Stanley Cup playoffs: Penguins' Guerin holds up his end of bargain
Penguins forward Bill Guerin: "At this time of my career and my life, I appreciate everything a little bit more."
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Bill Guerin considered the issue at hand, then flashed that great hockey player smile of his.
You know, the one where nearly every tooth is present and accounted for.
And then, smiling again, he volunteered that, "We're not kidding anybody, I'm on the back nine."
Actually, with his 39th birthday fading from sight in the rear-view mirror, he' likely is well down the fairway on the 18th hole of his NHL career. Maybe preparing to chip onto the green. Maybe lining up his second putt.
Precisely how many chapters have yet to be written in the story of his career, no one knows. Safe to say that most of that book was shipped to the printer a while ago.
Game: Penguins vs. Ottawa Senators, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
TV, Radio: Versus, FSN Pittsburgh, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Brian Elliott for Senators.
Penguins: Are 12-5 in Game 5s at home. ... Sidney Crosby led playoffs with 11 points through Wednesday. ... Yielding 24.5 shots a game, fewest in playoffs through Wednesday.
Senators: Are 4-5 in Game 5s on the road. ... Have 95 penalty minutes, most in playoffs through Wednesday. ... Mike Fisher among playoff leaders with 59.1 faceoff percent.
Hidden stat: The team that has had more shots has won every game this series.
Which gives Guerin a unique perspective on what the Penguins are trying to do this spring, and the role he will play in it.
"At this time of my career and my life, I appreciate everything a little bit more," he said. "I'm not saying hold onto it, but I appreciate where I am right now."
Goes without saying that he likes where his team is, as well. The Penguins hold a 3-1 advantage in their opening-round playoff series against Ottawa and can secure a berth in Round 2 with a victory in Game 5 at 7:08 p.m. today at Mellon Arena.
Guerin is not the kind of difference-maker he was earlier in his career, but he still figures to be a significant contributor to whatever the Penguins accomplish this spring.
He is playing alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the No. 1 line, works on the top power-play unit and is averaging a little less than 17 minutes of ice time per game. He has a goal, three assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-7 that ties Crosby for the team's best after four games.
"There's a guy who knows what playoff hockey is," said assistant coach Tony Granato, who works with the forwards. "He's one guy you could count on emotionally, a guy you know has been there before and knows what this time of years is all about.
"His attitude, what he says and, more important, what he's done on the ice has been something everybody's noticed."
Penguins general manager Ray Shero was certain Guerin still had some quality hockey left when he acquired him from the New York Islanders at the 2009 trade deadline, but Guerin's experience and intangibles were part of his appeal, too.
Shero did not ask for a reference from Senators defenseman Chris Campoli before finalizing the trade for Guerin, but Campoli's assessment of his former teammate on Long Island would have reinforced Shero's feelings.
"A great team guy, great leader," Campoli said. "Someone I have a lot of respect for. He's been around, he's been through everything and had a lot of success on winning teams, so he commands that respect when he comes into a dressing room.
"He's someone you love to have on your team and to go into battle, into games, with. ... He's one of the best leaders I've ever had the pleasure to play with."
Kunitz, Guerin's linemate for much of their time together, made a similar point.
"Billy's obviously a main ingredient for our team, especially in the locker room," Kunitz said. "Everybody knows his on-ice abilities and what he brings to the team, but, behind closed doors, not everybody realizes that he can put down the law when he wants to, let guys know what's going on.
"But he keeps it [(loose], too. He knows in certain situations, what to do."
Guerin is quick to point out that the Penguins have been to the Stanley Cup final two years in a row, so even their youngest players have a pretty good sense of what to expect at this time of year.
"We have a group of really responsible guys here," Guerin said. "They know."
They will continue to listen, though. Especially when Guerin shows he still can be productive, like when he pulled in a lead pass from Kunitz and broke in on Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott before scoring the Penguins' final goal in their 4-2 victory in Game 3 Sunday.
"It's been a little while since I had a breakaway," Guerin said.
He did not forget what to do when he got the chance, though. And he did not forget to savor the goal, even though he had scored 35 others during previous playoff runs.
"Maybe now, more than anything," Guerin said, "you appreciate it."
He clearly does. Just as much as his teammates appreciate him.