Goalie Tomas Vokoun wasn't sharp in Game 1, but neither was Pittsburgh's defense. (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)
PITTSBURGH -- Maybe Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was working on his curveball for a stint with the Pirates in case he needs something to do during the summer. Asked if he was considering yanking goalie Tomas Vokoun, the dutiful backup who had given Pittsburgh much-needed relief until his shaky outing in the Pens' Eastern finals-opening 3-0 loss to Boston, and replacing him with embattled starter Marc-Andre Fleury for Game 2 on Monday night, Bylsma essentially said no.
"We lost Game 1. But Tomas played real well in the game, was strong in the game, made big saves. So the wins and losses isn't necessarily an indicator of what we're going to do with the goaltending situation," the coach said before a game the Penguins suddenly feel they must win.
Bylsma didn't seem to be opting for the straight change, at least not yet, but he also indicated that he still sees Fleury as the man his team would likely ride at some point: "I'm confident in Marc-Andre Fleury as a goalie and confident in what he can do when he gets in there."
That's when, not if.
If the Penguins are to bounce back from their disconcerting performance on Saturday night, they will apparently try to do it with Vokoun, the 36-year-old who had just three postseason wins on his resume before he was suddenly and effectively pressed into service after Fleury fell apart and surrendered 14 goals in three first-round games against the New York Islanders. What is so telling about this decision? It comes when Pittsburgh trails a series for the first time this spring and some of the team's weaknesses -- slow defense, poor face-off performance, a susceptibility to being pushed around -- have been glaringly exposed by the Bruins.
"We were hoping to win eight in a row," Bylsma said. "If that's the case, we certainly wouldn't see a different goalie ..."
Perhaps the assumption now is that there won't be an eight-game win streak, especially at this point in the playoffs when the going and the competition are decidedly tougher. The Penguins all seemed to sense that. They surely have things to work on, such as the Bruins' enormous 32-16 edge in the face-off dots during Game 1 that magnified the benefits of having their goalie, Tuukka Rask, freeze the puck. "A large portion that Boston won were not clean wins," Bylsma said. "They were 50-50 pucks around the centermen that they got to first. That's something we talked about going in. We didn't do a good job of that. They won the lion's share of those pucks."
It was also clear that the Bruins succeeded in frustrating the Penguins in Game 1. Sidney Crosby ended up in the box after he shoved Rask while he was heading off the ice at the end of the second period with Boston leading 1-0 and then got into a shouting match -- anything more would have been suicidal -- with Zdeno Chara. Chris Kunitz was hit with a unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for scrapping with Rich Peverley. Even sniper Evgeni Malkin had an uncharacteristic fight with Boston's Patrice Bergeron, a superb two-way player whose job includes disrupting opponents' games. "You've gotta play on the edge," said Pens defenseman Douglas Murray. "You gotta be competitive out there. Sometimes it goes overboard. You learn from it and move on."
The Penguins feel that they can and will win a contest of skills with the Bruins. "We're a high-tempo club," said Jarome Iginla. "We want to play in between the whistles, just keep the plays moving. We're a good skating club. We want to wear teams out that way. We probably got into a few things we don't need."
Perhaps things have simply been too easy for the Penguins in these playoffs. Against the scrappy Islanders, they were facing an upstart club that could not match their experience and savvy. Second-round foe Ottawa did not have the talent to compete with Pittsburgh. But this series is different. The Bruins are only two years removed from their Stanley Cup title, with a lineup that is at least as good as the 2011 edition and it includes a few youthful additions on the backline. The Penguins can't afford mistakes against this bunch.
"Once we got down a couple goals, we started forcing plays through the neutral zone," said Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik. "That's probably where they're the best, the neutral zone, at creating turnovers ... We gave them way too much help, and we can't afford to do that against this team. They make you pay."
The Bruins did a far better job of creating a sustained forecheck, forcing Pittsburgh's defense into turnovers or, in the case of Nathan Horton's third-period goal that made the score 3-0, simply making it overcommit to one side of the ice so the other was left unprotected. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh's forwards didn't make Boston's defense work very hard.
"It seemed to me it was more of an up and down rush game," Vokoun said. "We don't want to play like that. We want to play in their zone and put pressure on their D and put pucks behind them and grind from there. Still, we had chances, but we just didn't score."
The Bruins said they expect the Penguins to be better on Monday night. Whether or not the goaltender is the same, the B's felt some things would surely change.
"Maybe you catch them a little unexpected, which is natural because they're the favorites," Horton said. "We were competitive with them [in three one-goal losses] all year. They'll be tighter in their end and really on top of us in our end. We'll be ready for that. We have to."