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Caps (Game 7) – Pregame Update

Quick hits after the Penguins’ morning practice at Verizon Center, where they will play a deciding Game 7 tonight against the Washington Capitals (7 p.m.):

GONCHAR UPDATE: Penguins D Sergei Gonchar did not appear to favor his injured right knee during practice, though a thick knee brace was distinctly noticeable to reporters in the lower-bold stands.

“Half our players were a brace,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s our sport. It’s the game we play.”

Bylsma did not say if Gonchar will play tonight, or if he would dress seven defensemen – he has the past two games Gonchar missed – and deploy Gonchar only on the power play.

Gonchar did not speak with reporters. Bylsma said he will participate in a pregame warmup and then a joint decision on his status will be made. He was injured last Friday early in Game 4 at Mellon Arena during a knee-on-knee collision with Capitals LW Alex Ovechkin.

My gut after surveying the dressing room: He plays, but in limited situations at first, and the Penguins dress seven defensemen to guard against having to finish with only five if Gonchar’s injury is re-aggravated.

HIGH ON FLEURY: Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury did not appear nervous only hours before his first NHL Game 7, though he did speak on a tendency he has picked up on throughout this Eastern Conference semifinal series.

“Mostly high,” he said of Capitals’ shooters’ intentions. “They have so many guys with skills that they can shoot the puck pretty good. They try to pick out those corners high.”

The spotlight will shine bright on Fleury tonight. Arguably the Penguins’ best player in Round 1 against Philadelphia, he has been out-performed by Capitals rookie G Simeon Varlamov in this series. Fleury has recorded a .874 save percentage in six games, compared to .907 for Varlamov.

A NUMBER THAT SHOULD INTEREST YOU: Officials for tonight’s game have worked a combined 48 Game 7s. Translation: Neither Bylsma nor Washington coach Bruce Boudreau should have much to complain about in terms of officiating. This crew is beyond experienced.

ANOTHER NUMBER THAT SHOULD INTEREST YOU: Home teams are 29-28 all-time in Game 7s decided by one goal. Oh, by the way: 17 of the past 19 games between the Penguins and Capitals have been decided by a lone goal.

BOUDREAU SAYS ADVANTAGE TO PENS: Despite road teams having won only 46 of 125 Games 7s in NHL history, Boudreau said after the Capitals’ practice today that the Penguins have an easier chore tonight because they aren’t playing at Mellon Arena.

“It’s a lot easier for the road team; they don’t have anything to prove,” Boudreau said. “They’re coming off a loss. So they’re sitting there saying, ‘Well, if we lose they expect us to lose.’ So they play with a little bit of reckless abandon. Consequently, the home team, with the crowd going crazy and jacked up as it is, is usually a little more overcautious.”

Dear readers, I never fail to be amazed at the spin coaches and players will put on subjects and trends. Home teams have won 63.2 percent of Games 7s. No matter what Boudreau said, playing this game at home is HUGE for the Capitals.

THE FAN VOICE: Words of wisdom (well, not always) from Penguins fans …

“Here’s the bottom line. Fleury has not brought his ‘A’ game to this round. It is more like a C+. I can’t project him as ever being able to help take the Pens back to the Cup. He would be a very good backup goalie.” — Jim Briski of Pittsburgh

Rossi wonders: What happens to all this Fleury bashing if he wins Game 7

Send your thoughts via e-mail.

Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi has covered the Penguins for parts of every season that Sidney Crosby has played in Pittsburgh. So, since 2005. He has led the Trib's NHL coverage since 2007, when he became the primary Penguins beat reporter. He joined the Tribune-Review in November 2002. Rossi, 35, is local chapter president of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association. He also dabbles in radio, as ClearChannel's "Penguins Insider," and TV, as "NHL Insider" for Root Sports Pittsburgh, and as a semi-regular contributor to The Final Word, a Sunday sports show that airs on WPXI. In 2012, Rossi was recognized nationally by Penn State's John Curley Center for Sports Journalism for his coverage of youth sports for a Trib series that investigated concussion protocol. In 2013, he teamed with Carl Prine for an investigative piece about athletes' charities what was honored regionally. A graduate of West Virginia University and Keystone Oaks High School, Rossi was raised in Crafton and Green Tree and currently resides in Brookline. He is currently working on the authorized biography of Evgeni Malkin. Follow him on Twitter: @RobRossi_Trib

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