PITTSBURGH - Brad Richards made a guarantee on Thursday.
It’s not what you might be thinking.
“I can guarantee if (the Pittsburgh Penguins) feel like they can jump on us, they’re going to try to get us to back off,” the New York Rangers centre told reporters at the team’s training facility following practice.
“We have to realize our compete and energy level has to be right there from the start and, if we do that, we will have a game and give ourselves a chance.
“This game is (predicated) on confidence and swagger and momentum, and right now they have it. A win, coming back to our building, who knows where that goes and you start riding things, as quick as it went in three games, it can go the other way.”
Thanks to a dreadful performance in Game 4, which came on the heels of an inability to score in back-to-back games, the Rangers find themselves in the position that every professional athlete loathes: Win or go home.
The Penguins can give themselves some much-needed rest if they win Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal on Friday night at the Consol Energy Center, as they would have several days off before facing the winner of the Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins semi in the conference final.
The Penguins want to return to Madison Square Garden for a sixth game in the series as about as much as most sane Torontonians want Rob Ford re-elected as mayor.
“We don’t want to give them any life, we don’t want to let them any opportunity,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who gave his players the day off on Thursday. “I think we had that (knockout blow) mentality going into the last game.
“It’s only three wins and that gets us nothing. We have an opportunity here back at home in Game 5 and we have to be as desperate as we have been all playoffs long to get that fourth win.”
Do the Penguins take a step back? That’s a notion that’s hard to wrap the mind around. Since Game 5 of the opening round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Penguins have been steady in their improvement, and when they have stumbled (not often), goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has been a backbone.
There’s a belief in the dressing room that they have not played their best hockey, and if they smother the Rangers the way they did in Game 4, they’re not going to have to set their alarm clocks when they go to bed on Friday night.
It’s not just a mental advantage the Penguins have over the Rangers. Where Rangers coach Alain Vigneault on Thursday was lamenting the play of defenceman Ryan McDonagh and forward Rick Nash, and keeping his fingers crossed that both will snap out of their respective funks, Bylsma was lauding the performances of defenceman Paul Martin, who has been a rock on the blue line, and forward Jussi Jokinen, who takes an eight-game points streak into Game 5.
The Penguins are getting the effort they need from all of their players; the Rangers’ list of underachievers is a long one.
“Our group is very resilient,” Vigneault said. “I think our group has really solid leaders. They know that if we intend on pursuing this season, we have to win.”
It’s the Penguins who have been resilient, not only shrugging off an overtime loss in the opener to win three in a row but shedding some inconsistencies in Game 3 to have a complete effort in Game 4.
And the Rangers have not been able to put the brakes on Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who haven’t so much as dominated as the scoresheet as they have been dangerous each time they skate over the New York blue line and into the offensive zone.
“It’s about making sure we build off this,” Crosby said late on Wednesday night as he wrapped up a post-game scrum with reporters.
“It’s understanding they are going to be really desperate and trying to bring the same mentality we had here.
“You know what, you get a chance to (eliminate a team), you want to get it done. We have to take advantage of the opportunity we have.”
JOKINEN HAS THE SMARTS
Never mind Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury.
Where would the Pittsburgh Penguins be without winger Jussi Jokinen?
“He is a big-time performer,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “You have seen it in big games in his career. He is really, maybe, one of the smartest players I have ever coached and he has a knack for being in the right spot at the right time.”
The 31-year-old Jokinen has a point in eight consecutive playoff games, and in nine of Pittsburgh’s 10 post-season games this spring.
Bylsma, meanwhile, wouldn’t update the status of defenceman Brooks Orpik, who suffered what appeared to be a right knee injury in Game 4 against the New York Rangers on Wednesday.