Pittsburgh Penguins on verge of wasting championship opportunity


These are pivotal times for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

There are no excuses for how poorly they played, how disheveled they appeared in a 6-1 defeat to the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final Monday night at Consol Energy Center.

The players know this, the coaches know this and everyone in the front office knows this. But maybe that’s the problem.

Jun 3, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie

Marc-Andre Fleury

(29) makes a save against Boston Bruins center

Tyler Seguin

(19) during the third period in game two of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Boston Bruins won 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins appeared tight for much of their first-round series against  the New York Islanders, which they eventually survived in six tense games. But after breaking through that self-admitted psychological barrier, Pittsburgh has encountered another one in the East final.

In theory, falling behind 1-0 in the opening minute shouldn’t be a huge problem for a team that entered Monday night averaging nearly four goals per playoff game. But the Penguins, in a continuing trend since 2010, reacted poorly to postseason difficulty. They “chased the game,” to use Sidney Crosby‘s words, attempting to force offense when there was plenty of time to construct a comeback responsibly.

This team should know better, especially after last year’s first-round loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, a complete bomb defined by the Penguins’ lack of discipline. The fact that this group continues to relapse into scramble mode at inopportune times is a discouraging indictment of its leaders and coaches.

It’s not all about composure, either. At least three of the Bruins’ nine goals have resulted from Penguins confusion in their own zone. David Krejci‘s goal Monday night was a clear example, as Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla cover the same man on Boston’s zone entry, leaving Krejci open for an easy putaway:

But no matter what is contributing to the Penguins’ complete flop in the last four periods of this series, they have time to make up for it. The Bruins’ mere presence at this stage is proof of that, as Boston needed a three-goal third-period rally to survive a Game 7 with Toronto in the first round.

Since that cliffhanger moment, the Bruins have won six of seven games, rapidly looking like the team that hoisted the Stanley Cup two years ago. The Penguins have had more roster turnover than Boston since last winning it all, but their core players are all still there, plus some valuable additions in recent years.

The Pens could be one win away from going on a run themselves, one that would propel them to their first Cup final since 2009. The Chicago Blackhawks overcame a 3-1 deficit in their second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings, and now the President’s Trophy winners are two wins from a Western Conference championship.

It can turn around quickly, but there has to be a turning point first. Game 3 on Wednesday is Pittsburgh’s last best chance to create one.