Biggest task for Penguins might be forgetting playoff sweep by Bruins


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The Penguins are reconvening for the first time since June.

There was the annual team golf tournament Tuesday at Allegheny Country Club. Physicals and photos at Consol Energy Center this morning. The first on-ice sessions of training camp Thursday.

Being back together gives players an opportunity to talk about what lies ahead and to revisit the past. To reflect on how a playoff run that seemed to be gaining momentum after they trampled Ottawa in the final two games of the second round was derailed so abruptly and emphatically in a four-game loss to Boston in the Eastern Conference final. To rekindle memories of a week most would prefer to simply forget.

If they could.

Which, it seems, they can't.

"I don't know if you ever get over it," coach Dan Bylsma said Tuesday.

It's easy to understand why.

The Penguins -- their lineup bolstered by late-season acquisitions Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Douglas Murray -- entered the Bruins series as a popular choice to advance to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2009. With good reason. They had outscored the Senators, 13-5, in the final two games of the second round.

Tomas Vokoun was giving them excellent goaltending. Their offense was the most volatile in the league, and their power play featured some of hockey's most rarefied talents.

"Heading into that series, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "Winning the last two games of the Ottawa series pretty convincingly, scoring a lot and playing well."

Aside from the 6-1 self-immolation that was Game 3, they didn't play badly against the Bruins, either.

The course of the series might have been different if they had capitalized on some of the quality scoring chances they had in a 3-0 loss in Game 1.

"We came out of the gate early in that first game and hit some pipes," defenseman Paul Martin said. "There's some luck you need, as far as a bounce here or there."

The worst break the Penguins got, though, was that Boston had Tuukka Rask in goal. He flirted with perfection over four games, turning aside 133 of 135 shots.

"If someone would have said [the Penguins would be held to two goals] before the series," Niskanen said, "I would have said, 'They're nuts.' "

Although Boston can be stingy defensively, Bylsma said the biggest problem in the Eastern final was the Penguins' inability to convert offensive opportunities, not create them.

"We had quality scoring chances," Bylsma said. "Our power play had quality scoring chances, good scoring chances. Our good players were in situations we want them to be in, and we'll want them to be in again."

The first steps toward making that happen will be taken this week, when a new season begins and the end of the previous one is pushed a bit further into the shadows of franchise history. Not that it can get far enough, fast enough for most of the Penguins.

"That one stung for a while," Niskanen.

Still does, in a lot of cases, for it was an opportunity that won't be easy to replicate. But, painful as the lessons might have been, what happened against Boston was a learning opportunity for the Penguins.

"We just realized how close [the league] is, the parity and how much you have to be on your game and capitalize on your opportunities," Martin said. "Because if you don't, the margin of error is so small that anything can happen."

NOTES -- Bylsma said he expects three spots on the NHL roster, two of them up front, to be up for grabs in training camp, with "a lot of people" competing for them. ... Bylsma said Beau Bennett and Jussi Jokinen will audition for work on the left side with Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. He added that Bennett might get some time on Sidney Crosby's right wing as well.

penguins

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG First Published September 11, 2013 4:00 AM


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