NHL playoffs: Down 2-0, Penguins seek change in Game 3 versus Bruins
BOSTON -- Ch-ch-changes may be in the works for the Penguins' lineup, but as the series shifts to Boston after a pair of stunning games in Pittsburgh in which the Eastern Conference Finals favorites were outscored 9-1, there's no telling if there will also be a change of fortune for the suddenly reeling Cup contenders.
“We’re not liking the picture. We’re down 0-2,” said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. “They’re in control. They’ve won two games on the road.”
Though the Penguins put up a fight, hit a few posts and endured some bad luck in their 3-0 loss in Game 1, they were badly outplayed in almost every aspect of Game 2, a 6-1 embarrassment on home ice.
“We got off our game plan,” Bylsma said. “We got off individual games by trying to get back a goal by one play, one instance, one situation. ... We have to get back to playing our game, back to good defensive hockey, good away from the puck. There’s going to be some changes to our lineup and some of our line combinations, our lines.”
But where does Bylsma turn?
Up front, he can choose from sandpaper forwards Tyler Kennedy and Tanner Glass, both of whom have good playoff experience, or rookie Beau Bennett, who can make plays in the offensive zone. On defense, he could go with either Mark Eaton or Simon Despres. Eaton played an integral role in the Penguins’ league-high 15-game winning streak, but he's since worked his way into Bylsma’s doghouse. The coach has scratched him five times during the playoffs, including the Game 2 defeat on Monday. In Saturday’s opener, Eaton took a deflected puck off the stick of Boston’s Rich Peverley solidly on the jaw, but he returned for a penalty-killing shift less than two minutes later.
Bylsma’s true conundrum lies in goal. Does he go back to regular starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who struggled to find his game in the first round against the Islanders, got benched, and then came back in relief only to let in three goals on Monday? Or does he return to Tomas Vokoun, who played admirably in Fleury’s stead for most of the playoffs, but has never led a team deep into the postseason? Bylsma seemed to be leaning towards Fleury, despite that soft goal he let in on his first test in Game 2. “We look at his entire body of work, not one shot,” the coach said. “He’s certainly won a lot of hockey games for us. He didn’t have that last night, but that’s not going to come into play in the decision.”
Personnel notwithstanding, the Penguins need better play from their front line. Sidney Crosby has been way off his game in this series, committing a costly turnover on his first shift that led to the Bruins’ first goal and coughing up the puck again throughout the game.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with Xs and Os,” Crosby said. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the game. It’s over now ... I think it’s mental. I think a little of both. We didn’t play well enough to get a win or play with that amount of desperation you need and stick with what’s gotten us here. I just feel like every time I got it, the puck was bouncing. I ended up giving it away. Game 1 was different, but [in Game 2] we fell behind, tried to play catch up and made it worse ... we didn’t do anything to give ourselves a chance to win.”
The Bruins have been the more composed team in the first two games and the Penguins have allowed them to play that way by missing assignments and committing turnovers. “Our last four periods were out of the style we want to play,” said veteran forward Jarome Iginla. “Nobody’s happy with where we’re at. Everybody thinks we can win this series. There’s no question we all need to be better. We got away from a lot of our game. We got out-competed. We weren’t very good in you name the area.”
Give the Bruins credit for winning face-offs, making secure clearances out of their zone, and picking up their checks efficiently, but the Penguins don’t feel that they’ve done their part to stay competitive or look like the team that finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s more what we’re doing,” said Pens defenseman Kris Letang. “We don’t do anything good at all ... You can’t just go one way and try for a chance and wait for it to come back your way; you have to grind them down, make sure you play deep, you have a good cycle, good offensive shift. You have to keep them there. We didn’t play good. We didn’t deserve to win those games. That’s why we’re here.”
Maybe a change, whatever it proves to be, will do them good.MUIR: Why the NHL playoffs are the best in sports | KWAK: Social media's view