When Joe Vitale was 8, his hometown St. Louis Blues gave him quite an introduction to the emotion and merits of a Game 7.
“I was up until about 1 in the morning in St. Louis as a kid,” the Penguins forward said Tuesday before playing in a second-round Game 7 against the New York Rangers at Consol Energy Center.
That 1996 Western Conference semifinal Vitale recalled ended in the second overtime, with Detroit advancing after a 1-0 win.
“[Steve] Yzerman scored on Jon Casey, who had, like, a 102-degree fever that day. A bad bug, and ended up playing,” Vitale said. “Stevie Y came across the blue [line] and [put the puck] across his shoulder.
“I just remember going into my parents’ room at 2 a.m. and crying and my parents saying, ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong?’ I was like, ‘The Blues lost, the Blues lost.’ My parents were like, ‘Joe, it’s OK. Go to bed.’ I was like, ‘No, it’s not. We’ve got Wayne Gretzky, we’ve got all these great players, and we lost.’ I was pretty upset.”
Penguins winger Craig Adams learned about Game 7s as a youngster in western Canada.
“I grew up in Calgary in the ’80s,” Adams said. “It was Flames-Oilers every year. A lot of those went to Game 7. Some of them turned out great for me, and some of them not so great and a lot of tears.
“It’s fun to get a chance to be a part of these things because you grow up watching them and you put yourself in those situations and imagine yourself helping your team win.”
There isn’t a Game 7 from his childhood that left a lasting impression on Penguins defenseman Paul Martin.
“I’d need time to do homework on that one,” he said. “As a kid, you just realize how much fun they are.
“As you get older, it’s our job. It’s still fun, but you want to win. You know what rests on the game, whether you win or lose. You still want to make it fun, but there’s a lot more riding on it.”
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma watched Game 7s growing up and before he turned pro, but he looks at make-or-break games differently now.
“I didn’t really get the meaning of playoff hockey and Game 7s by watching,” he said. “I really didn’t get it in college. I really only got it playing in playoff hockey at the American [Hockey] League level and NHL level and coaching. It’s a different animal. Until you get there, you might not realize it.”
Retaliation is difficult
Penguins center Sidney Crosby took a good bit of physical abuse in the first six games of the Rangers series, some of it from defenseman Marc Staal, including at least one crosscheck to the back of Crosby’s neck.
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said with no penalties called on those plays, protecting Crosby has been difficult.
“What are you going to do?” Niskanen said before Game 7. “It’s the playoffs. Are you going to sucker-punch Staal because he hit him in the head? You can’t put your team down in the playoffs.
“What I’ve been trying to do, I’ve been trying to go after their smaller skilled guys within the rules. I haven’t taken a penalty, but make it hard on them. They should be bruised after the game. If Sid’s going to take it, we’ve got to make the front of our net a tough place to be … a tougher place than it has been. Make those guys pay a price.”
The most notable punishment for something where Crosby was victimized was a $5,000 fine levied against New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who squirted his water bottle in Crosby’s face during a scrum at the end of the second period of Game 6.
“Sometimes, playoffs bring out the childish things in us, I think,” Niskanen said. “It’s an emotional thing. You do things you probably wouldn’t normally do. That’s an expensive sip of water.”
The Penguins made a change, scratching winger Beau Bennett for the first time this postseason and dressing winger Tanner Glass, who had been scratched the previous five games. … Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik remained out. He got hurt in the first period of Game 4 against the Rangers and Tuesday wore a bulky brace on his right knee. … Defenseman Derrick Pouliot, a Penguins prospect, is a candidate to join American Hockey League affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after he and Portland lost to Edmonton in the Western Hockey League final. Wilkes/Barre is tied, 1-1, with Providence in the second round of the AHL playoffs… Penguins prospect Tristan Jarry is the No. 1 goaltender for the Oil Kings, who advanced to the Memorial Cup tournament.
Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly. Dave Molinari: email@example.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.