The result of the game Saturday night almost seemed anticlimactic. So what that the Penguins lost to the Boston Bruins, 3-0, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference final series? They played a strong game, had plenty of scoring chances and easily could have won, 6-3, if Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask hadn't played such a brilliant game. Think Ottawa's Craig Anderson, who made 49 saves to beat the Penguins, 2-1, in double overtime in Game 3 of the previous round. Remember that the Penguins solved Anderson for 13 goals in the next two games.
This still was a fun night at Consol Energy Center. The second period alone was worth the price of a ticket or your television-viewing attention. It left all of us wanting to see more. Can Game 2 Monday night get here soon enough?
The must-see action had something of a predictable start in the second period. Penguins winger Matt Cooke drilled Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid into the boards from behind and received a five-minute major penalty and, by rule, a game misconduct for his trouble. No word if Boston announcer Jack Edwards compared Cooke to Lee Harvey Oswald or John Wilkes Booth. It was Edwards who mentioned Cooke's name in the same sentence with Sirhan Sirhan late in the regular season.
Cooke's hit deserved a penalty -- Penguins captain Sidney Crosby acknowledged that -- but a major and a misconduct seemed a bit much. McQuaid was temporarily dazed -- at least that's how he appeared -- but he quickly returned and played the rest of the game. Cooke's punishment was more because of his reputation than his actions. NBC, which was televising the game, couldn't wait to show Cooke's filthy hit on former Boston star Marc Savard in 2010, which effectively ended Savard's career. Cooke will pay the price for that shot and a number of other dirty hits in his career even though he has worked hard the past two seasons to clean up his game.
The penalties for Cooke seemed especially egregious late in the second period when Boston forward Brad Marchand hit Penguins winger James Neal from behind into the boards in front of the Penguins bench. The Penguins jumped up, outraged. It looked to be the same as Cooke's hit. Marchand was given a two-minute minor boarding penalty. You should have heard the Penguins barking at the officials after that.
"I don't see a difference [between the two hits], really," Crosby said.
Cooke and the Penguins know the hard truth:
Life isn't always fair.
The next thing you knew, Crosby was exchanging words with Rask and shoves with Bruins giant defenseman Zdeno Chara as the teams headed to the room at the end of the period. Chris Kunitz of the Penguins and Rich Peverley of the Bruins had unpleasantries and were sent off with two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. A few feet away, Penguins star Evgeni Malkin had dropped the gloves and was wailing away -- OK, trying to wail away -- at Boston center Patrice Bergeron. Malkin might be the last player on the Penguins you would expect to see in a fight. He was that frustrated with the way the first two periods went. All of his teammates were that frustrated even though they trailed just 1-0 on a first-period goal by Boston forward David Krejci.
"I don't think the situation at the end of the second period was in our favor," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "We had a power play and were going to have a power play going into the third period. We got two of our power-play guys off the ice" -- Kunitz and Malkin -- "with that altercation. Starting at that point, with those guys going off the ice, it did get us off our game. I think if we came out and could have scored a power-play goal, it could have been different."
The Bruins really didn't need their third-period goals by Krejci and Nathan Horton. Rask was that good, stopping 29 shots and shutting out a Penguins team that came in averaging a staggering 4.27 goals per game in these playoffs. He stopped Crosby when Crosby pounced on a rebound of a Malkin shot. He stopped Malkin's backhander with four seconds left in the first, the puck rolling slowly across his crease and nearly going in. He stopped a big blast by Neal in the third. "Whatever mistakes we made, Tuukka was up to the task," Boston coach Claude Julien said.
Rask also was lucky. Crosby, Kunitz and Malkin all hit posts behind him.
"I don't think we have to change much," Crosby said. "I think we did some really good things. We just need to eliminate a few mistakes and make sure our focus is in the right place."
The Penguins will regroup. It's just one game. Rask won't be this good in every game. He can't possibly be this good.
Game 2 figures to be different.
None of us can wait.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published June 2, 2013 4:30 AM