After playing in the Stanley Cup Finals the past two seasons, the Penguins know better than any other team in the NHL that finishing a series as quickly as possible can be beneficial for a long playoff run. And that is precisely why they would like to end their first-round series against the Ottawa Senators tonight in Game 5 at Mellon Arena.
In their run to the Stanley Cup last season, the Penguins had at least three days of rest between each of their playoff series. Knocking out the Senators tonight and avoiding a return trip to Ottawa for Game 6 Saturday night could be especially important for a team that has played 294 games (regular season and playoffs included) since the beginning of the 2007-08 season.
"Rest is huge in the playoffs," winger Pascal Dupuis said Wednesday after the team's optional skate at Mellon Arena. "We said it in the locker room as a joke, but rest is a weapon. We want as much rest as we can get. Obviously, we want to finish the series [tonight]."
The Penguins had two opportunities to end series on home ice last season and failed each time. They were up, 3-1, against Philadelphia in a first-round series, lost Game 5 at Mellon Arena and had to overcome a three-goal deficit in Game 6 in Philadelphia to close out the series in six games. They also could have ended the second-round series against the Capitals at Mellon Arena, but lost Game 6 at home and needed to win Game 7 at the Verizon Center in Washington.
"Every time you have a chance to beat a team, you want to do that," winger Max Talbot said. "We failed to do that last year. This year is a new year. You learn from it. That's a good thing about the experience from the last couple of years when we have been playing a lot of playoff games. We know they're going to come to play. We've learned from it, and we can definitely say we'll be at our best and be ready to win this."
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma refers to each playoff series as "a race to four games." He said it will not be easy to end the Senators' season because they have exhibited a will to compete in every game.
"You're trying to get there as quickly as you possibly can," Bylsma said. "We went to Ottawa and won two games and are up 3-1, but we have a clear understanding of a couple of things. They are playing hard and are coming at us physically, and it's been demanding that way.
"We still think we can play better. We want to make sure we are taking care of our game because we expect a team that is going to play hard right to the end. We want to make sure we are ready for that, do everything we can to play our best and race to the fourth win."
Penguins winger Tyler Kennedy, who got a lower-body injury in Game 4 after being hit along the boards, is day to day, according to Bylsma.
Bylsma revealed little about the injury or its severity but said Kennedy kept his equipment on throughout the game hoping he could re-enter, which might suggest the injury is not serious.
If Kennedy cannot play in Game 5, Ruslan Fedotenko will take his place in the lineup. Fedotenko has been a healthy scratch the past three games after playing in Game 1.
"Ruslan Fedotenko knows quite a bit about playoff hockey and what it takes," Bylsma said. "Watching the game from the stands and watching the price you have to pay and the way you have to do things is real evident when you watch from the stands."
"[He] has been working his butt off off the ice because he knows, at some point in time, he will get a chance to play for our team and knows what playoff hockey is all about. He will be ready to go in there, pay that price and play the way he has for us in the past when he gets his chance. I am confident of that."
Defenseman Jordan Leopold, who was injured in Game 2 after being hit by Senators defenseman Andy Sutton, is day to day. Bylsma spoke Wednesday morning with Leopold and was encouraged about his progress after the conversation.
"He's progressing and doing well," Bylsma said. "He was bright and bubbly and eager to get back on the ice and help us out. We'll see how he keeps going. It was good to talk to him. I know he's eager to get his gear back on and get on the ice with us. He's day-to-day and resting very nicely."
Penguins defenseman Jay McKee made his NHL debut in the 1995-96 season and has played 802 regular-season games in the league.
He has seen and done an awful lot during that time, but McKee said he never has witnessed anything quite like the leadership Sidney Crosby demonstrates as the Penguins' captain.
"He leads by example," said McKee, who played previously for Buffalo and St. Louis. "Not just on the ice in games, but every day. There are very few guys who lead the way he does.
"Coming here, not knowing a thing about him ... sometimes, older players look at a guy who's that young and is a captain as kind of a slap in the face of older captains, but he is everything and more of a captain than any guy I've ever played with."
Of course, at 32, McKee is a relative pup compared to teammate Bill Guerin, 39, who generally plays on Crosby's right side. While Guerin has been around a while longer than McKee, his perspective on Crosby is nearly identical.
"I haven't really played with a guy who was born for it like him," Guerin said.
"That's pretty neat for an old guy to be a part of. I'm going to keep myself in good shape and work my [tail] off and make sure I stick around as long as I can to see this."
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1230. Sports writer Dave Molinari contributed to this report.