Fruitless power plays, goal posts, missed nets and too much Tuukka Rask are just a few of the reasons the Penguins find themselves in a 0-1 hole to start their Eastern Conference Finals series against the Boston Bruins.
Sometimes it takes a game or two for a playoff series to really heat up, but the Bruins and Penguins needed no such grace period in game one, a physical, emotional 3-0 win for the visiting team. Tuukka Rask stopped all 29 shots he faced for his first career playoff shutout and David Krejci extended his playoff scoring lead with two goals as the Penguins find themselves down in a series for the first time this year.
As Penguins players and coaches noted, however, they had their opportunities.
“We had plenty of scoring chances,” Pens forward Jarome Iginla said. “Chances to get momentum swings going, but unfortunately we didn’t get it done tonight. The power play had good looks.”
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma agreed with the veteran goal scorer.
“I thought we had a handful of real good opportunities in the first period,” Bylsma said. “A couple we misfired on, a couple we hit posts on, a couple really good saves, but I think we didn’t capitalize on the power play chances that we had. Those were big opportunities, especially the one at the end of the second going into the third.”
Despite those chances, head coach Dan Bylsma conceded that his team lost their composure and weren’t executing well in the last half of the game.
“I think in the latter I’d say 35 minutes of the game, we got away a little bit from our execution,” he said. “Got away from how we execute; not so much our execution not working, we just got away from it.”
Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun echoed those sentiments.
“They executed their game plan better than we did,” he said. “We are (getting chances) but at the same time I think we wanted to spend a little bit more time in their zone….we weren’t able to do that and they forced more their game on us than we did ours on them and at the end it paid off for them.”
The game became controversial and even nastier less than two minutes into the second period when Matt Cooke planted Adam McQuaid into the end boards. The hit looked like a pretty standard boarding minor, but perhaps owing to Cooke’s history was deemed egregious enough to warrant a five-minute checking from behind major and a game misconduct.
“Clearly it’s a hit right through the numbers,” Bylsma said of Cooke’s penalty. “I don’t think it was a rough hit.”
Had Cooke’s infraction been the only reckless hit of the night, the call made primarily because of his past would have been less glaring. But Brad Marchand followed up with a nasty check on James Neal, for which he only received a two-minute minor.
“I don’t see the difference really,” Crosby said of the two hits. “I mean, (James Neal) doesn’t go directly into the boards, I don’t think. I don’t think it’s quite as straight on as Cookie’s, but McQuaid was able to get up pretty quick I thought. I didn’t see him hit his head on the glass. I don’t think it was a great hit, don’t get me wrong…it’s a board, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily a game.”
Emotions started to boil over at the end of the second frame and that never serves the Penguins, and in particular Evgeni Malkin, well. Pittsburgh was set to open the third period with 90 seconds on their loaded man advantage when Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz took offsetting penalties for fighting and unsportsmanlike conduct, respectively, so the Pens had to work their power play without a few top guns.
“We had a power play coming out of the third period and we’ve got two of our power play guys off the ice with those altercations,” Bylsma said. “Starting really at that point in time with those guys going off the ice I think it got us off our game.”
The Penguins would certainly like to see their power play numbers improve in game two, but their performance in the faceoff circle was perhaps the most alarming statistic of the night. Boston dominated draws, winning 67 percent of them. While Jussi Jokinen went 6-4 in the circle, Crosby won only 35 percent of faceoffs and Malkin a scant 17 percent.
Pittsburgh did come out on top in one surprising category. The Big Bad Bruins are more known for their toughness, but Pittsburgh out-hit them 34-19. Boston took a 1-0 lead 8:23 into the second period when Krejci’s shot from the slot went past Paul Martin’s blocking attempt and through Tomas Vokoun’s five-hole. After a scoreless second period, Krejci caught his own rebound to put the Bruins up by a pair 4:04 into the third period. The goal was set up because Mark Eaton failed on a clearing attempt and lost a battle with Nathan Horton on the half-wall, so it will be interesting to see if he is still in the lineup on Monday. Horton put the last nail in the Penguins’ coffin when he buried a rebound into an empty net at 7:51 of the third period.
1) David Krejci
2) Tuukka Rask
3) Nathan Horton
BOS: David Krejci (6, 7), Nathan Horton (6)
BOS: Nathan Horton (2), Andrew Ference, Milan Lucic, Greg Campbell
In the Net:
PIT: Tomas Vokoun (L) 27-30
NYR: Tuukka Rask (W) 29-29