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Pens find comfort on road in NHL playoffs

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Thursday, May 6, 2010

MONTREAL — The Penguins once were nearly unbeatable at Mellon Arena during the Stanley Cup playoffs, when the Igloo was as impenetrable as an iceberg.

They have taken that act on the road.

The Penguins are 2-3 at home but are undefeated in five away games this postseason, a streak that stretches to six by counting the Game 7 victory at Detroit that clinched the Stanley Cup championship. It's one they hope to further extend against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal tonight at Bell Centre.

"I don't want our fans to take this the wrong way, but I like playing on the road," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "You are around one another more, and you know the schedule hour by hour. Seeing family is nice and all, but sometimes at home there are distractions."

Despite having home-ice advantage throughout the remainder of the Eastern Conference playoffs, the Penguins claim they better maintain their focus in hostile environments. They are alone in that assumption, as none of the other seven remaining playoff teams have escaped a road trip unscathed. Playing here in the hockey capital has only enhanced their resolve.

"The game is always a little bit more simplified on the road," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You're facing the challenge of an energetic team and hometown crowd. That's something you look to as a challenge, and hopefully, sharpens you a little bit.

"I don't think our routine changes. We don't really leave the hotel during the playoffs, anyway. If anything, you've probably got to turn the TV off a little bit more. That's not a bad thing. You're playing at a great hockey place, and the challenge is greater."

That hasn't always been the case.

In the three previous playoff runs, the Penguins were 19-6 at home and 13-13 on the road. They were 9-2 at Mellon Arena in the playoffs last year, including 5-0 in the final two rounds, and 7-6 on the road. In 2008, the Penguins won nine consecutive playoff games on home ice, before losing to Detroit in Game 4 of the Cup Final.

Whether it's the weight of increased expectations of the Mellon Arena crowd wanting another Cup or a decrease in distractions in other cities, the Penguins are playing with more patience in poise in opposing arenas this spring.

"They play well on the road," Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak said after the Penguins' 2-0 Game 3 victory Tuesday. "On road games, they don't need to push themselves. They were playing a smart game. They were waiting for us to make a mistake."

Montreal defenseman Hal Gill, who spent the previous two seasons with the Penguins, believes the Penguins changed their game plan and sat back in their own zone more, taking only three shots in the first period and 25 for the game — "maybe because they were on the road."

"I think Pittsburgh played a real simple road game and didn't give us too many opportunities," Gill said. "They play a sound game, and they're well-coached and they're well-disciplined. It makes them tough to play against."

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