Penguins' 5-step plan to salvaging series versus Bruins
By Rob Rossi
Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Sidney Crosby knows the Stanley Cup playoffs can end with a whimper.
That doesn't mean they must end in disappointment.
He failed to produce a point in the final three games of the 2009 Cup Final, but the Penguins won two of those and the title.
The Penguins came up short in 2007 and '12 — the other postseasons Crosby finished without a point in multiple games.
He has yet to produce a point in the Eastern Conference final, which resumes with Game 3 on Wednesday in Boston. The Penguins trail the best-of-seven series, 2-0.
Crosby has scored a goal in just one of the past five games — his worst playoff stretch since scoring in one of the Penguins' last eight playoff games in 2010.
The Penguins also need to make these adjustments to beat the Big Bad Bruins:
Try something new-ish
Lineup changes are coming for Game 3, coach Dan Bylsma said. Details weren't provided, but moving Jarome Iginla to his natural position — right wing — is one place to start.
That doesn't mean Iginla should play on the top line with Crosby. Iginla can't keep up with Crosby, which is vital for any winger who plays with him.
Against the Bruins, Iginla would fit better on a third line that includes Brenden Morrow on the left wing and Jussi Jokinen at center. That line worked well — especially on the cycle — late in the regular season when Crosby (jaw) and Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) were injured.
With Morrow and Iginla — both physical players — as his wingers, Jokinen could become an X-factor against the Bruins. He scored three goals against them in a 2009 playoff series win with Carolina, and he produced three points in the Penguins' regular-season win at Boston.
Also, rookie Beau Bennett needs to play.
The Penguins' best bet to win this series is to maximize their skill and speed advantage — as did Toronto in Round 1, nearly upsetting the Bruins in seven games while rallying from a 3-1 series deficit.
Skate more, hit less
This isn't 2009, when wingers could freely treat back-turning defensemen like pylons. Obstruction has crept back into the NHL, and those “Kunikaze” hits that Kunitz perfected during the Cup run four years ago are harder to pull off.
Kunitz and Cooke, the two wingers who starred in that role four years ago, are 33 and 34, respectively. They have combined to play in 586 games, including playoffs, over the past four seasons.
The Penguins seem obsessed with showing off their physicality in this series. They have outhit the Bruins, 71-38.
Toronto tried poking the Bruins early in its first-round series and promptly fell behind, 3-1. In Game 4, though, the Maple Leafs made Boston captain Zdeno Chara a target but otherwise forced Bruins players to keep up with their skill and speed.
Chasing wears down an opponent, too. The Penguins have done enough of that against the Bruins — all, unfathomably, in the pursuit of punishment.
The Penguins' midseason defensive turnaround — at one point they jumped from 22nd to seventh in goals allowed — was because of a tactical adjustment. Their “F3,” the third forward entering the defensive zone, worked deeper than before, leaving defensemen free to protect the crease and slot scoring areas.
The addition of Douglas Murray, another in-season trade acquisition, bolstered the physicality on the back end, but the Penguins remain a defense corps whose strength is positioning, puck movement and skating.
Defensemen, as was the case against the pace-controlling Islanders in a tight Round 1 matchup, are skating backward too much and too deep — almost, at times against the Bruins, into their goalie.
That is a telltale sign the Penguins are defending against transition offense too often, something that rarely occurred in a sound second-round performance against Ottawa.
Nothing would help the Penguins more than responsible decision-making by forwards, who are admittedly pressing to create against the Bruins' trapping and collapsing schemes.
Turn to Fleury
Journeyman Tomas Vokoun was pulled from Game 2 after allowing three goals, but only because the Penguins needed a spark. He's 6-3 with a .929 save percentage and has done nothing to deserve a demotion.
Still, this moment calls for Marc-Andre Fleury.
He was the franchise goalie when the playoffs started. The Penguins need to find out if he's still up for that job. They can't if he is inserted into games only when they need a spark.
This series still can be won, and it has shifted to Boston, where Fleury is 5-1-0 with a 1.67 goals-against average and .946 save percentage over the past five seasons.
Fleury was the reason his club won a Game 7 on the road in a Cup Final. No other goalie still playing can claim that. If nothing else, general manager Ray Shero needs to know if Fleury is still that goalie.
Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.
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