PITTSBURGH — In a nondescript hallway deep within the bowels of PPG Paints Arena, a pair of head coaches were roaring with laughter.
There was Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on the right, describing the concept of line changes in great detail minutes before Tuesday’s morning skate.
On the left was longtime Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, awestruck by the speed of the NHL game.
The meeting was set up by Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith, who forged a friendship with Boudreau a decade ago when both were coaching in the nation’s capital.
“I got to know him when he was with the Redskins and we just stayed good friends,” Boudreau said. “He phoned me the other day and wanted to do dinner (on Monday night) and I said I couldn’t do it.”
Instead, Boudreau agreed to leave a pass for Smith at morning skate, giving the old friends some time to catch up.
“He texted me this morning and said, ‘I’m going to bring Mike Tomlin. Can you get another pass?’ ” Boudreau said with a belly laugh. “I said, ‘I don’t think Mike Tomlin needs a pass to get in anywhere here in Pittsburgh.’ ”
Tomlin has led the Steelers to two Super Bowls and one championship.
The conversation lasted more than 30 minutes before Boudreau finally decided to watch the morning skate from the bench —with Tomlin right behind him.
“I get so excited when I talk to him because he talks so passionately about everything,” Boudreau said. “There are so many similarities to the sports even though the sports are so different.”
As for whether Boudreau asked Tomlin to give a pregame speech before the Wild took on the Penguins, he figured he better not, even if Tomlin has some loose Minnesota roots dating back to his one season as defensive coordinator of the Vikings.
“I don’t think it was the right thing to do in Pittsburgh,” Boudreau said. “It wouldn’t have gone over very well.”
Ryan Suter has left practice conspicuously early a few times over the past couple of weeks, and while he’s clearly fighting through a lower-body injury, he downplayed it Tuesday.
“Everyone goes through issues,” he said. “It’s going good.”
The only thing Suter would confirm about the lower-body injury is that it happened a couple of weeks ago while blocking a shot.
“Everybody plays with injuries,” Suter said. “Let’s not make a big deal out of it.”
No doubt the upcoming All-Star Game break, which runs right into the team’s bye week, will help Suter recover.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “We have five games left here, so finish it off on a high note and go and recharge and get ready for the last stretch.”
After missing a couple of months following sports hernia surgery, Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby was set to return to the lineup Tuesday night.
“I really can’t wait,” Boudreau deadpanned. “Is Mario (Lemieux) dressing for tonight’s game, too?”
Crosby’s return should be motivation enough for the Penguins to rise to the occasion against the Wild, even if they’re returning home from a lengthy road trip.
“I’m never somebody that says, ‘Oh we’re going to take advantage of them because they’re coming in off a road trip,’ ” Boudreau said. “I think with Sidney’s return, and playing on national TV, they aren’t going to come out flat.”