we’re re-evaluating it again.”
The Penguins, meanwhile, will know Sunday whether they get veteran winger Gary Roberts back in the lineup. He’s missed the last two games with a mild case of pneumonia.
“He felt pretty good and we’ll make a decision tomorrow,” said Therrien. “We’ll see tomorrow.”
Daniel Briere, meanwhile, has been here before. A year ago his Buffalo Sabres also avoided a sweep in the Eastern Conference final with a Game 4 win before dropping Game 5 to the Ottawa Senators.
“You know what? I think the mood is completely different,” said the Flyers star. “Last year we won Game 4, but it just felt like we just kind of squeaked by and we kind of got lucky. We had lost (Dainius) Zubrus and we I remember a couple more guys got injured really bad. They didn’t even know if they were going to play. Last year the mood was going the other way, where as this year we’ve played extremely well for two and a half periods. …
“We’re getting Timonen back, maybe more. So I just have the feeling that the mood is different than it was when I was in the same situation last year. It’s a lot more upbeat.”
It’s been 33 years since an NHL team came all the way back from a 3-0 series deficit. But the Penguins are home and want to end it.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to finish the series off,” said Crosby. “You know we’re looking forward to it.”