by: Rob Rossi, TribLIVE Updated:
PITTSBURGH - Four years ago, still bathing in the light of their recent Stanley Cup win, the Penguins opened Consol Energy Center pledging to “defy ordinary” and promoting that “destiny has a new home.”
On Tuesday night, hovered over by a cloud of recent playoff failures, the Penguins could define ordinary at home.
A loss to the New York Rangers would mean elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs. It also would mean a fifth defeat in nine playoff series since the Cup win in 2009.
It would mean ordinary.
“We don't exactly look at the whole picture like that,” captain Sidney Crosby said Monday. “We look at this as an opportunity.”
The Penguins of Crosby and fellow franchise center Evgeni Malkin were not built to be ordinary, rather dynastic. Lose to the Rangers, though, and they will have won as many titles as the Carolina Hurricanes have with Eric Staal as the franchise centerpiece.
All of that is exactly what coach Dan Bylsma tried to have his players tune out Monday afternoon during an unusually late (4 p.m.) optional practice. Afterward, the Penguins holed up in an area hotel — instead of coaches' and players' homes — to create a road-like atmosphere.
The Penguins are 10-11 all-time in playoff games at Consol Energy Center.
Bylsma has used only two lineups during Round 2, but he is open to adjustments.
One, Bylsma said, would be returning Malkin to the second line where he would center wingers Jussi Jokinen and James Neal, the latter of whom has two goals in eight games since Malkin and Crosby were paired together on the top line.
Another possibility, Penguins veterans believed after a 3-1 loss in Game 6 on Sunday night, was the return of winger Tanner Glass, a healthy scratch since Game 2.
Glass, a reputable agitator and fighter, could impact Game 7 if he deters the Rangers from feeling it is their unassailable right to rough up Crosby, who has taken a physical beating against New York.
Any return to form resembling the power play that tied for first in the regular season would be welcome. The Penguins are 1 for 19 in the series.
A Penguin unlikely to return — meaning, his days in Pittsburgh could be done — is defenseman Brooks Orpik, the longest-tenured player with the organization. A knee injury has forced him out since the first period of Game 4, and the Penguins do not anticipate he is healthy enough to try playing Tuesday night.
Orpik is the only of nine holdovers from the 2009 Cup club who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. However, he is one of many people associated with the Penguins whose future roles — if not employment — likely are on the line.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen also is set for unrestricted free agency, and the Penguins will not have excessive salary-cap space next season because of raises due Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. Malkin, like Crosby, has a full no-trade clause; Letang's partial one kicks in July 1.
Fleury and defenseman Paul Martin are eligible for extensions because they are set to enter their final contract seasons. Each is one of only four big-ticket players on whom the Penguins could use two amnesty buyouts to free cap space. The others are Neal and Crosby.
Players signed to extensions or new contracts under the current labor contract can be bought out but not for full cap relief.
Bylsma and assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden were extended by two seasons last summer, with the head coach's salary going to the $2 million range. General manager Ray Shero pushed ownership for those extensions, and their terms coincide with the final years of his contract.
By its nature — win or, in the Penguins' case, stay home — a Game 7 is not an ordinary situation. What this group is trying to defy are trends that have developed over the past five postseasons:
• Failing to win a series when losing two consecutive games.
• Going 1-5 at home with a chance to eliminate an opponent.
• Each lost series coming against a lower-seeded team.
• Twice losing after becoming the first team to win three series games.
“I believe (in my) team,” Malkin said Monday. “We (will) be ready to play.”
(Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.)
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