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Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) gets a pass off in front of Boston Bruins' Andrew Ference during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, in Pittsburgh on Monday, June 3, 2013. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) gets a pass off in front of Boston Bruins' Andrew Ference during the second period of Game 2 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, in Pittsburgh on Monday, June 3, 2013. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

DAVID SHOALTS

Crosby at centre of any potential Penguins comeback Add to ...

Ever since hockey was first played in Halifax or Kingston or wherever the great game started, stars have reacted the same way when their team falls apart.

They take it upon themselves to grab the puck and try to stick-handle their way through the other team. This usually works for the first couple of opponents but, inevitably, the puck is lost.


Watch: Crosby talks about Game 3

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For almost as long, of course, hockey coaches have advised against this reckless, selfish behaviour.

Today, the coaches call it patience – fire the puck deep into the offensive zone and all forwards get in there and fore-check. Fall back when you have to defend, but stick with it. Don’t let a little bad luck – an awful giveaway 28 seconds into the game that results in a breakaway goal, for example – push you into that foolish individual game.

And so it goes for Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They flew into Boston on Tuesday still reeling from Monday’s 6-1 loss to the Bruins that put them down an unthinkable 2-0 in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.

Somehow, the Penguins have to figure out a way to win four of the next five games against a team that is swatting them around at will, one that has wormed its way so far inside their heads the Penguins drop the game plan at the first sign of trouble.

Pens head coach Dan Bylsma talked about shaking up his lines Tuesday. But aside from moving Jarome Iginla from left wing, where he is obviously uncomfortable, back to the right side on Evgeni Malkin’s line, there is no magic formula here.

The road back to contention must start with Crosby.

The rest of the Penguins take their cues from him and Crosby has to put aside self-created distractions like how the referees are calling the games and get back to the fore-checking, cycling game that made the Penguins the best East team during the NHL regular season. (It was not for nothing a pilot on a Boston flight packed with media types came on the intercom when a baby started crying and asked if it was Crosby.)

As it stands, this offensive powerhouse, which scored 162 goals in the regular season, the second consecutive season in which the Penguins led the NHL in scoring, is going into Boston with four flat tires. No one on the top two lines – Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Malkin, Iginla and James Neal – has a point in the two games against the Bruins.

Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who really didn’t deserve to be pulled Monday, knows what Crosby and company need to do for Game 3 on Wednesday: Forget the flashy individual stuff, which resulted in four giveaways for Crosby, and get back to the tight-checking game employed against the Bruins in the regular season which produced three low-scoring, one-goal wins in three tries.

“We’ve got to change our mindset. We have to stay focused on our game plan,” Vokoun said. “That means you play for 60 minutes. Unfortunately, we gave up the first goal in both games. At that point, everyone tries to do it on their own. That just doesn’t work.”

Crosby also needs more support from Malkin, who was a force in the first half of the first game, but disappeared quickly in the second after Crosby started to flounder. Malkin’s sole contribution in Game 2 was a nice rush up the middle in the first period that was turned aside by Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. After that, Malkin quietly folded his tent and stole away.

The Penguins need to watch the first five minutes of the first game last Saturday: Crosby and linemates Dupuis and Kunitz opened the game with a tremendous shift. They fired the puck into the Boston zone and then fore-checked with zeal, moving the puck back and forth along the end boards with Bruins stalwart Zdeno Chara fruitlessly chasing them around.

Bruins centre David Krejci took a tripping penalty about four minutes in, and the Penguins looked to be cruising. But when those early scoring chances didn’t turn into goals – thanks to Rask’s brilliance and a little bad luck – and then the power play fizzled, the Bruins got lucky with a goal and the Penguins tossed the game plan aside.

Now, this carefully crafted offensive team looks disjointed, as if all these offensive stars cannot figure out a way to play together. The whole is not even the sum of its parts.

The Penguins are trying to draw inspiration from 2009, when they went back to Pittsburgh after being embarrassed 5-0 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final by the Detroit Red Wings. That left them down 3-2 in the series, but they got back to their game and won the next two for the championship.

However, as Crosby admitted Tuesday, it’s one thing to say it and quite another to do it when the ship is taking on water.

“It doesn’t make it easy just because you’ve done it before,” he said. “It’s good that you know that and you trust it, but it’s another thing to go out there and execute.”

 

@dshoalts

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