NEW YORK — The Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster might not include a lot of guys with degrees in Mathematics, but they understand how the numbers work in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
They are well aware that, with a 3-1 lead in their opening-round series against the New York Rangers, they can clinch a spot in Round 2 by winning Game 5 at Madison Square Garden tonight at 7.
“We’re really excited,” Bryan Rust said after the Penguins’ optional game-day skate. “We’re excited to have an opportunity here.”
Rust and his teammates also understand that New York, being just one loss removed from an early offseason, can be expected to elevate its play to the highest level possible this evening.
“I would anticipate getting their best game,” Mike Sullivan said
New York finished seven points ahead of the third-place Penguins in the Metropolitan Division during the regular season, and won three of four meetings between the teams then.
“The Rangers have been a really good team all year,” Rust said. “They’ve done some really good things and this is a really hard building to play in.”
One key to the Penguins’ success, especially in the games at PPG Paints Arena, was their success at getting the puck deep into the New York end and keeping it there, which goes a long way toward neutralizing the Rangers’ outstanding transition game and offensive-zone pressure.
“When they’re at their best, they have a heavy forecheck,” Sullivan said. “So we’re going to have to be ready for their pressure. Our challenge is going to be to beat their pressure.”
The Penguins enter Game 5 with a bit of a margin for error, but obviously would prefer to close out the series tonight.
“We have to bring a certain level of urgency to the table,” Sullivan said. “That helps us be at our best. We know that we’re going to face a team that … we expect to get their best.”
By sometime this evening, the hockey world will know if that has been good enough to force a Game 6 Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Pittsburgh Penguins notes
*** Rickard Rakell, who was injured in Game 1, was one of 10 players to take part in the Penguins’ optional skate. Sullivan said Rakell is “doing well,” but continues to be listed as “day-to-day.”
*** Sullivan confirmed that Brian Dumoulin, also injured in the series-opener, has yet to get back on skates, but is doing off-ice rehabilitation.
*** Rust, on the No. 1 power play unit’s revival in Game 4, after it struggled terribly during the first three games of the series: “We just kept it a little bit more simple. Won a couple more puck battles and got some pucks to the net. We have to try to just build on that.”
*** Although left winger Jason Zucker did not take part in practice Tuesday or the optional skate, Sullivan said he is “fine.”
*** Rust said Sidney Crosby, who has been sensational through the first four games, is not showing his age (34). “I’m not sure that he has the same clock as the rest of us. His time might go a little slow than ours.”