Leave it to a newcomer to provide some perspective.
The quotes have been widely proliferated, but what Pittsburgh Penguins winger Jarome Iginla said immediately after the New York Islanders won Game 4 to tie the best-of-seven series continues to ring in my ears.
“This is fun,” Iginla told the assembled media, including Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist Joe Starkey, in a somber Penguins dressing room Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum. “It’s intense.”
I chuckled a bit when I read the comments. My first impression: here’s a guy just enjoying the championship competition after so many seasons with mediocre Calgary Flames teams. Iginla backed up that sentiment after Wednesday’s practice at Consol Energy Center, saying that the Penguins’ current situation “could be great” for them.
Iginla’s doubling down on public gratitude is powerful, because if anyone is feeling pressure right now, it’s probably him. At 35 years old and a pending free agent, this spring is most likely Iginla’s best chance to win the Stanley Cup.
If the guy with arguably the highest stakes in these playoffs can smile and soak in the experience of NHL postseason hockey, anyone involved can. That includes fans of course, but Iginla’s teammates would be wise to mimic his comportment. For some Penguins who might be battling a first-round mental block as much as a frisky Islanders club, embracing the situation could be best for what ails them.
36-year-old goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who’s getting his first playoff start since 2007 in Game 5, expressed an Iginla-like viewpoint after Thursday’s game-day skate:
“I’m going to enjoy it. I wasn’t sure if I would ever get a chance to play again in the playoffs,” Vokoun said. “It’s nice to have the chance. You play hockey to be in this moment. You don’t play hockey for morning skates and taking shots.”
Vokoun also admitted he was nervous for Game 5, but anxiety and appreciation don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A little bit of both might be an effective combination to inspire the Penguins’ best.
Vitale, Kennedy skate with fourth line; Despres in?
With Vokoun’s Game 5 start (wisely) announced Wednesday afternoon, the biggest development from Thursday’s morning skate was Joe Vitale and Tyler Kennedy taking line rushes with Craig Adams on the Penguins’ presumed fourth line.
Jussi Jokinen and Tanner Glass, who had been fourth-liners for the first four games of the series, were placed with Beau Bennett on a “fifth line,” indicating they would be healthy scratches tonight. Vitale and Kennedy would provide additional quickness to combat the Islanders’ speed, which has been vexing at times for Pittsburgh.
On defense, rookie Simon Despres went through drills alongside Kris Letang, while Mark Eaton and Deryk Engelland were paired. Eaton and Engelland haven’t been at their best in the series, so there’s a chance the Penguins sit both for Game 5 and dress Despres, who was noticeably skittish in Game 3.
Iginla, Neal swap spots
The Penguins continue to try to fit James Neal and Iginla on Evgeni Malkin’s line, as Neal moved to the left side and Iginla went back to his natural right wing spot Thursday. Neal played left wing in Dallas but has flourished on the right side since switching nearly two years ago, averaging about a goal every two games since.
Sidney Crosby continued to center Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis, with Matt Cooke and Brenden Morrow staying on Brandon Sutter’s flanks as well.