It’s been almost two weeks since the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins last played a game at home.
Now, as they enter tonight’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Syracuse Crunch, the Penguins not only find themselves playing in the familiar confines of the Mohegan Sun Arena, but with home ice advantage for the remainder of the series.
“We’re really in a best-of-five series with home ice advantage,” said head coach John Hynes. “We want to take advantage of that.”
Still, it won’t be easy.
The Crunch have yet to lose on the road in the playoffs and during the regular season they had the second-best road record in the AHL. That’s why it was crucial that the Penguins came away with at least a split from the first two games in Syracuse.
“I’d take that any day,” said Brian Dumoulin. “That was a very big split up in Syracuse and having three games at home helps us out a lot.”
It also helps that, with Games 3 and 4 at home, the Penguins don’t have to worry about all the logistics of being on the road for the next several days.
“It’s nice to be home and not have to worry about hotels and stuff like that,” Dumoulin said. “You can get back to the normal routine you had in the regular season.”
But perhaps the biggest benefit of playing at home is the fans. Dumoulin recalled the energy that the boisterous home crowd generated during the Providence series and the Penguins are hoping for the same thing tonight.
“We did a lot of work last series to get the chance to play again and give our fans more hockey to watch,” said winger Paul Thompson. “They’ve been great to us so far and hopefully we can use playing at home to our advantage.”
- Syracuse top scorer and AHL MVP Tyler Johnson didn’t practice on Tuesday and his status for tonight’s game remains unknown. Hynes said Johnson’s status doesn’t impact his gameplan for tonight. Johnson was injured when he and Chad Kolarik collided in the third period of Game 2. Both players had to be helped off the ice.
“They have a good team, it’s not just one player,” Hynes said. “He’s certainly a guy we’re aware of - a dynamic player, but it doesn’t change much for us. We have to be more concerned about how we play and as the games go on we have to make adjustments on certain guys or certain situations.”
- While the first two games saw plenty of physical play, the big hits haven’t been as prevalent as they were in the Providence series. But that could change.
“They were very competitive games - not a lot of time and space by either team,” Hynes said. “There wasn’t as many big hits or pounding hits like the Providence series, but there’s not time and space. There’s more bumps and rub-outs than the eye-catching hits.”
- The Penguins signed defensemen Scott Harrington and Olli Maatta to amateur tryout agreements on Tuesday. Both players join Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after reaching the 2013 Memorial Cup with the Ontario Hockey League champion, London Knights. Harrington was Pittsburgh’s second-round pick in 2011 while Maatta was a first round selection in 2012. Hynes said both could see action in the playoffs.
“When you get the opportunity to work with real high-end prospects first turning pro, it’s nice to have them. There’s a possibility those guys will be in the lineup.”
Another prospect is expected to join the Penguins soon as well as Hynes said defenseman Derrick Pouliot, a 2012 first round pick (8th overall), will join the team at some point.
- On the injury front, Kolarik practiced on Tuesday and Hynes said he is fine. Winger Bobby Farnham is also ready to return to game action, while D Dylan Reese and C Jayson Megna are considered day-to-day.
Remaining schedule for the Eastern Conference finals (to order tickets, call 208-PENS):
Game 3 – tonight – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 4 – Fri., May 31 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
Game 5 – Sat., June 1 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., June 3 – Syracuse at W-B/Scranton, 7:05
*Game 7 – Wed., June 5 – W-B/Scranton at Syracuse, 7:00