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Eastern final – pre-game (Game 1)

A few notes following respective morning practices for the Penguins and Hurricanes prior to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final:

*GONCHAR TO GO: Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said injured D Sergei Gonchar (right knee) “looked comfortable” in practice and likened the decision to play Gonchar tonight to the “Game 7″ situation at Washington last week. Gonchar returned from a two-game absence to play in that series clinching-victory against the Capitals, but he and coaches did not reach that decision until after evaluations following the pre-game warm-up.

If Gonchar plays tonight, the Penguins likely will dress seven defensemen for a fourth consecutive playoff game.

*CAROLINA UPDATE: Hurricanes C Rod Brind’Amour will play tonight, as expected. His sporting a black eye and stitches near his brow after taking a puck to face last week in the Hurricanes’ Game 7 victory at Boston.

*NOT NERVOUS:

A sign that many players on each of these teams have been through this before, not one player in either dressing room appeared nervous after respective morning practices. This is not new for the Penguins, who have appeared loose throughout these Stanley Cup playoffs – from defensemen poking fun at Kris Letang to Matt Cooke’s daily battle with crossword puzzles. As for the Hurricanes – well, this isn’t their first rodeo, either. Even though this is their first playoff appearance since winning the Cup in 2006, they have the vibe one might expect from a team that has won six consecutive postseason series, including four seven-game affairs.

*A NOTE INVOLVING JAMES HARRISON AND GRANT JENNINGS (NO LIE!): Word that Steelers linebacker James Harrison plans to skip the Super Bowl champions’ White House visit this week brought this story from a Penguins official:

Grant Jennings, a defenseman on the Penguins’ 1991 Stanley Cup championship squad, had driven from Pittsburgh his native Saskatchewan – no short trip – about two days prior to Penguins’ visit to the White House the summer following their Cup win. Jennings, a Canadian, spent only a few days at his house and returned to Pittsburgh to accompany the team on its White House trip.

“When the most important man in the free word invites you to his house, you go,” Jennings told this Penguins official.

Oh, by the way: The Penguins owner in 1991 had not been named by then-President George H.W. Bush a United States ambassador, not had he just awarded a defensive player that refused to visit the White House an extravagant contract extension.

*A ROSSI RANT: Since November I’ve listened to nothing but E Street Radio on my XMSirius, and I know from noted Bruce Springsteen disciple and Trib sports columnist Mike Prisuta that Pittsburgh a favorite city to play for The Boss. So, with Springsteen headed to ‘tahn for a concert at Mellon Arena, how is it that he isn’t opening Game 1 tonight with a stirring rendition of “This Land Is Your Land”?

Yeah, I know, Springsteen doesn’t do pre-game anthems. Still, I can’t help but think the NHL should help deliver big-name acts to perform anthems before conference final games. I ask my fellow Pittsburgher which artists they would like to hear perform under that scenario. 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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