Bylsma confident for Game 4: 'We're going to ... win'
BOSTON — Dan Bylsma looked nothing like a hockey coach in peril Thursday.
At the Penguins' hotel near Boston Common, he worked out, met with players, planned a dinner for his staff and — most strikingly — joked in the lobby with a fresh-off-the-golf course co-owner Mario Lemieux.
“I'm not coaching, don't coach, have never coached for my job,” Bylsma said. “I coached this hockey team in (2009), and I came here to win hockey games, and that's where we're at right now.”
The top-seeded Penguins are down, 3-0, to the Boston Bruins in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
They have scored two goals in 215 minutes after averaging 4.27 goals per game through 11 previous playoff contests.
Game 4 is Friday at TD Garden. With a loss, a Penguins squad will be swept from the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1979.
Bylsma, the fastest coach in NHL history to 200 regular-season wins, is signed through next season.
He has not been told if his job is on the line should the Penguins bow Friday or anytime before a return to the Cup Final.
General manager Ray Shero declined comment.
Shero will make the final call on personnel decisions, a representative for ownership said Thursday.
In past turbulent times — specifically, a 6-7-1 start to the 2010-11 season — Shero publicly backed Bylsma, saying then, “Dan is my coach.”
Shero also praised Bylsma after the Penguins' five-game ousting of Ottawa in Round 2 of this postseason.
“Obviously, I think Dan's a great coach and that we have a great coaching staff,” Shero said May 24. “Our players are prepared. We have different options … and (the coaches) are pushing the right buttons.
“It's always easy to criticize, but in this case we have a good team and a good coach. It's a good combination.”
Shero and Bylsma are about four years removed from the high point of their partnership.
Bylsma, then a first-year/first-time head coach at AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, was hired on an interim basis Feb. 15, 2009. He replaced Michel Therrien, under whom the Penguins had reached the Cup Final in 2008.
The Penguins were 10th in the East and five points from a playoff spot upon Bylsma's arrival. They finished the regular season on an 18-3-4 run and overcame two 2-0 series deficits on a playoff road that led to a Cup Final rematch with Detroit.
The Penguins won Game 7 at Detroit on June 12, 2009. Bylsma, the interim tag by then removed, became the fourth coach in 50 years to win the Cup as a rookie.
He has since set a franchise record for regular-season winning percentage (.661), claimed a Jack Adams Award (outstanding coach) in 2011, been selected by players as the coach for whom they would most like to play and emerged as the favorite to coach Team USA at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
However, the Penguins are on the verge of a fourth consecutive postseason loss to a lower-seeded opponent, and they are 10-12 at home in playoff games since that 2009 Cup run.
Expectations for this squad — externally, anyway — are Cup or bust.
In-season acquisitions for veteran wingers Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, forward Jussi Jokinen and defenseman Douglas Murray raised the bar for a squad that already featured two former MVPs and scoring champions in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, an elite defenseman in Kris Letang and a handful of premium goal scorers in wingers James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis.
Crosby, Malkin and Letang are without a point in the East final.
The Penguins' power play, dominant with 13 goals in Rounds 1 and 2, is 0 for 12 against the Bruins.
Boston's aggressive forecheck has denied the Penguins' skilled players time and space, especially in a 6-1 win in Game 2 at Consol Energy Center.
Facing a crucial Game 3 on Wednesday — only three clubs have overcome 3-0 series deficits — Bylsma scratched Jokinen, played Murray only 17 minutes in five-plus periods and used Morrow and Iginla as bottom-six forwards.
Players displayed grit and guts in a double-overtime loss, but the Penguins remain a club on the brink of elimination.
Bylsma reiterated Thursday that he liked his club's most recent performance, though he acknowledged the challenge ahead.
“We know exactly what's in front of us, with the odds (and) being down, 0-3,” he said. “But I believe in that group. I believe in that team. I believe in how we battled, and how we're going to battle. We're going to go in, knowing we have an elimination game, and win Game 4.”
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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