BOSTON Anyone and everyone who was awaiting that big fat character-asserting victory that would pull the Penguins off the floor in this series awaits it still.
Maybe it's coming Friday, and maybe Friday will be too late, as will maybe Sunday, or maybe Tuesday will be your bad news day.
Should you be looking for small consolation where none exists, at least the Bruins didn't pound away at the Penguins for a third time Wednesday night, like a bouncer mopping a bar floor with a hapless drunk.
SportsNOW: Are Penguins more a collection of stars than team players?
On this edition of "SportsNOW," Dan Gigler and Jerry Micco discuss the Penguins' dance with death in a series the Boston Bruins lead 3-0. They also discuss the Pirates' recent stumbles. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 6/6/2013)
That was the metaphorical physicality of the first two games, but Wednesday, by the time the Penguins killed a penalty right at the top of the third period, Game 3 of this Eastern Conference final had turned into something no one had much right to expect, namely a damn fine hockey game.
Even if it was between two teams who cannot score a power-play goal.
Tomas Vokoun and Tuukka Rask were in a noble duel, each erecting a fortress against even the most tantalizing scoring chances, none better than when Nathan Horton broke in free from the blue line and was headed straight for Vokoun's grill in the first overtime.
The Penguins goalie sprawled to his left, following Horton's blade desperately, and in the last millisecond swept the puck away to extend the overtime and pump up the aggregate blood pressure of the Eastern seaboard to perhaps unsafe levels.
But soon after midnight and late in a fifth period of up-and-down pandemonium that had both teams beginning to wilt, Patrice Bergeron beat Brooks Orpik to a Brad Marchand centering pass in front of Vokoun, and Bergeron didn't miss.
"It's frustrating," Vokoun offered after 95 heroic minutes that led to the same place, a bitter Penguins loss. "Double overtime and you don't win; it's not a good feeling."
The general feeling in the Penguins locker room was that they had rebounded well from a bad situation only to find themselves in a worse situation.
"I think we probably deserved better tonight," said Sidney Crosby, kept off the score sheet for the entirety of this series along with Evgeni Malkin (the Penguins are 2-14 in the postseason when that happens). "I think if we play the way we did tonight [on Friday], we'll definitely get our chances."
Chances mean nothing to this team right now. How can you take this kind of talent, play almost five periods and get next to nothing more menacing than Craig Adams hitting a post?
How can a power play staffed by All-Stars and/or future Hall of Famers sputter through 12 consecutive power plays, six Wednesday, two in overtime, and not score even accidentally?
These are topics for a dreary summer, and the Penguins weren't about to start that discussion.
"We're just going to keep playing like we did tonight and see what happens," said Orpik. "We felt like we had our chances in this game."
But again ... well, never mind.
Rask was even better than Vokoun, and the Penguins made him look even better than that. Rask stopped a Pascal Dupuis blast from the right point and Adams' near-fateful attempt at banging in the rebound in the first overtime.
Vokoun had finally put the Penguins in a one-goal game, the very strain of contest in which they beat the Bruins three times in the regular season. It's those three- and five-goal games against Boston that seem to befuddle them.
The Penguins had cleared some emotional hurdles in the first two periods, as well, even if the value of that remained dubious. They kept the Bruins off the scoreboard for more than 28 seconds from the drop of the puck, something they hadn't managed in Game 2, and they kept the Bruins from scoring 20 seconds after the first Penguins goal, which was another among the 100 things they failed to do in that same episode Monday.
Bylsma's decision to start Vokoun rather than Marc-Andre Frantic after both were scorched for six goals in Game 2 was the correct one even before the puck dropped, and the coach had pretty much tipped his hand on that question with the observation after Monday's horror show that the goals against Vokoun weren't necessarily the goaltender's fault.
The goals against Fleury, most particularly Marchand's second goal, the one that made it 4-1, had an imprimatur of netminder error.
The only one against Vokoun until the winning one came again from Krejci, the top scorer in this NHL postseason with 21 points, and it came at 1:42 of the first period. Chris Kunitz got a Penguins goal when Paul Martin got him the puck off a faceoff in the Boston end, a faceoff Crosby won from Bergeron on a night the Penguins dominated in the faceoff circle.
Vokoun entered the second overtime having held the Bruins scoreless for 78 minutes and 18 seconds. He added another 15:18 of exquisite goaltending, and it still wasn't enough.
Gene Collier: email@example.com. First Published June 6, 2013 5:45 AM