Sunday’s Game 3 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders must’ve been sensational theater for the impartial viewer. With its eye-catching combination of speed, skill and physical play, plus a pair of two-goal comebacks and an absolutely rabid crowd at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the Pens’ 5-4 overtime win was as good of an advertisement for the sport of hockey as one could imagine.
It seems strange to criticize the Penguins for playing a people-pleasing game, since they have one of the NHL’s most telegenic styles when everything’s clicking. However, the type of hockey Pittsburgh has espoused over the past six regulation periods in its first-round matchup with New York isn’t exactly the best method to keep the black-and-gold traveling roadshow rolling into June.
Maybe the deceptively-easy 5-0 victory in Game 1 was the worst thing that could’ve happened to the Penguins, who just last year got caught up in gunning for style points en route to an embarrassing elimination at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Even though about a third of last spring’s roster has been turned over, the Pittsburgh team we saw in Game 2 and most of Game 3 bears more than a little resemblance to 2012′s disappointing edition.
The Pens showed signs of ditching the high-risk game in Sunday’s second period, when they committed to the methodical, shift-after-shift directness that can strangle an opponent with sheer puck possession. A rather routine third period seemed to be in the offing, but Pittsburgh slid right back into bad habits while “protecting” a 4-2 lead that vaporized in less than 11 minutes of action.
To the Penguins’ credit, the overtime period was a return to the kind of hockey we saw them ride to 22 wins in 24 games at one point this season. The Islanders had a couple decent chances before Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz teamed up to decide the game, but sudden death demonstrated what this series can look like when Pittsburgh refuses to fuel the Islanders’ attack with ill-placed turnovers.
The downside to shinny hockey should speak for itself, with New York averaging 38 shots on goal in the last two games after barely touching the puck in Game 1. The Penguinscanwin trading chances with the Islanders, but why leave it to chance when there’s a better way?
That’s a question that Dan Bylsma and the rest of the coaching staff will have to answer before Tuesday’s Game 4 on Long Island. Maybe this team has learned its lesson and will be back on the program from now on. Then again, the players knew what they did wrong in Game 2 and still couldn’t help themselves for much of Sunday.
A successful Stanley Cup run involves some luck, certainly. Hockey is a game of chaos, but any team that doesn’t control absolutely everything it can is foolish.
After getting a “lucky bounce” by winning Game 3, it’s time for the Penguins to put their lessons into practice.