Arthur: Keep calm and carry on
Talent is there when Penguins aren't trying to force things
Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins allows a goal by Johnny Boychuk #55 of the Boston Bruins in the third period during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Consol Energy Center on June 3, 2013 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Bruins defeated the Penguins 6-1.
Photograph by: BRUCE BENNETT, GETTY IMAGES
PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby was asked if his team had made physical or mental mistakes, one of those fairly broad questions which can be easily handled by saying ‘a bit of both’ and calling it a day. But Crosby just said, “I think mental,” like it was the most obvious thing in the world, and he was right. In Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final the Pittsburgh Penguins fell apart, piece by cranial piece. Crosby made a bad mistake 30 seconds in, and the Boston Bruins scored, and oddly, Pittsburgh didn’t know what to do next.
“It’s hard not to say s—, it’s not working,” said Penguins defenceman Kris Letang, translated from French. “And that’s what they’re waiting for … One guy who wants to fix the mistakes of everyone else, and it snowballs. It’s impatience.”
It was baffling. The Penguins are the most talented offensive team in hockey, glittering and beweaponed, and faced with a 1-0 deficit and 59 minutes to erase it, they became a pile of individuals, fragmented and strange, and lost 6-1. Boston is playing the best version of their hockey — stickwork and checking and traffic, everywhere you go — but Pittsburgh beat the Bruins three times in the regular season. And then, this.
“(Monday) night we tried to play catch-up — we got behind, and tried to force things, and ended up making it worse,” said Crosby.
“Guys care, and they have the urgency to want to make a difference,” said defenceman Matt Niskanen. “Where we get in trouble is we try to do it in one shift, rather than play the right way shift after shift, and just believe that it’s going to come. We’ve had a bump in the road a few times this season where we’ve fallen into that trap, and the good thing is we’ve always found a way to correct it fairly quickly.”
“I think we can play the game,” said Jarome Iginla, lost on the left wing after a lifetime on the right. “We just haven’t.”
It’s a conundrum to solve, and it’s entirely in the collective brains of this supposedly great team. They need to play with desperation, but they need to relax. They need to try harder, but they need to be patient. They need to recognize the stakes, and trust one another as the stakes loom like thunderheads. A loss in Game 3 Wednesday means a 3-0 hole, and from there the Penguins are suddenly faced with tough decisions about what to do with this group, which has won three playoff series in four years since winning the Cup in 2009. Welcome to the pressure. Try to relax.
“It’s tough,” says defenceman Douglas Murray, who saw some talented teams crumple in San Jose. “I mean, sometimes you stay the course, which you always want to do and try to do, but we’re all humans. Sometimes when you work harder it doesn’t work out. It’s like a sprinter — if he flexes when he sprints he’s not running fast. They need to be relaxed when they run, and it’s a little bit the same thing. Trying to do more doesn’t always help the situation. It can cause a lot more problems.
“It happens. You play good teams in the playoffs. They can focus on shutting you down, and it takes time to break them down. So you’ve got to stay patient. And you’ve got to make less mistakes than the other team.”
The Penguins need to start sprinting, all right, because in some ways, they are in an unfamiliar neighbourhood. It was the first time all season Crosby has gone pointless in back-to-back games. It was the first back-to-back home losses since the first two home games of the year. It was the first time the Penguins have been held to one goal over two consecutive games with Crosby in the lineup since Dec. 30 and Jan. 2 in the 2009-10 season.
It’s not that they have never been able to win that way — the Penguins went down 0-2 in the 2009 Cup final while scoring two goals in two games, and scored four goals over the final three. It was a long time ago now, but they won. They were down 2-0 in a game against Boston in March, and scored three times in the final 6:18 to win.
“That’s what we want to be,” said Niskanen. “If something happens in the game we don’t deviate from the plan, we just keep going, keep going. And we believe that we have the guys in here that we’re going to find enough opportunities, and we’re going to win the game.”
“It’s always easy to say [trust your system]; it’s another thing to do it,” said Crosby. “And especially when things aren’t going or you’re not getting bounces, that’s when you have to stick to it the most, and it doesn’t make it easy because you’ve done it before. So I would say it’s good that you know that, and you trust it. It’s another thing to go out there and execute.
“I think we believe in our game, and trust it. I don’t see anything but our best in Game 3.”
The Bruins have a history of being a bad closeout team — they are 4-8 in non-Game 7 elimination games under Claude Julien. This should not be as bad a matchup as it has been; Toronto gave Boston problems with speed and skill, and the Penguins have that and more. But if they froze up in a Game 2 at home after a bad break, then how in the world will they respond in Game 3?
They kept saying they needed to believe in their talent, trust what got them here, be the Pittsburgh Penguins. But at some point, if this keeps sliding, we’re going to have to ask what the Pittsburgh Penguins actually are.
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