Ron Cook: Ugly play by Penguins deserves ugly loss
May 9, 2014 11:58 PM
Joe Vitale, Craig Adams and Paul Martin help defend in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury against the New York Rangers' Rick Nash in the first period of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
By Ron Cook / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
We'll never know for sure what it would have taken for the Penguins to finish off the New York Rangers Friday night at Consol Energy Center in Game 5 of their Stanley Cup playoff series. It probably wouldn't have required a near-perfect performance like the one they gave in Game 4. But the Penguins gave nothing and got nothing in return except for a trip back to New York for Game 6 Sunday night. Their hideous 5-1 loss was their worst game this postseason, by far.
"We knew they were going to play hard," Penguins winger Craig Adams said of the Rangers. "We didn't play hard enough. They just out-competed us."
I know, it's unbelievable.
Getting beaten is one thing. It happens even to great teams from time to time in a rough playoff series. But showing no fight, no intensity, no heart when so much is on the line is inexcusable. This really was a sorry performance by the Penguins in just about every way.
"It's a missed opportunity," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Now we're forced to go back there and play better. We have to play with that same desperation."
Maybe the loss was predictable. The Penguins were 1-6 in their previous seven home playoff games when they had a chance to eliminate their opponent. The lone exception in that streak came in Game 5 last spring against Ottawa.
Maybe the Penguins were due for a rotten game. They had played so well, not just in Game 4 when they limited the Rangers to 15 shots, fewest by an opponent in franchise playoff history, but also in Game 2, a home win. They won Game 3 in New York despite getting outplayed much of the night. Marc-Andre Fleury stole that one by making 35 saves.
There's no doubt Fleury was due to fish a few pucks out of his net. Since early in Game 1, he had stopped 85 of 88 Rangers shots and had consecutive shutouts. Fleury finally showed he could be beaten with a bad goal late in Game 4 when he allowed a weak short-side goal by Mats Zuccarello. He wasn't sharp at all Friday night, giving up another short-side goal -- this one to Chris Kreider on the power play -- and getting beaten on a long slap shot by Ryan McDonagh, again on the power play.
Certainly, the Rangers' power play was due. It had been 0 for 15 in the series, an almost unbelievable 0 for 36 going back to early in their first-round series against the Philadelphia Flyers. They were going to score, sooner rather than later.
The Penguins didn't help by taking two ridiculous penalties. Kreider's goal came after defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who wasn't under any pressure, shot the puck over the boards and was called for delay of game. McDonagh's goal was the result of a bench penalty against the Penguins for too many men on the ice.
"Unforced errors," Bylsma called them.
You make 'em in a big game, you deserve to lose.
Much had been made of the Rangers' power-play fiascos, but the Penguins' power play has been awful, as well. It went 0 for 3 in Game 5 and is 1 for 14 in the series. The Penguins had a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:23 late in the second and didn't even get a shot on net. That's beyond awful. Don't think the big crowd, the Penguins' 333rd consecutive sellout, didn't let the team know it. Boos poured down as the players left the ice for the second intermission, trailing, 4-1.
"That was a huge opportunity for us," Bylsma said. "I don't think we've attacked enough with our shot on the power play. We needed to get one there, maybe even get in another one before the end of the period."
Give the Rangers some credit. They get paid, too. They promised to play a desperate game and lived up to their word. They also were inspired by winger Martin St. Louis, who elected to play one day after the unexpected death of his mother, France, at 63. He's a hockey player. Their commitment to their team is unmatched in sports. It didn't matter that St. Louis didn't have a point and has none for the series. His teammates clearly rallied around him.
"He wanted to be here," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.
Today, the Penguins will travel back to New York for a Game 6 they didn't want to play and will have to try to lick the Rangers a third consecutive time on their ice. Good luck with that.
"You have to turn the page real quick," Bylsma said. "We've won there. We know that."
The Rangers are thrilled to get the chance to play a Game 6. St. Louis is expected to be in the lineup again. Vigneault noted it is appropriate and meaningful for his team that the game will be on Mother's Day. He promised the Rangers will play with a lot of emotion.
The Penguins will match it, right?
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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