Ron Cook: Mistakes bring back ugly playoff memories for Penguins


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To their credit, the Penguins didn't blame this hideous loss on a couple of bad bounces off of the back boards. They put the responsibility exactly where it belonged.

"We know we're better than that," captain Sidney Crosby said.

It's hard to imagine the Penguins playing worse than they did in a 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders Friday night at Consol Energy Center in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup playoff series. They took a 3-1 lead in the first period and seemed to think the Islanders would curl up and quit. They took stupid penalties, two by defenseman Deryk Engelland. They forgot about their commitment to defense and gave up 42 shots. They did a horrible job managing the puck, turning it over repeatedly and putting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, in coach Dan Bylsma's words, "under siege quite a bit of the night." They were beaten to just about every 50-50 puck.

Crosby came back for this?

Don't be fooled by the final score.

It could have been 6-3, so much better were the Islanders on this one night. They didn't even remotely resemble the team that took a 5-0 licking in Game 1.

It could have been 8-3 if Fleury hadn't stood so strong in the face of the pressure. He earned all of his 38 saves.

"They came hard. They came to play," Penguins winger Matt Cooke said of the Islanders. "I don't think we were prepared enough for it."

That's a stunning admission.

It's also inexcusable for a group of veterans who claim to be hungry for a Stanley Cup.

"At this stage, yes, it is," Cooke said.

This loss brought back memories of the Penguins' 4-1 loss to the Islanders Jan. 29, their sixth game of the lockout-delayed season. That was the night they were booed off the home ice by their disgusted fans. They responded by winning their next five games and finishing the season with a 36-12 record, best in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins escaped the boos this time, probably because the Consol crowd couldn't believe what it was watching from a hockey club that had been so strong for the past three months. The same team that schooled the Islanders in Game 1 suddenly started playing the way the 2012 Penguins did against the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. You know how that series ended.

The penalties weren't necessary. Engelland was called for cross-checking the Islanders' Casey Cizikas at 6:22 of the first period, leading to a power-play goal that cut the Penguins' lead to 2-1. Not satisfied at keeping the Islanders in the game, Engelland then took an interference call at 10:38 of the first period when he seemingly tried to take off Brad Boyes' head. The Penguins killed that penalty, but it didn't change the bottom line. The team needs injured defenseman Brooks Orpik back in the lineup, sooner rather than later.

The Penguins were lucky they led, 3-1, after the first period and, to a man, knew it. "That was misrepresentative of how the game was going because they had a lot of chances," Cooke said. "They had a lot of shots in that first period."

Twenty, to be exact.

The Islanders added 14 more in the second period when they got goals from Colin McDonald and Matt Martin to tie the score, 3-3.

"We turned over a lot of pucks," Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said, his face marred by an ugly bump and cut that required stitches under his left eye, thanks to a second-period fight with Kyle Okposo.

That was all the speedy Islanders needed. Their transition game is outstanding. They did a wonderful job forechecking. They were in the Penguins' zone most of the game.

"Our 'D' went back an awful lot under pressure," Bylsma acknowledged.

"We know we didn't play the way we need to play," Crosby said.

Crosby got not one, but two goals in his first game back after missing 13 because of a broken jaw. But he was the first to say the night didn't go anything like he had planned. "We don't feel like we did enough to get that one."

Martin's tying goal came after an unfortunate bounce for Fleury off of the boards. Martin jumped on it and put the puck in the net. Okposo got the winning goal at 12:23 of the third period after a similar bounce off the back boards. Fleury, sliding over to protect his net, ended up putting the puck in with his back side.

"I wouldn't say it was bad luck," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. "You make your own luck."

The Islanders made plenty of it, which is why they went home for Game 3 Sunday afternoon tied in the series, 1-1, and feeling much better about their chances of shocking the NHL world. The Penguins seemed more angry at themselves than down about the loss. They talked as if they plan on bouncing back from the defeat the same way they did after that horrid loss to the Islanders in January. Certainly, they are good enough to do it. They have so much more talent and experience than the Islanders.

"They were the better team tonight," Niskanen said, "but we'll be back."

"It won't take long to jog our memories about how we have to play," Cooke said.

If this loss doesn't do it, nothing will.

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Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published May 4, 2013 4:00 AM


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