On the heels of a frustrating, 3-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Penguins were looking for a strong bounce-back effort to even the series on their home ice.
It’s safe to say that, when Brad Marchand exploited a Sidney Crosby turnover off the opening faceoff, broke in on goaltender Tomas Vokoun and wristed the puck upstairs to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead just 28 seconds into Game 2, it wasn’t exactly the start they had in mind.
“We’ve got to be smarter; they’re a good hockey team and you can’t give them easy ones,” Crosby said. “I did that on the first shift and it ended up in the back of the net.”
Spotting the Bruins a 4-1 lead after the first period probably wasn’t in the Penguins’ game plan, either. Neither were their 12 giveaways – four of them by Crosby – or their sloppy passing, inability to get out of their defensive end and failure to generate much in the way of meaningful offense.
“Thirty seconds in, they get up 1-0 and I felt like we probably tried to get it back,” Crosby said. “We might’ve taken some chances to do that and started chasing there when we were down a couple. And, once you start doing that against a good hockey team, you start putting yourself in pretty bad positions.”
Defenseman Kris Letang, Pittsburgh’s Norris Trophy candidate, could relate to that better than most. He was on the ice for four goals against in the eventual 6-1 rout, continuing a tough series that also saw him on ice for two of the three Bruins goals in Game 1.
“We didn’t play a good game. We didn’t manage the puck,” Letang said. “We know if we’re going to play a 50-50 game, we’re not going to win any games against them. They’re a defensive team; they capitalize on every turnover you’re going to make. Our turnovers cost us the game.”
The impressive postseason run that began for Vokoun in Game 5 of the first round against the New York Islanders came to an end – at least for now – as erstwhile starter Marc-Andre Fleury came in late in the first period, after Vokoun had allowed three goals on 12 shots. Fleury faced 17 shots and also allowed three.
“They move the puck well. They throw the puck at the net, go there and crash it, and maybe sometimes we get a little scrambly,” Fleury said. “That gives them open guys around the net, and it’s costly.”
Head coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t ready to discuss which netminder would get the nod for Wednesday’s Game 3 in Boston: “It’s tough to evaluate given the breakdowns and the type of chances that they scored on, for both goalies,” he said. In other words, who’s in goal might not matter much if the Penguins don’t find a way to turn around the other aspects of their game. Namely, all of them.
“The first game, we did a lot more things better than we did tonight,” Crosby said. “Tonight was terrible; there’s no other way to describe it. We weren’t good, really, in any area. A loss is a loss, it’s frustrating, but you don’t like giving them one like that. We really didn’t do a lot of things to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Penguins’ only goal of the game – and the series so far – came from their third line, with Brandon Sutter scoring from Matt Cooke and defenseman Paul Martin with 34 seconds remaining in the first. But the chance to seize some momentum from that late-period goal was quashed just 25 seconds later, when Marchand scored to end the period the same way he started it.
So far, the Bruins have managed to render Pittsburgh’s high-octane offense – featuring players like Crosby, Letang, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Jarome Iginla – completely ineffective.
“We don’t sit here and accept that,” Crosby said. “We know we’re looked upon to score and produce, and I’m not going to sit here and make any excuses. We have to be better; that’s the bottom line. We’ve got to find ways to create chances or put the puck in the net ourselves.”
If the Penguins hope to compete for the Stanley Cup, they must now come back from an 0-2 series deficit for the sixth time in franchise history – including the 1991 Wales Conference Final against the Bruins, en route to winning their first Stanley Cup. Pittsburgh also bounced back from 0-2 deficits twice in 2009, when they won their third Cup, but they’ve only done it once – in 1996 against the Washington Capitals – after dropping those first two games at home.
Those numbers may not be on their side, but the Penguins hope that, by getting back to the game that helped them finish as the NHL’s second-best team in the regular season, they will find a way to get back into the series.
“When you play a certain way all year, you believe in the way you play, and I think that gives you a lot of confidence,” Crosby said. “Coming off a game like this, there should be no shortage of motivation. Knowing the situation, knowing how tonight went – these guys have a lot of pride, a lot of character in here. I’m not worried about how we’re going to respond.”