Jared McCann and Teddy Blueger are in the same situation – staring hard at their first chance to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But the two young Pittsburgh Penguins wingers have some different thoughts on expectations.
Sure, they both want to get into those games, play well and advance as far as possible, but their approaches match their personalities, which are divergent.
McCann, an excitable type, already has been keyed up recently as the Penguins drove toward clinching their 13th straight playoff berth – something that didn’t happen until Thursday when they beat Detroit 4-1.
“I’m pumped. It’s hard to sleep at night right now, to be honest with you,” McCann said Friday after he was one of 12 players to participate in an optional practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex. “This is my first time playing in the playoffs in the NHL. I want to do well. I want to help the team as much as I can.”
Blueger, meanwhile, also is high on anticipation, but he’s a little more low-key.
“Obviously looking forward to it,” he said. “Been watching it your whole life. Obviously, it’s your dream to make it to the NHL, then win the Stanley Cup.
“Watching (the playoffs) is always fun. The intensity level is through the roof. That’s kind of what I expect — the battle level and intensity level to go up. The stakes are a lot higher. It’s going to be tough, but those are the type of games that are more fun to play in. That’s what kind of what you look forward to at the start of the year.”
What about sleeping, something McCann is struggling with?
“I’m sure I’ll sleep fine,” Blueger said. “They’re fun games to be a part of, but I’m sure I’ll sleep fine.”
There is still one more regular-season game, Saturday against the New York Rangers, and quite a bit left to be settled in terms of where the Penguins will open the playoffs, when and against what team.
But it’s probably not surprising that McCann and Blueger are already thinking ahead a little bit toward their preparation for the playoffs.
Once again, the approaches are different.
McCann looks around the Penguins locker room or on the bench and sees bunches of experience, including players who won the Cup in 2016 and 2017, including team captain Sidney Crosby.
“I haven’t really been there yet, so I can’t say (what it’s going to be like),” McCann said. “I’m just going to ask Sid and other guys who have been there numerous times. I’m just going to try to pick their brains as much as possible, see what they do differently in the postseason.”
McCann said the lead-up to clinching a spot was a prelude.
“I was nervous,” he said. “You never knew what was going to happen and how teams were going to do. We just took it one day at a time, had a good bounce-back game against Detroit. We’ve got to keep it going.”
Blueger might not be guaranteed a spot in the lineup when winger Zach Aston-Reese returns from injury — ZAR has skated but has not rejoined practice — but he’s excited for the potential of playing in the postseason.
Blueger seems comfortable simply looking to ramp up his game in organic terms, rather than picking his teammates’ brains, but, like McCann, Blueger figures the push lately to make the playoffs could be good preparation.
“Yeah, I think a little bit,” Blueger said. “I think we’ve been trending that way, and obviously the stakes have been getting higher with every game and everyone around us (in the standings) doing so well, winning games. We’ve been under a bit of pressure to win and get in. At the same time, I still kind of expect the intensity level to go up and for it to just get higher and higher.”