PITTSBURGH — It’s folly to try to get an educated read on teams’ demeanor based on their locker room atmosphere after a morning skate. Especially when both teams hold optional workouts with several key players not on the ice.
And especially when it’s the playoffs and the game in question is an elimination game for one club.
So we’ll just do our best to let you know where the minds of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers were today in advance of tonight’s Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. The Penguins hold a 3-1 edge and can sent the Flyers to the golf course.
The home club always skates first, and the Penguins’ big guns, as well as coach Mike Sullivan, did not go on the ice at PPG Paints Arena. After the skate, the players who did practice were pretty businesslike. Or, at least they tried to be.
Consider this exchange between Penguins winger Bryan Rust and Jonathan Bombulie of the Tribune-Review. Rust has eight goals and an assist in 15 elimination games, including thee game-winning, series-deciding goals.
Bombulie asked Rust if he had a favorite goal from an elimination game.
“I don’t know. I try not to think about that,” Rust said.
Are any more memorable than the others?
“Um, I think all of them are in the playoffs. You remember them like yesterday,” Rust said.
How about that one against the Rangers, off the pass from Trevor Daley?
“Can we focus on tonight please?” Rust begged, drawing laughter from the flock of reporters surrounding him.
Philadelphia also held an optional skate without many key players, but one who did practice was top-line center Sean Couturier, who missed Game 4 because of an injury he sustained in practice Tuesday.
While the visiting locker room as ghost town-like, with tonight’s game jerseys already hanging at the locker stalls, Couturier was left to face a large contingent of reporters alone.
Couturier skated Thursday and afterward did not rule out playing in Game 5. He didn’t have a lot more to add this morning.
“Felt pretty good. Felt better than yesterday. We’ll see,” he said. “Still hoping. I guess I’ll take warmups and see how that goes.”
When it was mentioned that Couturier was able to practice faceoffs, possibly a sign that he’s on a track to return, he quipped, “I don’t know. I was trying to get a test, but (assistant coach Ian Laperriere) wasn’t so good on faceoffs, so it was kind of tough to test it out.”
It’s not that both clubs are less than serious about the game tonight.
“I think ‘urgency’ is a good word,” Penguins winger Conor Sheary said. “We want to approach this game as an elimination game. We want to get that fourth one, and don’t want to give them a chance to breathe.”
Sullivan liked that word, too.
“I just think that there’s a level of urgency associated with elimination games, for obvious reasons,” he said. “It manifests itself in puck battles, physical play. There’s a whole other level of urgency associated with those types of games.
“Our expectation is we’re going to get the Flyers’ very best game. We’ve got to be ready for it. We’ve got to be prepared. We’ve got to bring our best as well.”
Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol was all business. He has used three goaltenders in this series and at times has named a starter the morning of games, but he declined to do so today.
Meanwhile, for anyone who was worried, Matt Murray participated in the Penguins skate and was the first goaltender off the ice. He got attended to during practice Thursday but insisted afterward he was fine.
In addition, winger Patric Hornqvist participated in the Penguins skate wearing a non-contact jersey. He had already been ruled out for Game 5.