Perhaps the ultra-skilled lineup that featured Hall of Famers alongside Hall of Famers is to blame.
Often times the elite opt to bypass the simple for the complex, but style points don’t show up on the scoreboard. The Stanley Cup isn’t captured through extraordinary plays; it’s won through a consistent effort of ordinary plays. That is why Boston played for the Cup and Pittsburgh didn’t.
Correctable errors that went undiagnosed cost the Penguins. Mistakes and a lack of commitment to smart play are to blame. Playoff hockey is about fundamentals and simplicity. The Penguins lacked both this season.
The Bruins game was easy: get shots to the Penguins net and block shots from getting to their own net.
After totaling 30 or more shots in every game of their second round matchup versus Ottawa, Pittsburgh surpassed 29 shots on goal just a single time in the four game series against the Bruins. The low total was just one reason why the Penguins goals per game dropped from 4.27 over the first two rounds to .5 against Boston.
A second reason is due to the Bruins defensive commitment in their own zone. Boston blocked 71 shots in four contests and out-blocked the Penguins defense in every game of the series. That total came after Pittsburgh found success in the same fashion against Ottawa by out-blocking the Senators 96-56.
Part of the shots discrepancy is due to Boston’s gameplan. A sagging neutral zone trap stymied a Penguins transition game that was not only one of the best in the league, but also typically accounted for a large chunk of their shot total.
Simplicity against the trap would have aided the stubborn Penguins.
The physical nature of post-season hockey dictates a zone-to-zone approach to the game. That approach is in direct conflict with Dan Bylsma’s stretch-the-ice philosophy. An elementary practice—and an underutilized one by the Penguins—is a three-step process: exit the defensive zone, exit the neutral zone, grind in offensive zone. Instead, Pittsburgh insisted on trying to gain the offensive zone from the defensive zone.
On the rare times Pittsburgh did sustain offensive zone pressure, Boston clogged the shooting lanes, forcing perimeter passing. As a result, the Penguins passed on shooting opportunities as the series unfolded.
Another basic concept that eluded the Atlantic Division champs was net-front presence. Rarely was a Penguin parked in front of Tuuka Rask during even-strength play. Traffic in front of the Bruins goaltender was even less frequent during powerplays. It’s an easy, fundamental point of hockey, and it was ignored by both the coaching staff and players.
Don’t discredit the Bruins, though. They were better prepared, harder working and advantageous. The 2011 Stanley Cup champion wasn’t exactly lacking skill, either.
Boston didn’t take the first two games of the series off like the Penguins did. And when games three and four were played evenly, luck favored Beantown. Fortune isn’t often to blame for a series loss — and certainly wasn’t the deciding factor for the Penguins – but it was an aiding element in a final two games that saw just four total goals in eight periods of play.
Maybe Bylsma should have played more youth. He could have tried Jarome Iginla on a line with Sidney Crosby. He surely needed to adjust philosophy.
Or, maybe Boston was just the better team.