Garrett Wilson knows what it’s like to be swept in the first round of a playoff series, and he doesn’t want to experience the feeling again.
As a member of the San Antonio Rampage in 2015, Wilson’s team was swept by the Oklahoma City Barons in three games. There are a few of similarities between that postseason and the predicament the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins find themselves in today.
San Antonio was the higher seed, like the Penguins are against the Checkers, and the Rampage lost the first two games on the road in what were close affairs and then returned home to drop the third contest.
But there’s one difference between the Rampage team of 2015 and Wilson’s Penguins that could prevent a similar fate.
“I felt like a couple of guys might have checked out a little early (with San Antonio in 2015),” Wilson said. “It’s on us, the leaders here, to make sure everyone is still on board and still believing that we can come back.”
It was apparent during a high intensity practice on Wednesday that the Penguins were still fully invested in the series despite being in a 2-0 hole. Head coach Clark Donatelli said his players are anxious for Game 3 on Thursday and a few days back home helped them re-group and settle in for a series that will remain in Wilkes-Barre as long as the Penguins keep winning.
Facing a must-win scenario on Thursday has narrowed everyone’s focus, Donatelli said, adding he was confident his team would play with the urgency needed to prolong the season.
“All of our concentration is on (Thursday’s) game. We have to win. That’s all we’re talking about,” Donatelli said.
While it’s up to the Penguins to bring the urgency, there is a pressure that looms regardless of how upbeat the team is. Outgoing captain Tom Kostopoulos, who is facing a unique scenario to not only prolong the season but his career as well.
“There’s pressure, but it’s a good pressure. It’s fun,” said Kostopoulos, who will retire at the conclusion of the Penguins playoff run. “It’s a do-or-die situation so we want to leave everything out there.”
For the Penguins, in order to keep their postseason alive there is pressure to avoid breakdowns like what happened in the first two games to allow the Checkers to seize momentum. And there’s pressure to stay out of the penalty box, convert on the power play and give a consistent effort for 60 minutes.
“We have to stay confident in ourselves,” Wilson said. “We’re going to be a desperate team and we have to stay in the moment. It’s going to be tough but we’re ready for the challenge.”
• Defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Kevin Czuczman, who are both battling injuries, will be a game-time decision, Donatelli said.
• Wilkes-Barre/Scranton signed forward Linus Olund to an amateur tryout agreement for the 2018 Calder Cup Playoffs on Wednesday. The Penguins also released forward Sam Lafferty from his ATO.
The 20-year-old Olund just finished his third season of pro hockey with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Hockey League. This past season, he set career highs with 51 games played and 23 points (8G-15A).
Pittsburgh selected Ölund in the fifth round (155th overall) of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft after he posted six goals and four assists for 10 points in 20 SHL Playoffs games with Brynäs. Ölund led all junior-aged players in goals during the 2017 SHL Playoffs as he helped Brynäs reach the Le Mat Trophy Final, the SHL’s championship series.
In this year’s SHL Playoffs, the native of Gävle, Sweden, earned five points (2G-3A) in eight games, tied for second on the team.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky