If the Pittsburgh Penguins are to even up their Stanley Cup semi-final with the Boston Bruins, they have to get a grip on their game as well as their emotions.
On the emotional side of things, the Penguins’ two best players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, cannot let themselves be driven out of control by the Bruins’ long list of bruisers and agitators in the second game of the Eastern Conference final on Monday night. The two lingering images from the Bruins’ 3-0 win in the first game Saturday were Malkin fighting Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron, two of the most unlikely combatants in the league, and off to the side of the scrap, Crosby in as close to a nose-to-nose screaming match as he could get with another of his tormentors, towering Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara.
On the hockey side of things, the Penguins need to start winning more faceoffs. They rarely started a play with the puck, as Bergeron, David Krejci, Chris Kelly and the rest of the Bruins forwards routinely beat Crosby and Malkin on the draws.
Speaking of unlikely combatants, there were words of wisdom from an equally unusual source on letting your emotions get the best of you. Penguins winger Matt Cooke, who escaped a suspension for a hit from behind on Boston defenceman Adam McQuaid, put down his team’s temper tantrums to pent-up feelings from an eight-day break after the second round of the playoffs.
“Any time you see Evgeni Malkin fighting he’s away from his game,” Cooke said after Sunday’s optional Penguins practice. “You know what? Emotions are high, we haven’t played in eight days. It’s a different game than we’ve seen, it’s round three now. It’s an eye-opener for us and expectations of how the games are going to go have to change.
“I think that’s healthy for us. We can get it out and move forward. I think we need to do a better job of managing it: Know and understand it’s a tighter game, tighter checking, there’s not as much space. That’s all in the competition in round three. I think when you expect it, you’re not going to react quite as aggressive as if you are caught off-guard by it.”
How Crosby and Malkin feel about the matter is not known, although Crosby complained after the game the referees gave the Bruins too much leeway with their rough-housing. Neither Crosby nor Malkin made themselves available to the media on Sunday.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma thinks the emotions and the faceoffs were the two areas most in need of repair for his team. He was not happy to see both Malkin and Chris Kunitz headed to the penalty box as fallout from that fight with Bergeron at the end of the second period, even though the Penguins wound up with a power play to start the third.
“That emotion, that compete level, has to be there. It has to be there from our best players,” Bylsma said. “Having said that, when you’re on a power play and your skill players, Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin [as a result of the Bergeron fight] are going off the ice, it’s not a situation you want to be in. It’s not something that we want to do, and I think it took away from our game.
“And it’s a fine line. We’ve got to do a better job of [controlling the emotions]. At the same time, I think our compete-level has to be even higher than it was the last game.”
Overall, the Bruins won 34 of Game 1’s 48 faceoffs. And it wasn’t just Bergeron dominating Crosby. Most of their forwards, even the wingers who stepped in when a centre was tossed from the circle, had winning records on Saturday. And when a faceoff win was in doubt, the Bruins made sure they won the battle for the puck.
“A large portion of the wins that Boston did get were not clean wins,” Bylsma said. “They were 50-50 pucks in around the centermen that they got to first. I think that’s something I talked about going in for our focus for our faceoffs and winning faceoffs, helping our centermen out.
“We didn’t do a good job of that. [Saturday] night, they won the lion’s share of those 50-50 pucks. And they’re a good faceoff team. I think it tipped the numbers in their favour significantly.”
The loss also raised the question of the return of Marc-André Fleury to the Penguins goal for the first time since he flamed out in the first round. Bylsma said he has confidence in Fleury if he calls on him but indicated he will stick with Tomas Vokoun for now.