It actually could be worse.
It would be worse, almost hopeless, if the Penguins had consistently played their game in the first two games
of the Eastern Conference Final against Boston and still found themselves trailing two games to none after two games at CONSOL Energy Center.
The Pens have that to cling to as they attempt to gather themselves for a trip to Boston after having been booed lustily during a second-period power play that failed miserably along the way to the 6-1 drubbing they absorbed in Game 2.
They deserved it, too, the booing, the final outcome and whatever gleeful jabs Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick might have offered up.
And they’ve earned the two-games-to-none hole that suddenly appears more daunting than a closed bridge or tunnel.
In Game 1 the Pens played well for a majority of the time but too often broke down badly the rest of the time.
In Game 2 the breakdowns commenced less than a minute in, and the wheels came off soon thereafter.
Sidney Crosby’s attempt to pass a bouncing puck toward the middle of the ice from the Bruins’ blueline jump-started Boston on the way to what turned out to be a staggering breakaway goal at 28 seconds.
Midway through the second period Boston led 4-1 and Crosby established that he and the rest of the Penguins still didn’t get it.
Crosby broke into the Bruins’ zone on a 2-on-3 rush (Boston had long since stopped trying to
score in favor of a 1-4 fore-check). He pulled up, curled back and tried another cross-ice pass.
Another turnover resulted.
The Pens kept trying to skate through the muck all night, or pass around it, kept trying to force the issue, kept trying to dazzle and dominate.
Is there any doubt by now that’s not going to work against this team?
Play defense first. Get it out. Get it deep. Get it back. Get the puck to the front of the net and outnumber Tuuka Rask and the Bruins there.
Seen that fish before?
It’s a clichéd breakdown of playoff hockey for a reason.
The Penguins know this and believe this to be the case, or so they say. And when they put their minds to it they’re actually very good at defending and cycling and grinding and possessing the puck and playing what Dan Bylsma likes to describe as “Pittsburgh Penguins Ice Hockey.”
You can play in the offensive zone that way, which is the way this team has to play defense to succeed (half-court in the other end is an accident waiting to happen). And
you can draw penalties and score dirty goals.
But too often the Pens are too determined to find a way around that postseason absolute or simply unwilling to pay the required price.
Their stars have been among the biggest offenders in this series.
Crosby had four giveaways through two periods in Game 2, to name one such responsible party.
The Bruins had two giveaways all night compared to the Penguins’ 12.
As long as that keeps up it won’t matter who’s in the Penguins’ net.
From here the Pens will either get back to the game they know they have to play and turn the series around shift by shift, or they’ll endure more of the same for a
couple more games.
If they stop hemorrhaging breakaways and get physical denying the Bruins rebounds in the vicinity of their crease as opposed to the search-and-destroy missions stalking open-ice hits that have characterized the Pens’ brand of physicality so far, Boston might have a hard time scoring, too.
But so far that’s just a theory in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Pens apparently prefer to do it their way or not at all.