June 3, 2013

Rattled Penguins look to regain composure against Bruins

By Jesse Connolly

No photograph sums up Game 1 better than this shot of Zdeno Chara terrorizing Sidney Crosby. (Getty Images)

Thanks to the week-long hiatus of Eastern Conference playoff hockey, just about every storyline had been exhausted by the time the Penguins and Bruins finally took to the ice for Game 1 on Saturday night. Thankfully, their series opener provided us with plenty more to talk about.

There was Matt Cooke, reaffirming he’s still the reckless player he’s always been, with his ill-advised hit from behind on Adam McQuaid. There was David Krejci continuing to be a primetime playoff performer, scoring two goals while linemate Nathan Horton buried another. And, of course, there was Tuukka Rask notching his first career playoff shutout against a team averaging over four goals in this year’s postseason, and one that was last held without a goal precisely 16 months ago.

But nothing on Saturday night provided greater theater than the mental meltdown apparently suffered by the Penguins. Pittsburgh began to come unglued late in the second period, with Sidney Crosby elbowing Tuukka Rask before being treated to a terrifying tongue-lashing from Boston captain Zdeno Chara, all while centers Patrice Bergeron and Evgeni Malkin fought. The whole sequence sent the animosity in this series through the roof.

It was easy to tell the Penguins were fazed in the final frame. They managed just seven shots, gave up two more goals (thanks to some incredibly lackadaisical defense), a rattled Crosby took a needless slashing penalty and the home team as a whole simply looked out of sync until the final horn sounded. After it did, Pittsburgh’s captain – despite kick-starting the second-period scuffles – voiced his displeasure with the officiating.

“They're letting a lot go out there, and the more it gets like that, the more it’s going to escalate," said Crosby "You can only control and channel that stuff so much. You keep letting guys do that stuff, you’re just going to push the envelope. That’s something we obviously want to stay away from, but it’s kind of a natural thing when it gets like that.”

Crosby, who won just 6-of-17 faceoffs on the night, ended his rant by saying the Pens just “need to focus on playing.”

While things ultimately worked out perfectly for Boston in Game 1, the B’s assuredly know they didn’t play a perfect game. Prior to losing their composure, the Penguins were generating a heaping helping of high-quality scoring chances, forcing Rask to have to be flat out spectacular to keep the Bruins from falling behind early on. The Bruins will need to crack down defensively and continue to get stellar netminding from Rask.

Boston also needs to be more effective on the power play. After a strong showing against the Rangers, the B’s looked like their woeful midseason selves on the man advantage in Game 1 en route to an 0-for-4 evening. Blowing precious opportunities on the PP could come back to haunt the B’s, as Pittsburgh’s offense is going to come around sooner or later. Krejci, Horton and Co. will have to keep up that magic.

As for whether or not they can remain cool, calm and collected for 60-plus minutes of hockey on Monday, it’s entirely up to the Penguins to take their lumps, tune out Brad Marchand and the like, and keep their focus on the Bruins, not the referees.

The Penguins allowed the B’s to get in their heads in Game 1. Don’t think the Bruins won’t be making an honest effort to try to get under the opposition’s skin again on Monday night. If Crosby’s squad is distracted by the officiating and the chance of fisticuffs, and not exuding their elite talents, the higher the odds are that the Bruins return to Boston with a 2-0 series lead.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com