Adam Hall, right, celebrates his empty-net goal with teammate Hal Gill against the Rangers Sunday at Mellon Arena.
By Shelly Anderson Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A year ago, the Penguins dipped their toes in the dangerous waters of the playoffs and drowned in a five-game, first-round schooling by Ottawa.
This year, things certainly are different.
The Penguins are 6-0, including a four-game sweep of Ottawa in the first round and a 2-0 lead on the New York Rangers heading into Game 3 tonight at Madison Square Garden.
It's their best start to a postseason, bettering the 5-0 marks they had with a sweep of the Rangers and a Game 1 win against Philadelphia in 1989 and a two-game preliminary-round sweep of St. Louis and a 3-0 start against the New York Islanders in 1975 -- a series the Islanders came back to win.
Now that they're awash with wins, the Penguins face a new challenge -- making sure they learn from success the same way they learned from losing.
"You have to stay sharp," Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu said yesterday. "You have to remind yourself about it. You're not going to win every game. That's guaranteed. That's one of those things -- how you handle it.
Game: Penguins vs. Rangers, 7 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, New York.
Series: Penguins lead the Eastern Conference semifinal, 2-0.
TV: FSN Pittsburgh.
"After winning two games, you want to go to your next game [as if it is] 0-0 again. What happened in the past doesn't matter, win or lose. The first round was four-zip, but then you're 0-0 again."
And two games later, they're 2-0.
Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist put a twist on the situation. The way he sees it, because the Penguins are the favorite as the second seed in the Eastern Conference and won both games so far at home, the pressure is on them to retain the momentum, win on the road and not let their advantage slip away.
To put it lightly, the Penguins weren't buying that theory.
"I don't think the pressure is on us," rookie Tyler Kennedy said. "The pressure's on both teams."
"We have no pressure at all," chimed in Ruutu. "We're just looking at one game and trying to win the next game. We know they're coming hard, like Ottawa did. We can't worry about what they say or think."
Or, as Penguins coach Michel Therrien put it in a more exasperated, head-bobbing manner, "I'm not buying into those things -- they've got the pressure, we've got the pressure. Come on. This is the playoffs.
"Our team will be ready, and I know the Rangers will be ready. But please, all the pressure? We've got pressure to play that game. They've got pressure to play that game."
Still, there is a thought that teams need to deal with winning just as they deal with losing.
When things are going well, as they are with the Penguins, there can be a false sense of security, but apparently that's not the case here.
"No," team captain Sidney Crosby said. "We know it doesn't get any easier, and they're a tough team at home.
"We think of it that we're up, 2-0, with a great chance to go into New York and, hopefully, keep building on what we've done in the series so far. But 6-0 means nothing."
The Penguins were 0-3-1 at Madison Square Garden in the regular season but can strengthen their home-ice advantage if they win one of the next two games there. Games 5 and 7, if necessary, would be at Mellon Arena.
They were in the same situation in Round 1, winning the first two at home and heading to Ottawa. In Game 3, the Penguins had little trouble in a 4-1 win.
While a 16-0 march to a Stanley Cup championship isn't realistic, the Penguins insist they aren't setting themselves up for a big fall when they finally lose a game.
"We just want to win," center Jordan Staal said. "I don't think we're worrying about our next loss. We're just thinking about our next win, keep it positive.
"We're obviously going to have to lose one sooner or later throughout these playoffs. That's when the veterans come out and keep us even keel."
The Penguins have won despite some flaws in games that could have cost them.
In Game 2 against Ottawa, the Penguins built a three-goal lead, only to watch the Senators come back and tie it before the Penguins scored twice late for a 5-3 win.
In Game 1 this series, the Penguins spotted the Rangers a 3-0 lead before coming back for a 5-4 win.
And in Game 2 Sunday, the Penguins gave the Rangers six power plays, including two in the second half of the third period of what was then a one-goal game, but killed them all and hung on for a 2-0 win.
"I think we're disciplined, and we know that we're not going to get away with that, and if it does happen, we do a good job to find a way out of it," Crosby said, "but you don't want to create bad habits or put yourself behind the eight ball.
"But the last six games mean absolutely nothing. We're going in and starting fresh."
Not that there's anything wrong with being undefeated.
"It's pretty awesome," Staal said, "but we know it's just a start."