The Pittsburgh Penguins are well aware that hockey's most sacred chalice will be in the building for tonight's Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.
The swell of excitement and nervous energy is inevitable. But they're hoping to keep their emotions under check by approaching what could be their final game of the year like just another night at the rink.
"We're just focusing on the one task at hand," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said ahead of Thursday's clash with the San Jose Sharks. "We know we have work ahead of us here to accomplish what we set out to do. The most effective way to do it is to rely on your game-day routine. Make sure you stay in the moment and you don't get ahead of yourself.
"That's what we're trying to do. I think our guys have done a really good job of that in this post-season. We're going to continue doing that till it's over."
The Pens held an optional skate this morning at Consol. Several members of the team's leadership group, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, chose to loosen up with a hallway soccer game instead.
Nick Bonino also was absent from the skate. There were questions about his availability for Game 5 after his absence from Wednesday's practice was ascribed to "maintenance" (usually a code for minor injuries), but Sullivan said he had "no concern." That's good news for a team that's relied heavily on Bonino and his HBK linemates throughout the postseason.
Sullivan also expects a big effort from his captain in Game 5. Crosby was held pointless in Games 3 and 4 in San Jose, largely because the Sharks were able to counter with shutdown defenders Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun whenever he stepped on the ice. Now that home ice gives him last change, Sullivan should be able to free Crosby up to bring his best effort.
"I think Sid has been a force every game," Sullivan said. "He may not have scored, but he certainly is a handful out there regardless of who they put out on the ice against him.
"We'll look for certain matchups...[but] we're not going to be overly concerned about who they put on the ice. We'll look for the matches that we think are advantageous to our team. I know Sid will be a handful regardless of who he plays against."