High stakes. High anxiety. Do or die. Winner goes on. Loser goes golfing. There’s nothing quite like a Game 7. A year ago, almost to the day, the Penguins beat Tampa Bay to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup Final. They’re one win away from the same situation. And although the fans might be on the edge of their seats, the Pens, and head coach Mike Sullivan, are calm in the face of pressure and ready to embrace the challenge, “I think the pyschology of high-stake games definitely has impact on players, and what I love about our team is that we’ve always shown the ability to respond. We’ve had a lot of high stake games over the last couple years in my tenure here, and our players have responded in the right way.”

The Steelers resumed their “Organized Team Activities” on the South Side, and it marked the return of wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who’s back after a year-long suspension under the NFL substance abuse policy, “I mean, I know it’s my last chance. I got the right people around me. I got the people in place for me to help maintain my sobriety, and as long as I pass my tests. That is what I’ve gotta do for my family, and take care of my business, everything will be just fine.” Bryant said he’s undergoing regular testing.

The Penguins have shown all season they can win despite injuries, and no game to this point is more important than tonight’s Game 6, with a chance to win the Eastern Conference and advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season. Sidney Crosby, leading the way with the sentiments of his coaches, “you know we gotta get a win. It’s gonna be a tough one. I think everything else surrounding it is not really our focus, we just have to focus on our game, we play the right way and give ourselves a chance to get one there.”

The Penguins struggled to close out the Washington Capitals, watching a 3-1 lead go to a Game 7. Now the Pens hope to learn from that experience. The Penguins put themselves in position to clinch the Eastern Conference title tomorrow night after Sunday’s 7-0 win. But that will mean nothing on Tuesday. It’s a new game. Sidney Crosby doesn’t want to see another Game 7, “I mean, you’ve got to learn from that, and I don’t think our desperation was there, especially Games 5 and 6 of that series. We have to learn from that and make sure it’s there tomorrow night. I think that it’s something that in the playoffs you have to get better and better to improve, and that’s one area we’ve got to make sure to improve on.”

With the Eastern Conference Final series tied at 1, the Penguins are ready to resume the best-of-seven on the road. This afternoon, captain Sidney Crosby and the Pens left for Ottawa, where they’ll play the Senators in Game 3 tomorrow night. But just like they have all season, the Pens are dealing with injuries. Two more players went down last night. Bryan Rust is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Early in the first period, Rust was hit hard by senators defenseman Dion Phaneuf, and another defenseman gets injured. In the first period, Justin Schultz slammed into the boards. He left the game and immediately headed for the locker room. Schultz is also day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Here’s Mike Sullivan today with a familiar answer about overcoming injuries, “I think this team has a chemistry, that is a competitive advantage for us. We believe that, these guys really get along extremely well, they enjoy
playing for one another. It’s just one more challenge that this team is going to have to face, and find ways to overcome it.”

The Steelers wrapped up their rookie mini-camp on Sunday. It’s the first chance to see the draft picks and free agents in action in the NFL. First-round draft pick TJ Watt talked about how he’s adjusting so far, “I feel like I’m assimilating pretty well because a lot of the stuff is stuff I’ve been doing at Wisconsin. It’s just learning the terminology and things like that, coming out here, doing walk-throughs and taking as many reps as you can.”

The power play (0 for 5 Sat night) isn’t the only point of concern for the Penguins, and head coach Mike Sullivan says he’s found something he wants the players to work on. Shooting the puck! “One of the things we did this morning when we had our film session was we showed them a number of different opportunities where we felt we could’ve put the puck on the net, and we chose not to. I don’t think it’s something that happened last night, it’s something that’s crept into our game the last few weeks, and I think we’ve gotta simplify our game a little bit.”

The Penguins are halfway home in their bid to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, but a warning for the fans from the ‘Ol 29er, Phil Bourque.  He says don’t overlook the Ottawa Senators, “I know on paper it looks like the Penguins are a heavy favorite, but you just never know, that’s why you never take anything for granted. Don’t you dare Penguins fans start looking ahead to Anaheim, Nashville, what could be, stay in the moment. Listen to your coach Mike Sullivan. Stay in the moment and live in it.”

One team goes home. One team advances. A spot in the Eastern Conference Finals is at stake. Tonight it’s Game 7 between the Penguins and Capitals at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC. Before heading to DC, the Penguins had a long and very instructional practice at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry. That might be a bit unusual, especially for a team dealing with bumps and bruises, and fatigue, but there’s a reason behind Coach Mike Sullivan’s methods, “you know we worked on some areas based on what se saw on the film…hopefully it will raise the awareness of our players, to try to give them some options in certain areas of the rink so we can establish more of an offensive attack.”

Jameson Taillon had surgery on Monday morning for suspected testicular cancer. Taillon reported some abnormalities over the weekend, and was placed on the 10-day disabled list. The abnormality was enough for doctors at Allegheny General to perform surgery. The future after the surgery is a bit uncertain, and further testing needs to be done on the 25-year-old pitcher, but Taillon has shown strength, character, and a very positive attitude. He said in a statement, “I’m feeling like more of a man than I ever have. My journey hasn’t been the smoothest. But it is my journey, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.” It’s an approach that impressed manager Clint Hurdle, “wouldn’t this world be a better place to be if people had his outlook across the board, and we all are capable. It’s a choice we all make every day in how we handle what comes in front of us, and Jameson continues to choose to take a high road, to take a positive road, to take an upbeat road.”