By: Josh Taylor, KDKA-TV Sports
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A longtime belief among hockey enthusiasts has been the difference between playoff hockey versus the regular season. In the postseason, games are called tighter with fewer expected penalties and power play opportunities, and mistakes can be even more detrimental than in the six months before the brackets are formed.
As the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Penguins understand this as well as any team in the playoffs, and they all anticipate altering their games in their own subtle ways.
“Everything is more intense,” says right winger Patric Hornqvist, who scored the game-winning goal in the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 6 last season. “You have to finish every single check, you have a chance to finish, and the ref lets you do that, too. During the regular season, you can get called for that, but right now in the playoffs you have to be in their face and hard on every single puck.”
“For the most part, I think it’s just the speed and intensity that increases and all those little details become magnified,” said team captain Sidney Crosby, a two-time Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the playoffs’ most valuable player the past two seasons.
Having completed back-to-back championship runs brings experience and confidence, but the players say the nature of the playoffs doesn’t allow for any feelings of comfort.
“I just think you play just a little bit harder,” said forward Bryan Rust. “With the course of the regular season, you’re just trying to build your team identity and trying to find out the way you want to play it, but when it comes to playoff time, you’ve just got to play that much harder.”
For some players, it can be a game-to-game adjustment. As a series gets longer, teams tweak their game plans and players follow suit.
“I would say you try to build your game throughout the series, or shift after shift,” said defenseman Kris Letang, one of only three remaining Penguins from the three Stanley Cup championship teams dating back to 2009. “You try to keep it simple early on, make sure you get your legs behind, you pay attention to the details and after that you get comfortable out there.”
“I think, the importance of the details, and I think you try to focus on those things all year, so when you get to the playoffs, it’s second nature,” Crosby said. “But there’s always things you need to adjust depending on who you’re playing.”
The Penguins face their cross-state rival, the Philadelphia Flyers, in the first round. Since they have home ice advantage, the first two games of the series will be played at PPG Paints Arena. Games 1 will be played Wednesday and Game 2 on Friday night. Both will begin at 7 p.m.