PHILADELPHIA — Quite literally the NHL Stadium Series game, sponsored by an assortment of products you need could wash the bitter taste out of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ mouth. Thursday night, the Penguins were largely embarrassed by Stanley Cup contender San Jose, 4-0. The Penguins lost by only four goals but that seemed a generous fate.
Under normal circumstances, the team and coaches would stew in their juices for a couple of days. Perhaps a grueling practice. A film session which more closely resembled a public flogging.
Perhaps fortunately for the Penguins, these are not normal circumstances. Instead of dealing with the misery of a miserable performance, the Penguins are looking ahead to the spectacle and excitement of the Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field. They will play outdoors on national TV in front of 70,000 fans. Even playing in front of 70,000 well lubricated visiting fans will be a treat.
“Oh, it’s going to be so much fun playing on the outdoor rink,” mused Patric Hornqvist. “It brings back so many good memories from my childhood. That’s where it all started and now I’m standing here in the NHL and have a chance to play in front of a lot of fans with really good team in a really good rivalry.”
The Penguins continue to leap ahead two steps and slink back two as they try to force their way into the playoffs. They lead the Columbus Blue Jackets by two points for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot and lead the Carolina Hurricanes by one point for third place in the Metro. However, Columbus made the big splash move Friday by acquiring center Matt Duchene from Ottawa in exchange for picks and prospects.
“I think our players are very well aware of our position in the standings and the opportunity that is ahead of us. And the challenge that is ahead of us,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “We don’t have any sort of false notion that we’re in a playoff spot.”
The Penguins are working to balance the spectacle of the Stadium Series with the task at hand. However, for this crew playing on a big stage with more pressure doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. No, it’s probably exactly what this group of “been there, done that” veterans with a drawer full of expensive rings and championship memories needs.
“I think that’s what you have to find (the balance). For guys who have played in them before, that’s something they can use, their experience,” said Sidney Crosby. “How we need to prepare to (win) is the most important thing. It can bring out the best in us, too.”
Such situations have generally brought out the best in the Penguins. The Penguins have won two other three outdoor games including their 2017 Stadium Series matchup against Philadelphia and original Winter Classic on Jan. 1, 2008 in Buffalo.
“(Playing outdoors) is where it all got started, you know,” Matt Murray rhetorically asked. “My uncle had a pond in his backyard that we used to play on. That’s where it all got started. I used to go to the outdoor rinks with my buddies.”
Of course, there isn’t any rain in Thunder Bay, ON during the winter. In the winter, it’s snow up there.
Less than 12 hours after the Penguins were spanked by a team which dominated them in every facet of the game, the Penguins were able to look forward to something far bigger and more interesting than the introspection which would ordinarily follow. Consider it a field trip after getting an F on a big test.
And for this Penguins group, something (anything) to catch their interest is a good thing.
EDITORS NOTE: The original version of the story incorrectly noted the Penguins have won three of the four outdoor games. They lost the 2011 Winter Classic to Washington, as well as the outdoor game in Chicago.