Ron Cook: This one loss about as bad as they come for Penguins
April 20, 2014 12:10 AM
Dan Bylsma tries to drive a point home during a timeout in the second period Saturday night.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It's just one game. Keep telling yourself that. It will ease your pain. As former great Penguins coach Badger Bob Johnson said famously years ago as he held up three fingers, "You can lose three games and still win the series."
Of course, they're probably saying the same thing this morning in Columbus where the Blue Jackets have to be feeling mighty fine about themselves. They escaped Consol Energy Center with a 4-3 win Saturday night against the Penguins, surprisingly evening their first-round playoff series at one game apiece. Winger Matt Calvert got the winning goal on a rebound of his own shot at 1:10 of the second overtime.
This was a game the Penguins had no business losing.
It might have been just one loss, but it was a bad one.
"I think it's a missed opportunity," defenseman Matt Niskanen said. "We played a great first period. We were in complete control of the hockey game. We allowed them back in it."
Niskanen was right. The Penguins looked as if they were going to blow the Blue Jackets out of the building when he beat Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with a slap shot late in the first period for a 3-1 lead. Great teams don't blow two-goal leads at home in the final two periods against a lesser opponent. It's pretty clear these Penguins have a ways to go before they are great.
It's hard to say what was more inexcusable. That the Penguins gave up their second short-handed goal of the series at 7:31 of the second period as Columbus pulled to 3-2? Or that they committed three third-period penalties, the third leading to the power-play goal that tied the score with six minutes left?
Can we agree they were equally inexcusable?
Calvert got the short-handed goal after a two-on-one rush with teammate Jack Johnson, and Niskanen back. Calvert used Johnson as a decoy and fired a wrist shot by goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.
How do you give up a shortie when you are up by two goals? Can you say sloppy? How about poor attention to detail?
"That wasn't the only opportunity they had with our power play," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It's great to score goals. But when you're up two goals, the main objective is to not give up momentum. We gave up momentum with our power play."
Fleury was great the rest of the second period and into the third, and appeared as if he would save the Penguins. But there was no saving them on this night. They took one too many penalties as a lack of discipline and focus hurt them badly again.
"We took penalties 200 feet from our net," Orpik said, the disgust evident in his voice. "You can't teach discipline overnight. You build it."
Winger Craig Adams was penalized at 5:07 of the third period for bringing his stick under Bobrovsky's mask. The Penguins killed that penalty. They also killed a tripping penalty on defenseman Rob Scuderi at 11:38. But they had no such luck after -- who else? -- defenseman Kris Letang was called for interference when he put a big hit on Calvert at 13:31.
Letang didn't like the call. Of course he didn't like it. He took two penalties in Game 1 and was publicly scolded by coach Dan Bylsma, who said Letang received a "message" about his poor play. Well, maybe not. Neither Letang nor Bylsma was happy when Johnson banged in the tying goal at 13:59.
The Penguins got what they deserved in the overtimes. They were able to kill another penalty -- this one by defenseman Paul Martin for a high stick -- but couldn't keep Calvert from scoring the winning goal in the second overtime.
You should have seen the Blue Jackets celebrate around Calvert at mid-ice. Why not? They came to Pittsburgh as a decided underdog and went home with a split, thinking they are just as good as the Penguins. Game 3 is Monday night at Nationwide Arena.
"If we play like we did in the first period, we'll be fine," Orpik said. "But if we let them hang around, they've got players who can beat you. We played right into their hands."
The Penguins still should win the series. They are the better team. It would be a monumental upset if the Blue Jackets can pull it off.
But after watching the Penguins in the first two games, nothing seems guaranteed. They really do have a lot of work to do before they become a great team, a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
Not giving up short-handed goals and not taking a ridiculous number of penalties would be a good start.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Cook and Poni" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.
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