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Thursday, April 19, 2012
Second chance key for Penguins

By Scott Burnside
ESPN.com

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins forward Matt Cooke has spoken often and openly this season about the regret he felt at being sidelined during last year's playoffs due to a suspension.

There is perhaps no worse feeling in pro sport than having let your teammates down through a selfish act, to be denied the chance to do your part.

On Wednesday night in Philadelphia, three of Cooke's teammates experienced at least a little of those emotions as James Neal, Craig Adams and Arron Asham, all suspended for various misdeeds in Game 3 of this first-round series on Sunday, had to watch their short-handed teammates battle for their playoff lives.

The short-handed Penguins (defenseman Paul Martin was also out of the lineup with an injury) responded with a dominating performance, waxing the Flyers 10-3 to stave off elimination and set up a fifth game in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal here on Friday evening.

Two of those players, Neal and Adams, will get a chance to return to the lineup and repay their teammates' hard work with contributions of their own.

Asham, suspended for four games for crosschecking and then punching a defenseless Brayden Schenn in Sunday's 8-4 loss, has three more games to serve.

"Definitely a nervous feeling," Neal said after the Penguins skated on their home rink Thursday. "It's a weird feeling when you don't have any control and you can't help your team out there. It's definitely not fun and I'm glad the boys did a great job last night and forced another game."

Chance and opportunity are the currency of the NHL playoffs.

Sometimes you get only the one so you'd better not squander it.

But to get a second chance, well, it behooves Neal and Adams not to squander what is for them a new lease on their playoff lives, even if that lease might extend for only one more game.

The two forwards were involved in the embarrassing loss of cool in Game 3 that was borne of the frustration of being pushed to the brink in an 8-4 Flyers win.

Wednesday marked a stark departure from the routines that are so ingrained at this time of the year.

"It was a long day," Neal acknowledged. "You usually go back and have your quick nap and you're off to the rink. But I had a nap, woke up and sat around the hotel a little bit because I did a good skate in the morning.

"Just kind of waited 'til game time. Like I said just a different feeling, a different nervousness. I'm glad the guys did a great job. It's tough when you know you can't help your team out and you have nothing to do for an outcome, so it was weird but it was good."

The three suspended players watched the game from the Flyers' press box high above the Wells Fargo Center ice.

They watched as the Flyers scored first and then went ahead 3-2 before the opening frame was 16 minutes old.

"That first period was something else. It was tough on the nerves. Guys did a good job fighting back," Neal said.

"It was tough," Adams acknowledged. "It got easier as the game went on. First period was very nerve-racking. It's hard to watch. I don't think you can make a habit of that," said the veteran forward, who was tabbed with an instigating penalty late in Game 3 after he fought Scott Hartnell after captain Sidney Crosby had tried to initiate a confrontation with the rugged Philadelphia winger.

But unlike the first three games, when the Penguins were the team unable to hold the lead, on Wednesday they were the ones with the significant push back. They scored eight unanswered goals, chasing starting netminder Ilya Bryzgalov early in the second period, and capitalized with four power-play goals on nine opportunities.

Chances. Opportunity. There are only so many that exist in any playoff series.

The Flyers talked about having missed an opportunity to put away a dangerous opponent on home ice. Instead, they turned in an effort they described as embarrassing.

They will get another opportunity to put the final nail in the Penguins' playoff coffin Friday night, although they might be without defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, who was injured after collisions with Evgeni Malkin and Tyler Kennedy in Game 4 and did not practice Thursday.

James van Riemsdyk, out with a broken foot, is getting closer to returning to the lineup and is a possibility for Game 5 as he skated again with his teammates on Thursday.

Head coach Peter Laviolette told reporters after the team skated at its suburban practice facility that van Riemsdyk "looks better every day." No decision has been made yet on whether he's ready to play, though, the coach said.

Neal and Adams are relieved that they have at least one more chance to make a difference and Neal insisted he didn't allow himself to consider that he might not have this opportunity.

"No, I didn't really think like that," Neal said. "I didn't allow myself to think like that. I just didn't have that feeling that I wasn't going to have another chance, so it never really crept in like that. It was only one game [the suspension], obviously it was an elimination game but when I was skating at the end of practice [Wednesday morning], I never felt like it was going to be my last time putting my skates on. That's a good feeling to have, a reassuring feeling, the feeling you have when you have a group of guys like this in the locker room and you know what they can do."

Adams, for his part, said he'd made his peace with missing Game 4.

"I didn't feel guilty," he said. "You can't. I said before, I'm not going to beat myself up over what happened. I've got the support of my teammates and my coaches and my management, so the guys did the best thing they could and went out and won a game and hopefully I get a chance to play tomorrow."

That said, the two-time Stanley Cup winner understands better than most that chances are a finite resource.

"And that's all we're looking for," Adams said. "That's what we're talking about, one more chance. We're not talking about three more games. We get a chance to play tomorrow night and we get a chance for everybody to have their best game and see what happens from there."