BOSTON -- As the start of the Eastern Conference final approached, the conventional wisdom seemed to be that it was the Penguins' series to lose.
If that was the case, all the talk about them not doing anything well lately seems pretty silly because the Penguins have been doing a terrific job of losing this best-of-seven to Boston.
The details of the first two games were different -- tough luck missed opportunities in the opener Saturday, a 60-minute self-immolation 48 hours later -- but the bottom line was the same.
And one precarious predicament heading into Game 3 at 8:10 today at TD Garden.
This might not be a must-win for the Penguins, but only in the strictest mathematical sense.
For while another loss tonight would not end their season, it would drop them into an abyss from which few playoff teams have escaped.
That means the Penguins' margin for error is just slightly greater than the combined point total of their top-six forwards in this series. Which is to say, barely above zero.
That's why it was no surprise that coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday that he plans to change his lineup and reconfigure his forward lines for Game 3. He offered no details -- just as he declined to divulge whether Tomas Vokoun or Marc-Andre Fleury will start in goal -- but one candidate for inclusion is forward Dustin Jeffrey, who has a history of strong play against the Bruins.
Jeffrey never has dressed for an NHL playoff game, but probably couldn't be less effective than most of his teammates were in Game 2 if he went onto the ice wearing wingtips.
"We got out-competed," winger Jarome Iginla said. "There's no question. Especially last game, we weren't very good in [any] area."
History provides the only motivation the Penguins should need to do everything possible to avoid a repeat of Game 2. Consider that while the Penguins have rebounded to win five series in which they lost the first two games, only three NHL teams have rallied from a 3-0 deficit to run off four victories in a row.
Sure, Boston squandered a 3-0 advantage against Philadelphia just three springs ago, but there's little about these Bruins to suggests they're ready to go into free fall.
"Our team is really playing good hockey right now," coach Claude Julien said. "Without a doubt, the best we've played this year."
In the process, the Bruins have frustrated the Penguins, exposing flaws in their discipline, focus and decision-making, and showing them to have the patience of a sleep-deprived 2-year-old at times.
"More than anything, we have to be a little more resilient," center Brandon Sutter said. "When things don't go our way, I don't think there's a reason for us to panic. We just have to stay patient, keep playing."
While the Penguins acknowledge the quality of Boston's work over the first two games -- "It's never going to be easy, and they're a good team," left winger Chris Kunitz said -- they also seem certain that many of their problems have been self-inflicted, and thus can be corrected quickly.
"They were pretty comfortable the whole time in Pittsburgh," Kunitz said. "We didn't make it tough on them, really, at all.
"They dictate a game well when they feel comfortable out there, so we have to do a better job of changing the way they feel about how they're playing."
Kunitz was part of the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning team in 2009, when they lost the first two games in series against Washington and Detroit, but found a way to win four of the five that followed.
That proved it can be done, but doesn't guarantee it will be against the Bruins.
"We had a great experience five [sic] years ago, but it's different," center Evgeni Malkin said. "Different time, different team."
One thing that hasn't changed for a while is the Penguins' success at TD Garden, where they have six consecutive regular-season victories.
"It's never easy to win in Boston, but we know that we can," Malkin said.
Of course, regular-season results don't always indicate what will happen in the playoffs. The Penguins won all three games against the Bruins this season, only to drop Games 1 and 2 in the Eastern final.
It also is true that a series can change course several times before it ends, and the Penguins seem confident they are capable of making that happen, regardless of what transpired during Games 1 and 2.
"It's not over," Malkin said. "It's the playoffs. It's a tough situation. It's a tough time. But it's not over yet."
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@post-gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published June 5, 2013 4:45 AM