Heading into Game Five of their Eastern Conference semifinal series tied at two games with the Montreal Canadiens, is definitely not where the Penguins saw themselves at the beginning of this series. In the case of a Penguins' loss tonight, they would face the unenviable task of going back to the Bell Centre in Montreal facing elimination from the playoffs.
Here are some keys for Pittsburgh to come away from tonight's match with a victory, and head back to Montreal with the possibility of ending this series in six games.
Bill Guerin Must Play In Game Five
Guerin has been a solid contributor for the Penguins thus far in these playoffs, while largely spending his time on Crosby's wing. He has three goals, five assists, 27 shots, 12 hits, two blocked shots, two takeaways, and a plus-three rating.
In the first two games against the Canadiens, he had one goal, one assist, five shots, one hit, with a plus-one rating.
When discussing why he has not played since Game Two, Guerin would only go as far as to say, "It's something that's been lingering and happened during the Canadiens series." It is rumored that he should be in the lineup for Game Five, and his leadership and grit is a much needed commodity for the Penguins right now.
Sidney Crosby Must Score a Goal
Montreal has done a great job of shutting down Crosby. He has three assists, eight shots, five hits, two blocked shots, four takeaways, and an even plus/minus rating.
As evidenced by his numbers, Crosby has been doing the little things his team needs to win. But he will need to get on the score sheet with a goal in Game Five for the Penguins to win.
In an interview with NHL.com's Shawn Roarke, Bill Guerin had these words to say about Crosby's recent outbursts, "I think a lot of what happens with Sid is that he is so emotional and he invests so much into the game and sometimes he lets it show."
"I don't see a problem in that, but I think a lot of the times, people take it the wrong way. Inside our dressing room, we don't. We know what Sid is about. It's only for good reasons. We all handle things differently, too. Yesterday, he was letting his emotions show and personally, I don't have a problem with that."
Crosby will have to keep his head up and work hard tonight. A little less clamoring to the referees and a little more hard work will go a long way to helping him lift his team with a goal.
Evgeni Malkin Must Play a Full 60 Minute Game
Thus far in the series he has not fared much better than Crosby with one goal, one assist, 15 shots, eight hits, and a minus-two rating.
While Crosby is getting more attention in the media, Malkin's performance is flying under the radar. Thus far in the series he has reminded me much of Alex Kovalev, a great player that can take over the game when he is on, but he can be seen just going through the motions. Malkin does have more grit to his game than Kovalev though.
Malkin missed a perfect breakaway chance in Game Four, and has been seen mucking it up after the whistle fairly regularly. Much like Crosby, he will need to focus on going hard whistle to whistle. He has all the tools required to be a game breaker in this series, he just has to use them consistently on every shift to make a difference for his team.
Kris Letang Needs to Have a Bounce Back Game
After the Game Four loss in which the winning goal went in off Letang's skate, fellow Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik had this to say, "You can say it is a good bounce (for Montreal); but if Gionta doesn't throw it there, it never goes in," Orpik said. "I think it was more us turning the puck over there at the offensive blue line that gives them a 3-on-2."
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury also had supportive words for his teammate, "No worries, it happens", is what he told Letang. "He has to keep playing the same way. He was doing everything right, trying to block the pass. He's doing fine."
Letang has been a valuable member of the Penguins defense thus far and will need to be sure not to let this bad bounce affect his play. Look for him to have a bounce back game for his club and be very effective all around.
Marc-Andre Fleury Needs to Steal the Game For His Team
He has been solid but by no means has he been the goalie he was in last year's playoffs. Thus far in the second round has has posted a 2.25 goals against average and a 0.905 save percentage, with one shutout.
He looked good making some big stops for the Penguins in their last game. He will need to keep Montreal to two or less goals in this game for his team to prevail with the win.
The Penguins Need to Outwork the Canadiens
If all of the above happens then the Penguins will win tonight's game, but we do not live in a perfect world. In short, the Canadiens have been outworking the Penguins during this series, winning more battles for the puck while giving away the puck less, and doing an effective job in the neutral zone. If the Penguins expect to win tonight they will simply have to outwork the Canadiens.
Player quotes provided by NHL.com.