For the first two periods of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, the Pittsburgh Penguins were doing most everything they wanted against the Boston Bruins. They were using their speed and generating chances. They had outshot Boston, 22-17, and were outhitting a club known for its size and physicality.
The one thing the Penguins weren’t able to do, however, was score. And, after 8:23 of Pittsburgh not finding a way to convert its opportunities into goals, the Bruins got a lucky bounce when David Krejci’s shot deflected off the skate of Penguins defenseman Paul Martin and floated through the legs of his netminder, Tomas Vokoun.
The Penguins kept pressing through the rest of the first and the second period, but the Bruins defense kept many of their shots from hitting the mark – and, when they did, Boston goaltender Tuuka Rask was there. And the Penguins’ frustrations grew.
Pittsburgh killed all four Bruins’ power plays, including a three-minute man-advantage early in the second period without one of their best penalty killers, Matt Cooke, who was lost for the game after receiving five minutes and a game misconduct for checking from behind. But their own, No. 1-ranked power play couldn’t click in any of its four opportunities, either, as the Bruins PK collapsed around Rask and limited quality chances.
By the end of the second period, two star forwards – the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin and Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron – were engaged in a brawl. Captains Sidney Crosby and Zdeno Chara were engaged in an ongoing verbal battle. Malkin and Crosby were engaged in the game, period, leading the team with five and four shots on goal, respectively; forward James Neal also had four.
But it was the Bruins who retained their 1-0 advantage – and, in a span of less than four minutes early in the third period, added two more from Krejci and Nathan Horton to put the game away.
“We came close a few times and Rask was able to keep us off the board,” Crosby said. “That gave them time to build their lead and, when we made a mistake, they put it in.”
“Once we were down a couple goals, we started forcing plays through the neutral zone,” said defenseman Brooks Orpik. “That’s where they’re the best, in the neutral zone and creating turnovers, and we played right into it.”
Crosby said the Penguins’ frustrations escalated as players took liberties on the ice that weren’t being called consistently.
“It’s tough; they’re letting a lot go out there. So, the more and more it gets like that, the more things are going to escalate,” he said. “You can only control and channel that so much; keep letting guys do that stuff and they’re just going to push the envelope.
“It’s hard to really get a gauge as a player when that stuff’s going on, and then you let a few things go and everything starts to get out of hand. We’ve just got to focus on playing.”
The Penguins lost their focus on their game, which centers on puck possession and offensive zone time. Instead, they allowed themselves to get into trading chances with the Bruins and facilitating the bounces that went Boston’s way.
“I think we didn’t play poorly; we played hard, but we just didn’t do what we wanted to do,” Vokoun said. “To me, it seemed like it was an up-and-down rush game, and we don’t want to play like that. We want to play in their zone, put the pressure on their D, put pucks behind them and grind from there.
“Still, we had our chances but didn’t score. Their goalie played a good game, he got good breaks a few times, and that’s hockey sometimes.”
Now down in a series for the first time this postseason, the Penguins will need a big response Monday to avoid going to Boston down two games to none.
“It’s nice to start fast, but it’s a series,” said defenseman Matt Niskanen. “We know it’s going to be a tough series, and they got the first one. It was their night; they capitalized on their chances and we didn’t get any. We’ve got to regroup and we’ll have a really desperate, urgent effort for Game 2.”