Penguins still looking for first complete game effort

| Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The players in the Penguins dressing room may not have a whole lot of NHL playoff experience, but it doesn't take experience to understand the importance of tonight's Game 4 against the Ottawa Senators at Mellon Arena.

Win, and the Penguins tie the Eastern Conference first-round series, 2-2, going back to Ottawa for Game 5 on Thursday.

Lose, and they'll be looking at an unpleasant statistic: Of the 214 times a team has gone ahead 3-1 in a best-of-seven series, the trailing team has come back to win the series just 20 times, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"I don't think it's panic, but I think everyone realizes you can't go down 3-1 to a team like this," defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

The Penguins did not practice Monday after playing back-to-back games in Ottawa on Saturday and Pittsburgh on Sunday.

After a team meeting in the afternoon, the players met with the media and repeated the same phrase uttered after Game 1's 6-3 loss and Game 2's 4-3, come-from-behind win: They have yet to play a full, 60-minute game.

"The intensity's there, but it's not there for 60 minutes, and that's when we run into trouble," said veteran forward Mark Recchi, who won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes last season. "We lose our focus for short periods of time, get it back and lose it again. That's not how you win games in the playoffs."

The Penguins have had a particularly great amount of trouble in the second period.

In the three games, they've been outscored, 6-1, in the second period and outshot, 44-18.

None of the players asked yesterday seemed to know why the middle period has caused them so much trouble.

"I'm sure if we did know we would fix it," winger Colby Armstrong said. "I think it's just focus and playing the way we can. We seem to come out flat in the second, and they seem to come out flying. We have to keep our focus."

During the regular season, the Penguins allowed more goals (92) and shots (913) in the second period than either the first (60 goals, 758 shots) or the third (82 goals, 759 shots) periods.

But the difference in goals scored in the second period (87) compared to the first (80) and third (92) periods wasn't nearly as great in the regular season as it has been during the three playoffs games. Shots were also spread out evenly during the regular season between the first (742), second (751) and third (781) periods.

"It seems like our second period just isn't there," Jordan Staal said.

Said Orpik, "The first period (of Game 3) we had so much momentum. I don't know why we came out like that in the second period. Even during the season, the second period was sometimes a problem for us. I can't really put my finger on the reason why."

The Penguins also have gotten into penalty trouble in the second period of these playoffs, taking 10 penalties to the Senators' six. The Senators scored on three of those second-period power plays, while the Penguins didn't score on any of theirs.

"We definitely have to find a way to keep our focus and discipline," veteran forward Gary Roberts said. "It's a physical series back and forth, and you're going to take hits, you're going to give out hits, and the key is to be more disciplined than them and stick to our game plan."

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