PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – So we have arrived at this point.
Pull out all the cliches — “this one is for all the marbles” and “it is do or die” and “loser goes home.”
Yeah, all of that.
Game 7 on Thursday night between the Penguins and Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Here are five things, in my estimation, the Penguins must do if they want to march on and face Nashville in the Finals:
1. Score first: This isn’t a huge revelation and it holds true in most games, but this is even bigger against Craig Anderson as he’s coming off that incredible 45-save performance in Game 6. He was so, so good and might be tough to crack. On top of that, if the Penguins can get their home crowd going early with a 1-0 lead, it could really serve to shake Ottawa up to the point where they could frazzle under the heavy pressure of the moment.
2. Hit Erik Karlsson: Even with his 27-minutes of ice time in Game 6 — almost four of those coming on the power play — it is glaringly obvious the Senators’ star blueliner is playing hurt. With each bump and collision he winces and he has shown less of a penchant to mix it up. This guy is playing with multiple injuries, for sure. That said, when given the opportunity the Penguins must play heavy on him. Nothing dirty, but they need to straddle that line with him as wearing him down is their best bet to take him out of this decisive game.
3. Have Guentzel show up: There was no better story through the early portion of the playoffs than Jake Guentzel, who seemingly put everything he touched in the net through the Blue Jackets series and then the early stretches of the Washington series. But as we ready for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the winger on Sidney Crosby’s line has not scored a goal since the sixth game of the Capitals’ series and has just two assists since then. There were times earlier in these playoffs that Guentzel picked up the offense as Crosby was getting beaten and battered. He needs to do that again in Game 7. A goal by Guentzel would go a long, long way.
4. Get a call once in awhile: What is a penalty and what isn’t? Is a guy allowed to punch Crosby in the face? Can people interfere with Evgeni Malkin? How about a butt-end of the stick to the chin? Is that permitted? Or, the old elbow to the jaw? Is that a penalty or not? What I’m getting at is this — the officiating in this series has been spotty at best and it feels like Ottawa has been able to take more than a few liberties on the Penguins’ players. Perhaps the referees will have a revelation and, I don’t know, actually call a penalty when one occurs in a big spot.
5. Tighten up the bench: It happened again in Game 6 in the final stretches of the third period, as the Penguins took a back-breaking too many men on the ice penalty. It isn’t the first time, but it needs to be the last time in this series. Mike Sullivan has done so much right as the boss of this hockey club, but recently between a couple of too many men penalties and some less-than-crisp line changes at enormous times, it feels like this team really needs to tighten things up with bench communication. Something as small as that could serve as a major detail in a decisive game like the one going to be played Uptown on Thursday night against Ottawa.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.