If this were televised poker, where the players put everything at risk, it would be time to move all in. But, when a best-of-seven hockey series is even after four games, it is time to go all out.
"I expect us to come out with our best effort, to play with as much urgency as we played with all playoffs," said defensman Mark Eaton in advance of the puck dropping tonight for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Mellon Arena.
Of course, the Canadiens are likely expressing the same sentiment coming off a 3-2 victory in Montreal. After seeing the Penguins dominate play for the first 40 minutes, it was their desperate effort in the third period that knotted the series.
Game: Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens, 7:15 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
Series: Tied, 2-2.
TV, radio: Versus, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Jaroslav Halak for Canadiens.
Penguins: Are 2-3 at home. ... Are 6-for-15 on power play vs. Montreal. ... Dan Bylsma has 22 playoff wins, one shy of tying Scott Bowman for most among coaches in Penguins history.
Canadiens: Are 4-2 on road. ... Lead playoffs with 251 blocked shots. ... Mike Cammalleri has gone two games without point for the first time this postseason.
Of note: With win in Game 4, Montreal's Jacques Martin moved into tie for 25th among coaches with most NHL playoff wins (44).
The NHL playoffs have a way of ratcheting up intensity as a series progresses, and a good indication that the wrenches are turning tighter can be found in the comments coming from the interview room. One particular word being repeated is desperation -- as in the frantic, frenzied and drastic pace required for either team to gain the upper hand.
"We feel like we're playing the right way. If anything, we have to maybe be a little more desperate when we have the puck," said winger Matt Cooke.
Added Jordan Staal, who returned to action Thursday night after surgery to repair a torn tendon forced him to miss two games: "We know what works best. We hope we can come out with an even more desperate effort."
Desperadoes figure to be all over the ice.
The eighth-seeded Canadiens, who waged a last-ditch effort to send the Capitals on their way to summer vacation in the first round, have found comfort in a devil-may-care style of play.
"We have nothing to lose," said goalie Jaroslav Halak, who has been rejecting pucks as if he were allergic to vulcanized rubber.
From his perch behind the Penguins' bench, coach Dan Bylsma sees his team in a supreme struggle against a team that is playing well defensively, has a hot goalie and has enough skill to win hockey games.
And he is not the least bit surprised.
"They have been everything we expected," Bylsma said. "You have to give them a lot of credit. For anybody who thought it wouldn't be a battle, for anybody who thought it would be easy -- and it certainly wasn't in our room -- we find ourselves in a best-of-three series with a team that's playing stingy hockey."
His message to the defending Stanley Cup champions is that they will have to reach down for something extra if they are to survive to play in the next round.
"Being content with the way this [series] is going is not good enough," Bylsma said.
"We've done some good things, but there are areas we think we can do better."
One obvious improvement would be finding chinks in Halak's armor.
But instead of breaking out with odd-man rushes and pretty passing plays, the goals are more likely to come from rebounds from in close that are otherwise known as garbage goals.
"We need to be focused on getting second-chance opportunities," Bylsma said. "It feels like one of the only ways we're going to get those opportunities is being in and around the net picking up second chances ... not just trying to shoot and go for home runs.
"We need to get inside to create havoc. We have to get there with more bodies and more pucks. We just have to keep fighting to get those chances."
To date, 10 of the Penguins' 11 goals in the series have been scored by players not named Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby. The last thing the Penguins want is to become frustrated by Halak's play.
"When you do that, you're giving in. And you can't do that, especially in the playoffs," Eaton said.
Which underscores his point about coming up with a supreme effort.
"You don't want to go down, 3-2, having to go back to their building," Eaton said.
Now that would be the definition of desperate.
Robert Dvorchak: email@example.com .