The Penguins kept warning about the impact of desperation in the ramp-up to Game 5, leaving no doubt about for which side desperation would be skating.
The Ottawa Senators, this little psychological exercise held, would be bringing not just their increasingly inadequate hockey skills to this elimination game, but packing desperation as well, which happened to be the very thing that could produce what Pittsburgh would consider a highly unfavorable result.
That storyline went nowhere.
The Penguins are in the Eastern Conference final today for the third time in six years essentially because they were flat-out unmanageable for the Senators, but it didn't hurt that all of that supposed Ottawa desperation was performed Friday at the approximate tempo of "Desperado."
Don't you draw the queen of diamonds, boy,
She'll beat you if she's able,
The queen of hearts is always your best bet.
Meanwhile, to Ottawa's faltering metronome, it was 1-0 Penguins, 2-0 Penguins, 3-0 Penguins, and the Senators knew how the rest would go.
Your pain and your hunger are driving you home.
Ottawa had an idea for this episode, the one after the Penguins blasted them, 7-3, in a frightening display of sharpshooting the other night in Canada, at one point scoring three times in less than two minutes. Coach Paul MacLean was going to reunite the line Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek, hoping to rub an offensive spark to counteract the hot starts for which the Penguins seemed so capable.
No spark. No tempo. No Game 6.
"We did our game plan, the way we wanted to do it, the way we wanted to play," said winning goaltender Tomas Vokoun, now 6-1 in these playoffs and seemingly irremovable from the Penguins net. "Eventually, we filled the net again."
James Neal filled it up to the victory level all by himself, his hat trick the most memorable component of a 6-2 win, the Penguins' sixth in their past seven postseason home games. But it was defense that set the table for the final act of this Eastern Conference semifinal.
Two nights after playing in front of Vokoun was mostly a matter of watching the forwards fill the net at the other end, Penguins defensemen not only rose to meet the Alfredsson-Spezza-Michalek gambit, they likely played the best defensive zone 60 minutes of the series to help deliver this clinching 6-2 victory.
Playing ultra-confident, precise, crease-clearing defense that kept traffic in front of Vokoun to a minimum, the Penguins still got major offensive contributions from their blue-liners, most particularly when Mark Eaton put a perfectly calculated pass into the slot that Brenden Morrow tapped in for the first goal of the game and when Kris Letang rifled a shot over Craig Anderson's left shoulder in the second period, the shot that made it 3-0.
Morrow's goal represented the very antithesis of what the Penguins were doing defensively, because Morrow got to the net by going around Ottawa defenseman Jared Cowen as if he were a traffic cone. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Cowen should have been a major impediment in a then-scoreless game, but Morrow had none of the difficulty Senators forwards experienced in the other end all night.
"We learned some tough lessons here," said MacLean after the obligatory series-ending handshake. "We learned some in beating Montreal, but the tougher lessons were here. We hope it makes us a better organization."
It's not always easy to maintain a passion for defensive responsibility when you're with a team that scores four or five or seven goals just about every night. The fact that the Penguins do it is no small part of why they're the first team to arrive at a conference final this season.
"I think our desperation was there," Crosby said. "You find out really quickly that it's not all that enjoyable to play in our own end all the time. Especially in the first round where it took away from our offense because we were always playing in our own end.
"The more diligent we are there, the more opportunities we're going to get offensively and that's a lot more like the game we want to play. It's something we have to focus on and get better at, but the more desperation we have there, the better our chances of playing the type of game we want to play."
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published May 25, 2013 4:30 AM