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Penguins insider: Golden opportunity arrives with Game 5

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 10:45 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Kris Letang and Jussi Jokinen celebrates with Jerome Iginla after Iginla's third-period goal against the Senators on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Douglas Murray hits the Senators' Chris Neil during the second period Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Consol Energy Center.

Defenseman Douglas Murray knows all about postseason heartache. He played the first seven seasons of his career in San Jose, after all.

And so, the Penguins would be wise to heed the veteran's advice: Put Ottawa away Friday at Consol Energy Center.

“As the playoffs go on,” Murray said, “the more rest becomes important. It's not a cliché.”

No, it certainly isn't.

Hockey history, in fact, strongly urges the Penguins to win in Game 5 if they intend to win the Stanley Cup.

Here's why:

Since the NHL switched the first round from a best-of-five to a best-of-seven series in 1987, only one Stanley Cup winner — the 1996 Colorado Avalanche — was forced to play in six or more games in every series leading to the Stanley Cup Final. The other 24 champions during that stretch all earned at least one series victory in five or fewer games on the road to the championship.

The Avalanche made up for their grueling road by eliminating Florida in four games during the 1996 Stanley Cup Final.

“You need to get that rest at some point,” Murray said.

Aside from the historical evidence that suggests wrapping up the series in five games would behoove the Penguins, another factor is worth noting.

This team seldom has displayed a hint of killer instinct in recent years.

The Penguins struggled mightily but somehow emerged with a victory in Game 6 against the Islanders during the first round of these playoffs.

Dating to 2010, the Penguins are 1-6 in playoff games when they have an opportunity to end a series. They never have eliminated an opponent at Consol Energy Center.

The previous time the Penguins ended a series on home ice was Game 5 of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals against Philadelphia.

Under coach Dan Bylsma, the Penguins are 6-8 when presented an opportunity to clinch a series. In home games in such situations, the Penguins are 0-6 under Bylsma.

Previous playoff failures, though, don't concern this team. That shoddy — some even have admitted it was lucky — performance in Game 6 against the Islanders still resonates. The Penguins wish to not only win Game 5 but to do so impressively.

“Putting a team away really is the toughest game,” Murray said. “Our last time to close out a series on Long Island, to be honest, they took it to us a little bit. We're looking for a better game in this one.”

The Penguins likely would play the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. The Bruins have a 3-1 series lead on the New York Rangers, who staved off elimination Thursday with a 4-3 overtime win at Madison Square Garden. Still, the Bruins could end the series quickly.

Every Stanley Cup champion before has enjoyed a quick series at some point. The Bruins might be well rested when the Eastern Conference finals begin.

Game 5 against Ottawa presents the Penguins with the same, invaluable luxury.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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