Quite a few factors have put the Penguins in position to clinch a spot in the Eastern Conference final tonight.
One that might get overlooked is their willingness to put themselves in the line of fire.
The Penguins enter Game 6 of their second-round playoff series against Washington at 7:08 p.m. at Mellon Arena having blocked 161 shots, the most of any team in these playoffs going into last night's games.
• Matchup: Washington Capitals at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
• TV, radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
• Series: Penguins, 3-2.
• Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Simeon Varlamov for Capitals.
• Penguins: Are 4-1 at home in these playoffs, 2-0 against the Capitals. ... LW Chris Kunitz does not have goal in his past 19 playoff games. ... Have beaten Capitals in four of five previous Game 6 meetings.
• Capitals: Are 3-0 when facing elimination this spring. ... C Nicklas Backstrom has goal in three consecutive games and points in team-record eight in a row. ... Have gone 0-4 when trailing after two periods.
• Hidden stat: There has been only one scoreless period in this series.
That would help to explain why defenseman Rob Scuderi, who has accounted for 23 of that total, was walking around the Penguins' locker room after their 4-3 overtime victory in Game 5 Saturday night at the Verizon Center with the equivalent of half an ice floe strapped to various parts of his body.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is the primary beneficiary of his teammates' penchant for blocking shots, although that can cause problems for him, too, because they occasionally obscure Fleury's line of sight or cause shots to be deflected.
All things considered, however, Fleury likes that they're willing to sacrifice themselves to help him prevent goals.
"Guys are pretty brave to be diving at pucks for me," he said. "They block more shots than they screen me on, so it's good."
Rookie defenseman Alex Goligoski had a solid, if unspectacular, performance when he made his NHL playoff debut in Game 5.
Goligoski, summoned from the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre after Sergei Gonchar was injured by a knee-to-knee hit from Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin in Game 4 Friday, logged 9 minutes and 32 second of ice time, little more than a third of it (3:14) on the power play.
He was not on the ice for a goal by either team and did not register a shot, but didn't look out of place stepping into a high-stakes series between two teams with exceptional offensive talent.
"I had some [nerves] going on, definitely," Goligoski said. "But things settled down a little bit as the game went on and I got more comfortable.
"I just tried to keep it simple. I definitely didn't want to be the guy to give up the big goal, or something like that."
Coach Dan Bylsma suggested yesterday that, based on the performances of Goligoski and Philippe Boucher in Game 5, he will not hesitate to dress seven defensemen again.
Ovechkin has seven goals in this series -- that's a pace for 115 over an 82-game regular season -- but six have come in three games at the Verizon Center, and only one in the two games so far at Mellon Arena.
What's more, Ovechkin has recorded 26 shots on goal, an average of just under nine, in the Capitals' three home games, but just seven, an average of 3.5, in the games here.
Those numbers aside, however, Scuderi -- who, with defense partner Hal Gill, has played against Ovechkin for most of the series -- said he does not believe that Ovechkin alters his game, or is any less of a threat, when he's on the road.
"He always seemed like the type of guy who gets real excited to play," Scuderi said. "He's been like that everywhere I've seen him play, even on TV. Whenever he's in a visiting rink, I still think he's playing the same game.
"He might feel more comfortable at home ---- I think we all do -- but I don't think he's playing any different [there]."
Left winger Matt Cooke'sgoal at 6:27 of the third period Saturday, when he staked the Penguins to a 3-2 lead by backhanding a rebound past Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov, was his first in a playoff game since April 19, 2004.
That obviously was a while ago, but not so long that Cooke couldn't remember the details. Pretty much all of them.
And for good reason.
Cooke, then with Vancouver, scored while the Canucks were short-handed with just 5.7 seconds left in regulation to lift them into a 2-2 tie with Calgary in Game 7 of an opening-round series.
Pretty memorable stuff, to be sure, although the game didn't have a happy ending for Cooke.
The Canucks still were trying to kill a penalty to defenseman Ed Jovanovski when Martin Gelinas of the Flames got the series-winner in the second minute of overtime.
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .