Pens don't mind being out of spotlight

Pittsburgh Penguins' Tyler Kennedy is congratulated by teammates on his goal against the Tampa Bay...

Pittsburgh Penguins' Tyler Kennedy is congratulated by teammates on his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning. (REUTERS/Mike Carlson)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:17 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in these Stanley Cup playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins will be part of a national telecast in the U.S. when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning at noon on Saturday.

No Sidney Crosby, no love, it seems.

Truthfully, the Penguins are just fine with that, especially if they can wrap up their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal in five games, then sit around and wait for their next potential victim.

Rest, you see, is not just preferred en route to the title, it's almost a requirement if a team is going to make the long run to hoisting the Cup in mid June. And there is plenty of time for the spotlight in the coming weeks.

No need to look further than the past three springs, when each of the eventual champions earned themselves a break to rest the weary and wounded somewhere along the playoff path.

A year ago, the Chicago Blackhawks (and boy they have added some instant spice to these playoffs, haven't they?) got their sabbatical after the Western Conference final when they swept the San Jose Sharks. Prior to meeting the Philadelphia Flyers in the final, they had only played 16 games.

When the Penguins won it all the previous spring, they also had a reprieve in the conference final, a series in which they brought the brooms out on the Carolina Hurricanes. The lengthy rest helped them re-energize to set up the seven-game victory over Detroit in the final.

The Red Wings, who have their first break early after dispatching the Phoenix Coyotes in four, know the value of an extended breather as well. In 2009, the Wings swept Columbus and needed only five games to send Chicago packing.

With two trips to the Stanley Cup final in the previous three seasons, the Penguins are as seasoned as any team in the tournament not named the Red Wings, a big edge according to defenceman, Brooks Orpik.

"I think when you are young, you kind of underestimate it," Orpik told reporters after the Penguins' practice Friday. "You're a little naive and you say experience doesn't have that much to do with it. It is big this time of year.

"I think when you get to certain situations, if you have been in them before you know how to react as opposed to just coming into it fresh. We learned that the hard way three years ago against Detroit."

The prospect of an added break is one of a long list of incentives for the Penguins not to go through the motions when the puck drops on Game 5.

With the home team just 1-3 in the series after Pittsburgh finished off their Tampa sweep in double overtime Wednesday, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma may have the easiest pre-game speech of his career. His team was dominated in Game 2, a 5-1 Tampa victory that was the only lopsided contest of this series so far.

While a Crosby return these playoffs is still somewhere between unknown and doubtful, a win on Saturday would essentially buy him an added week of recovery time. Even if Crosby doesn't return, a 4-1 series win would amplify the confidence of the group that they can get the job done without him and Evgeni Malkin.

It is still far from clear how the rest of the Eastern Conference will shake down, but with potential physical matchups against Boston or Philadelphia, rest takes on an even greater importance.

And one final shred of enticement for the Penguins: For whatever reason, they have had trouble closing out series at home in recent years.

"Home (advantage) is something you want," said Bylsma, who will get forward Chris Kunitz back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension. "You want your fans there and have that last change, but it doesn't guarantee you success in a playoff game.

"You don't get to move on until you win four."

And the faster you do it, the better.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca


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