The Penguins exposed an elephant on Saturday morning.
Hours from a feels-like-it pivotal home Game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, veteran players acknowledged that pressure – the worst kind, as in that from the outside – has been internalized during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s there, let’s be honest,” captain Sidney Crosby said.
“It’s something we’ve talked about,” winger James Neal said.
“Sometimes,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said, “I think we’re just held back by the fear of losing.”
A first-round series is tied, 2-2. Game 5 is at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night.
A season that began with external Cup-or-best expectations is down to a best-of-three series, and the favored club (the Penguins) is openly acknowledging, as Scuderi phrased it, “a burden of expectations.”
Words do not win playoff games.
Great players, can.
Crosby and fellow franchise co-center Evgeni Malkin can change everything with slump-busting performances in Game 5 and 6 or (if necessary) 7.
However, for a group of players that has rarely been known for its candidness – heck, that is why “Team Conscience” defenseman Brooks Orpik’s words resonate – the acknowledgement on Saturday morning that pressure is being felt, well, it felt significant.
This feels like more than just another home playoff game for the Penguins – especially for Crosby, Malkin, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and coach Dan Bylsma. Three first-round exits in four years will bring change, as defenseman Paul Martin noted Saturday.
This feels like a defining moment.
Maybe with the elephant out of their room, the Penguins will have some more space to breathe.
>> The best way to ease tension is often with a joke, so Bylsma opened with one before his media availability on Saturday morning.
“Brooks Orpik and David Backes skated earlier at an undisclosed location,” Bylsma said.
Orpik, who left practice early on Friday, did not take the morning-skate practice on Saturday. He is a game-time decision for Game 5.
Also, winger Brian Gibbons (upper body) did not practice. He skated before the session.
>> On Friday, as Chris Adamski reported, the Penguins vowed to give more: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983659-74/penguins-bylsma-game#axzz2zlpPLkMm
>> Malkin knows he needs to score, writes Jason Mackey: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/6008020-74/malkin-game-goals#axzz2zlpPLkMm
>> The notes cover Marcel Goc’s impending return: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983688-74/goc-puck-game
>> Contributor Craig Merz reports that Jack Johnson changed a lot for the Columbus franchise: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/5983691-74/johnson-jackets-team#axzz2zlpPLkMm
>> Also, the #TribHKY info graphic is back. Have a look (designed by Melanie Wass):
Be EXCELLENT to each other,