Penguins shouldn’t need pep talk at this point

PITTSBURGH – It’s not like the Pittsburgh Penguins should have other things on their minds at this point.

“What’s that? There’s a game tonight? Damn, I can’t keep track of this schedule.”

They’re pretty much living it, or they should be. If you’re cultivating a playoff beard, you might as well invest fully in the experience and show up for all the games, too.

Incredibly, the Penguins got a late start on that when their series against the New York Rangers opened at Consol Energy Center on Friday night.

Well-rested and facing an opponent that should have been tired from a seven-game series against Philadelphia, the Penguins somehow allowed the Rangers to take a 2-0 lead in a game they’d wind up losing 3-2 in overtime.

“It wasn’t the start we wanted,” winger James Neal said.

Why not? Who doesn’t understand what’s at stake? Best-of-seven offers some room for error, but why were the Penguins cashing that chip in the first period of the first game?

What possible excuse can there be for coming out of the chute treating this like it was a mid-November match-up with one of those faceless generic opponents that might the Phoenix Coyotes but could just as easily be the Florida Panthers?

Fans who have watched a lot of corny sports movies tend to make too much of locker room oratory. Chuck Noll was always fond of saying that his job wasn’t to motivate, it was to direct motivated people.

So maybe the pathologically circumspect Dan Bylsma didn’t channel some combination of Knute Rockne and Herb Brooks. He shouldn’t have to. It’s the playoffs, the reason the Penguins endured the drudgery of that six-month play-in round.

The issue is the professionalism of the players, who have to grasp the circumstances and find the right gear from the start. Spotting the Rangers that 2-0 lead essentially gave them a 1-0 lead in the series.

Four games from now, maybe that’s something they’ll be able to shrug off on the way to the conference final. Better hope it doesn’t define the moment the 2014 postseason went off the rails.

One of the stats that immediately got trotted out was the Penguins’ 4-0 record in playoff series against the Rangers.

What does it mean? Nothing, really, unless players like Ron Francis and Adam Graves, who helped forge that history, are going to suit up and play again.

Sidney Crosby was the star of his kindergarten playground the first time the Penguins and Rangers met in the playoffs.

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com