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Kovacevic: Embarrassed? Not Penguins

| Friday, May 2, 2014, 11:36 p.m.

Say this for these Penguins: They aren't easily embarrassed.

“I thought we were pretty solid all night.”

That was the assessment of Rob Scuderi. He was singularly responsible for the giveaway that led to New York's overtime goal by Derick Brassard, the one that lifted the allegedly exhausted, energy-depleted Rangers, 3-2, past the allegedly rested, revved-up Penguins in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff series Friday night at Consol Energy Center.

“I think when you play well, you trust the next one's going to go in.”

That was the assessment of Sidney Crosby, asked about his own performance.

He went a 12th consecutive playoff game without a goal, mustered only three shots, went 6-13 in the faceoff circle and posted a minus-3 rating. He was on the ice for that overtime goal, and that should be taken literally: He was prone behind Marc-Andre Fleury when the Rangers continued to run rampant after it wasn't clear that Brassard's shot had entered the net. For good measure, Benoit Pouliot buried yet another, marking perhaps the first two-goal overtime victory in NHL history.

Yeah, the Rangers were so tired they kept scoring even after they'd won.

“It was more of a 50/50 period. We ended up on the short end of the scoreboard with the two goals they got.”

That was the most incredible assessment of all, one regarding this game's first period, and it came from Dan Bylsma. He's the head coach.


He's the one ultimately responsible for ensuring his players are ready to play right from the drop of the puck.

He's the one who had set a common theme all through practice this week — the right theme, I'll stress — that the Penguins needed to pounce on this New York team that had just played vicious Games 6 and 7 against Philadelphia of all teams, all while the Penguins had been idle since Monday's elimination of Columbus. This was Bylsma's idea, one repeated by his players. The Rangers needed to be hit, needed to be worn down, needed to have nothing left in the tank by game's end, never mind the quick Games 2 and 3 on the horizon Sunday and Monday.

And he's the one who looked back at that first period, the one in which the Rangers not only had taken a 2-0 lead but also a 13-8 edge in shots and a decided edge in physical play, and he saw that first period as a 50/50 endeavor. Moreover, he wouldn't correctly identify that first period for being almost wholly responsible for all that followed, including the finish.

Wow squared.

Is there anyone on this team, in this organization, who can call it like it is?

Really, what's the harm?

If anything, it isn't until the Penguins feel some sense of purpose or anger or anything that they begin playing with any kind of passion. Maybe they could use it.

Look, this isn't to pick on those quoted above. Other views were no different, really. Rather, it's to point out that, for as long as the problems remain with focus and effort — and yes, being physical at least once in a while — this team can't be taken seriously as a Cup contender, no matter how much fortune has befallen them with the rest of the Eastern field.

Man alive, they've got to want it, you know?

Do they?

I've got no idea right now. I don't know how anyone could, because it seems like every step forward is met with a confounding step back, as if the other never occurred.

The list, if nothing else, is consistent: Crosby has to be better, even if he's playing through some kind of injury. He's out there getting star minutes. He has to be a star. Evgeni Malkin has to shoot more. You know, like Game 6 in Columbus. Marc-Andre Fleury can't give up unscreened 40-foot wristers like Pouliot's in the first period. The team as a whole has to play much tighter, with a much greater concentration on forwards backchecking through the neutral zone. One of the few times the Penguins did that on this night, it resulted in James Neal retrieving the puck and scoring.

Above all, though, they still need — even after this blown opportunity — to wear down New York's terrific group of defensemen. Because, make no mistake, the Rangers are built from Henrik Lundqvist out to the shutdown pair of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi out to the rest of a sound corps.

Every last one of them, including Lundqvist despite spending so much time inside his own net he'll be sent a bill for rent, escaped this one unscathed.

“They came out hard, and we knew they would.”

That was the assessment of Girardi when I asked what he thought of the Penguins' first period.

Kept a straight face, too.

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