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Penguins notebook: Crosby says clincher 'most difficult game'

| Wednesday, April 19, 2017, 7:54 p.m.
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The Penguins' Sidney Crosby skatesaway from the Blue Jackets' David Savard during the third period in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first round Tuesday, April 18, 2017, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Phil Kessel and Evgeni Malkin celebrate with Patric Hornqvist after Hornqvist's goal against the Blue Jackets in the second period Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at Nationwide Arena.

If all goes as Sidney Crosby hopes, the Penguins captain will only repeat what he said Wednesday about Game 5 of the first-round series with Columbus three more times this season.

“We know it's the most difficult game,” Crosby said of Thursday's potential series clincher at PPG Paints Arena. “You could see that (Tuesday), the desperation in their game and the importance for that to be in ours as well.”

Columbus held off elimination with its 5-4 win at Nationwide Arena, but it remains in an unenviable spot. The Penguins' goal is to ensure that the Blue Jackets' comeback narrative evolves no further.

For Crosby and other Penguins with Stanley Cup-winning experience, the pressure that builds with each missed clincher is nothing new. They know better than to follow the lead of fans and media that twist and squirm with any setback.

“I think you have to evaluate your game for what it is and not always necessarily the score,” Crosby said. “I think in the case of (Tuesday), it wasn't our best game. … We didn't deserve that one. You've got make sure that you learn quick and you forget quick.”

Until recently, trade-deadline acquisition Mark Streit watched the Penguins' many playoff runs with a curiosity about how their stars handled the label of perennial contender.

Streit, a healthy scratch thus far in the postseason, no longer wonders. He's able to compare the way the Penguins have carried themselves in this intense first-round series to some of his own playoff experiences, most notably his involvement in the Montreal-Boston first-round series in 2008.

The Canadiens, who had the Eastern Conference's best record, led the series 2-0 and 3-1 before watching the Bruins rally to force a Game 7. Streit, who broke into the NHL with Montreal in 2005-06, recalled how the Canadiens' confidence evaporated with each missed clinching that preceded a 5-0 win in the series finale.

“Sometimes you feel you have command of a series, and you feel pretty comfortable,” Streit said. “I'm not saying that's the case right now. But you know they're close games, and sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you get the wins when you get the bounces, and then it goes the other way for a few games.

“In the playoffs, a shorter memory is better: after a big win or a big loss. If you feel too good about yourself after a win, it carries into the next game and could be dangerous.”

Injury report

Phil Kessel and Trevor Daley did not participate as the Penguins practiced Wednesday afternoon in Cranberry.

“We just decided to keep them off the ice today,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “Everybody at this time of year is dealing with bumps and bruises.”

Kessel is coming off the first three-assist game of his 50-game NHL postseason career. Daley is coming off a rough night. When he was on the ice at even strength, the Penguins were outshot 13-6 and outscored 2-0.

Rocket Man

When Jake Guentzel scored on a shot from the slot with 26.4 seconds to go, it didn't have much of an effect on the outcome of Game 4, which the Penguins lost 5-4.

It did, however, put Guentzel in lofty historical company.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Guentzel became the first player to score five goals in his first four career playoff games since legendary Montreal Canadiens star Maurice “Rocket” Richard in 1944.

“Just trying to make the most of my opportunity here and have some fun with it,” Guentzel said.

Staff writer Jonathan Bombulie contributed. Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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