The Penguins have always had an appreciation for their fans, of course.
“I’ve always said it – for a small city, it’s a major league sports town, and we’ve got a passionate fan base,” head coach Mike Sullivan said.
But that appreciation has grown so incredibly much over the past two years as the Penguins were forced to play without them for much of last season because of the pandemic. Incredible moments like Sidney Crosby skating in his 1,000th game happened in an empty building, with neither side able to enjoy what should have been an absolutely incredible environment.
So as fans were eventually welcomed back at a 15% capacity last March, which increased to 50% for playoffs, Sullivan said it was such a refreshing experience to have them back – and their presence is something that now has an even greater effect than ever.
“Going from no fans to even when they first allowed a couple thousand in – it felt like a crazy difference. It felt like a full building almost even with just 2,000 in there,” forward Teddy Blueger said. “Obviously, with a full building, I think that’s something we’re not going to take for granted anymore after that experience.”
And the Penguins are buzzing with anticipation to experience the atmosphere tonight as the tied series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game 3, which will be the first fully attended postseason game in Pittsburgh since last spring.
“Really excited to be back here. Saturday night in Pittsburgh, I think there’s no better night,” winger Jake Guentzel said with a big grin. “It’s going to be electric. I just can’t wait to see it and how loud the fans are going to be. It’s going to be a really fun night.”
That appreciation has also grown after two road games in an extremely hostile Madison Square Garden, where the fans in New York garnered a lot of attention for their reactions to everything, particularly their treatment of the referees.
“They made it tough on us, for sure,” Blueger said. “That kind of playoff environment is tough to play in. I think at home, we’re going to need our fans, and hopefully they bring it and make it tough on the Rangers like they did for us. It can make a huge difference in momentum swings, and just give the guys energy at the right time.”
Crosby hopes that will be the case at the beginning of tonight’s contest, as the Penguins found themselves chasing both Games 1 and 2.
“I think our starts, they’re still lacking a bit,” he said. “So we got to find a way to come out of the gates a little better, and hopefully being at home will do that for us.”