Boston Bruins on Paper: Rage of the Penguins


Post-game pressers are sports’ equivalent of sleeping on it

…you’ve had time to rehydrate, to get treatment and maybe a rubdown, perhaps a whirlpool and certainly a shower – and by the time an athlete gets to the podium to recant the way they saw the events transpire, some rational thought has occurred.

Jun 1, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Boston Bruins defensemen Dennis Seidenberg (44) and Zdeno Chara (33) battle in front of the net with Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Brenden Morrow (10) and center Sidney Crosby (87) during the first period in game one of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Pittsburgh Penguins won 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

So when Sidney Crosby faced the bright lights and stunned journalists after he and his Pittsburgh Penguins got absolutely mugged by the Boston Bruins in the opening game of their Eastern Conference finals series, his words were carefully measured – but nothing he said could erase what anyone at the Consol Energy Arena had just witnessed.

“They’re letting a lot go out there, and the more it gets like that, the more it’s going to escalate.” Crosby said after he had a chance to think after the game, “You can only control and channel that stuff so much. You keep letting guys do that stuff, you’re just going to push the envelope.”

But in trying to keep his comments in context, one still has to wonder if he was whining about the refs allowing the Bruins to play rough with them or lamenting the fact that they had just allowed the Bruins to steal not only home ice advantage from them, but also their confidence.

But how?  How had the best team in the eastern conference – perhaps the entire NHL – been pushed around so effectively by the physical Bruins?  Was this just a aberration due to the long layoff between series or does Boston have the Penguins’ number?

Regardless, Crosby and company found out the hard way that if you try to go toe-to-toe with the Bruins, don’t bring the weak playground stuff.

As the Toronto Maple Leafs had in the quarterfinals (and very nearly successfully), the Penguins tried their hand at attempting to intimidate the Bruins, worrying more about crunching them on the boards or laying them out between the blue lines than getting their brand of hockey going.

The result was an epic punking – so vicious that Crosby seemed to be looking around for the hidden camera and expecting Ashton Kutcher to appear out of nowhere just before the instigators and the victim came to blows, soothing the situation and turning sputtering rage into relieved laughter…

…but there would be no Kutcher, no chirping cameramen or production assistants spilling out onto the ice to mark the end of a surreal adventure into the cruel and warped minds of reality TV, just a real-life lesson in what happens when narcissists lose control of their environment:

Crosby and fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin were on the ice as part of the Penguins power play – an advantage that they would hold for the final 30 seconds of the second and minute and a half into the third – when the horn bellowed to end the second period…

…but neither was in the mood to retreat to the locker room, each seeking out a particularly despised Bruin to take out their frustrations on.  Malkin found Patrice Bergeron and a short scuffle ensued. Crosby started giving the business to Rask, and Bruins’ defenseman Zdeno Chara found him.

The two had words, then once the referee had wedged between the two, Crosby decided the time was right to start a slap fight with the large Czech, having a human shield and all – but by that time the Penguins were already completely on the defensive, and even their vaunted power play was at the mercy of the Bruins’ defense:

“I don’t think the situation at the end of the second period was in our favor,” Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma bemoaned of the post-horn activity, “We had a  power play coming out into the third period and we got two of our power-play  guys off the ice with that altercation. That’s not something we certainly want  to be into and we don’t want to make the game that way.”

That said, it’s difficult to believe that Bylsma’s troops were following the game plan that he had drawn up, particularly when the wounds of last season’s beatdown from the Philadelphia Flyers had begun to heal as the Penguins dispatched first the New York Islanders and then the Ottawa Senators and were for all intents and purposes playing their best hockey and on a very proper roll.

And when the Penguins are at their best, they are very crisp, a well organized and lightning quick scoring machine that brings their devastation in waves – and they tried that, but the Bruins stood them up at the blue line and muscled them out of the slot, staying in the shooting lanes and forcing the juggernaut sideways.

The first indication of the Penguins losing thier focus started late in the first period with the Penguins on the power play – so foreboding and relentless was the Bruins penalty kill and overall defensive presence that Pittsburgh started settling for long-range snipes…

…and since those were consistently knocked down well before they got to Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, the normally confident Pittsburgh snipers started double-clutching and passing the puck off for fear of causing a turnover and a subsequent Bruins’ break – which happened in abundance anyway as the Penguins completely fell apart about four minutes into the final frame.

Now the question looming in the steel city is whether the Bruins are now in the Penguin’s heads and, if so, what are they going to do about it?

For sure the thrashing the Bruins gave to Pittsburgh opened some old wounds and added a few fresh ones as well – and now the onus is on the Penguins to prove they belong in this series, which is commonplace after absorbing the kind of psychological beating the Penguins did on Saturday night.

The Penguins are a better team than they showed on Saturday, and they will assuredly try their best to prove that in Game 2 on Monday night – if the Bruins haven’t gotten into their heads…