PITTSBURGH — Welcome to MythBusters, Steel City edition.
The run-and-gun Penguins, the most powerful offensive force in this year’s playoffs, laid themselves a big fat penguin egg Saturday night inside their home arena. Other than some very impressive flashes of run and gun, which led to 29 shots, they couldn’t find a way to beat Boston goalie Tuukka Rask — and then found various ways to beat themselves.
Most glaring of all, the largest of the myths busted, was the fogheaded performance of Sidney Crosby, arguably the league’s most talented, if not valuable, player. For the opening night of the Eastern Conference finals, he was Sid the Skid, emblematic of the overall tailspin that led to Pittsburgh’s 3-0 wipeout.
Consider Crosby’s final line: the Full Thornton 0-0—0; a minus-2, a beefy 24:21 of ice time with four shots on net. He also had his lunch packed for him at the faceoff dot, where he won only 6 of 17 draws (35 percent). His old Team Canada Olympic pal, Patrice Bergeron, beat him routinely on drops, Bergeron winning 10 of 16 for 63 percent. The Bruins, overall, won 32 of 48 for a commanding 67 percent success rate.
The Penguins, led by Crosby, do the little things right? MythBusted.
The second period ended with Bergeron, rarely one to drop his gloves, trading blows with the bigger, stronger Evgeni Malkin. The bout grew out of a weird end-of-period scene that had Crosby lifting his stick for a gentle tap on Rask as the Bruins goalie made his way to the bench with 40 minutes gone and the Bruins ahead, 1-0.
“I don’t know what that was,’’ Rask said afterward, his blanking in the books. “I really don’t care.’’
“I can’t tell you what it was about, because I don’t know,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Crosby gave Tuukka a push. Then I look over and Bergy’s trading shots with Malkin. Strange. But Bergy can hold his own, I don’t worry about him. You don’t see that much, do you? But we don’t care. That’s playoff intensity. We handle it and move on.’’
So, what was it? It was a frustrated Penguins club, stymied on 22 shots through two periods, not showing the kind of discipline a wannabe champion needs to demonstrate. At one point, Trencin Tower Zdeno Chara went nose to visor with Crosby, as if schooling him on how to play the game. For effect, Chara hunkered over, lowering himself to eyeball level with the Penguins captain. It was, in its own way, as if Big Z was wagging an admonishing finger at Sid the Skid.
The Penguins are a composed, professional lot? Not Saturday night. MythBusted.
With 1:32 gone in the second period, serial predator Matt Cooke found his next prey, Boston blue liner Adam McQuaid, and slammed him into the end boards. He had a clear view of McQuaid’s numbers and chose to pile-drive him into the boards. McQuaid’s face smashed into the glass and down he went, his oversized frame melting into a puddle.
Cooke, whose predatory, menacing hit to the head essentially ended the career of top Boston pivot Marc Savard, was done for the night with a 5-and-10 charge. Checking from behind (five minutes). Game misconduct (10 minutes). A predator is always a predator. When caught, they don’t quit. They recalculate, wait for their next victim.
Cooke has cleaned up his act, changed his game? MythBusted.
David Krejci scored twice. Nathan Horton added the third and final Boston goal. Boston’s forwards piled up 26 shots. Malkin led all Pittsburgh shooters with five shots on net, while Krejci led the way with seven.
“He plays great all year,’’ said Horton, praising Krejci. “Some people in Boston don’t give him enough credit.’’
Boston’s forwards amassed 26 shots and scored three times. Pittsburgh’s forwards amassed 24 shots and couldn’t score once.
The Bruins just don’t have the offense to compete with the Penguins? MythBusted.
Tomas Vokoun, the 36-year-old backstop, should have been able to stop Krejci’s first goal, which came on a long-range shot at the end of a nifty Andrew Ference-Horton exchange. Vokoun took over the net in Round 1, when the heavily favored Penguins found themselves knotted, 2-2, with the Islanders. There wasn’t much Vokoun could do on the other two goals, especially Horton’s jawbreaker with 12:09 to play, in which Matt Niskanen and Kris Letang were believed by many to have left the building to join DinnerDates.
Now, with Game 2 looming Monday night, one wonders if Vokoun will be reassigned his backup role and Marc-Andre Fleury will be reinstalled as the No. 1. If that is the case, Fleury probably should have been brought in midway through the third period when, as they like to say here, Elvis had left the building (hat tip to legendary Pens broadcaster Mike Lange).
The Penguins are so good that even Vokoun can carry them to a Cup? MythBusted.
Rask now has nine wins in the postseason. Not factored into the Vezina voting (chosen by league GMs), he is now right there, blocker and glove, with the pace Tim Thomas set in the 2011 Cup-winning playoff season. Cool Hand Tuke was sharp from the onset and turned back at least 10 sparkling chances by the Penguins in the first 40 minutes. He didn’t steal the game in the classic sense, but if not for his early work, it would have been over before the second intermission.
“As far as I’m concerned, he wasn’t good,’’ said Julien, “he was outstanding.’’
No one can give the Bruins the netminding Thomas gave them in 2011? MythBusted.
Game 2 Monday night. Important to remember (buzzkill alert!) that it takes four victories to advance to the Cup final. One win does not put the Duck Boat drivers on standby. But one game did turn a lot of hype and predisposition upside down. The Penguins are vulnerable. No myth there.