Kovacevic: Furious, frustrated … but just fine
There's been an inordinate amount of angst following each of the Penguins' handful of losses in these Stanley Cup playoffs, and I'll be stunned if even a small exception is made for that air-sucking 3-0 shutout Saturday night to the Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final.
Well, let it go.
No, go ahead and take a deep breath all the way down, expunge all your negative energy – yeah, even the invectives for Mike Milbury – then hold and release.
OK, here, I'll try something else by typing this sentence: Almost everything about Game 1 was good for the home team except the outcome.
Totally serious here, and I'll try my best to make the case quickly, counting down a handful of tidy points:
5. They're fired up.
Evgeni Malkin fighting Patrice Bergeron?
Sidney Crosby challenging Tuukka Rask, then using that damaged jaw to yap upward at Zdeno Chara, then pile-driving Brad Marchand?
No one outside the immediate Boston family wants either of those two in the box, but the best players in the world showed a burning fire, and that's seldom a bad thing.
“We don't want to see that all the time,” Matt Niskanen said, “but good for Geno for standing up.”
4. They're flying.
The Penguins registered 29 official shots, which is no big deal, but they clanged four others off posts and missed a jarring 12 more in trying to abide by a scouting report that Rask can be beaten high.
Throw the book out, aim right around the hub on Rask's chest, and this game changes dramatically.
I saw this team looking more comfortable and cohesive offensively in this game than in any of their first 11 in these playoffs, especially on the long-problematic breakouts. They were tight, fast and creative.
“We didn't finish,” Jarome Iginla said. “In the third, we let it get away from us, but we had plenty of scoring chances and chances to get momentum swings going.”
Rask won't be able to fend that off any more than Evgeni Nabokov or Craig Anderson did.
3. The goaltending was OK.
The most kneejerk of reactions is to look at the goaltender, but that's out here, too. Tomas Vokoun wasn't spectacular, but David Krejci's first goal skipped off a sliding Paul Martin, and his second popped weirdly into the air before landing conveniently on the blade.
Worst thing that could have come of this game is a goaltending controversy, and there still isn't one.
2. The refs were a farce.
I don't often rip officials but, sorry, Chris Rooney and Brad Watson were just embarrassing, clearly in over their heads in matters large and small. The latter included a glaring inability to make even routine calls that kept pace with the play.
“They were letting a lot go out there,” Crosby said.
Sure were, but two they did make will be talking points.
Matt Cooke was deserving of a minor for hitting Adam McQuaid from behind. No doubt about it. He saw both numbers and didn't let up. But the major he was assessed was absurd based on voluminous precedent. Cooke took one half of a sideways stride, McQuaid turned at the last moment – even Boston coach Claude Julien conceded McQuaid “put himself in a vulnerable position” – and Cooke followed through.
The NHL hasn't had a clue all season how to make these calls, and more proof came minutes later when Marchand skated all the way from the Palumbo Center to blindside James Neal into the boards and got only a minor.
“I don't see the difference,” Crosby said.
I do: Marchand didn't have “COOKE” stitched to the back of his sweater.
The calls didn't define the outcome, but they contributed.
Craig Adams got it right: “Nobody knows from one call to the other what's coming next.”
1. Malkin was flying.
When is the last time you saw that version of him?
Late in his MVP season?
All the way back to 2009?
I'm not so sure it wasn't the latter, and that might wind up meaning more than anything from this evening. The Bruins might have had an answer for Crosby – Bergeron was brilliant – but they have none for Malkin.
Look, this isn't to give Boston its due: Rask might have had a few hit him, but there also were a few sharp saves among his 29. Krejci, one of the NHL's most underappreciated forwards, added two goals to his team-best 19 points in these playoffs. Their centers, led by Bergeron, dominated by taking two-thirds of the draws. And the team as a whole, as Julien described, “kind of settled into our system after the first period.”
But let's not be blinded by the scoreboard here, either. I picked the Penguins in six, and I'm actually more confident in that now than before Game 1.
Still not exhaling, huh?