Pens crushed again by relentless Bruins, 6-1
The Penguins are in a big, bad hole.
They need four wins in five games against the Boston Bruins to play for the Stanley Cup.
A 6-1 loss Monday placed them down, two games to none, in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
Body language showed everything late Monday night.
Coach Dan Bylsma was terse and fidgeted while assessing his club, which has scored one goal and surrendered nine in the series.
Captain Sidney Crosby and center Evgeni Malkin — each a former MVP and scoring champion — are without a point. Defenseman Kris Letang, a Norris Trophy (top defenseman) finalist, is minus-6.
“We need to get to our foundation of how we play and play as a group, and we didn't do that,” Bylsma said. “That includes every one of them — all of us, not just (Nos.) 87, 71 and 58.”
Crosby remained his usual unflappable self, but accepted blame for his giveaway that led to the Bruins' opening goal.
Malkin ducked his head. Winger James Neal stared into the distance. Letang pursed his lips.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik, the Penguins' longest-tenured player, was blunt.
“I think we're an old enough team to know what needs to be done here,” Orpik said. “You should never have to address it at this point in the season. But we are in this position. We created it. It's up to us to dig ourselves out right now.”
The Penguins have lost both games of this conference final at Consol Energy Center, where they had been 18-6 during the regular season and 5-1 in the playoffs.
The series shifts to Boston's TD Garden for Games 3 and 4, starting Wednesday night.
At least a split is required to guarantee the Penguins' nucleus at least one more game in Pittsburgh. A win Wednesday is necessary to prevent nearly guaranteed elimination.
Only three clubs have overcome 3-0 deficits to win a playoff series. The Bruins, in the second round of the 2010 playoffs, were the last squad to blow that lead.
Many of these Penguins have been in this spot before: They lost Games 1 and 2 at home against Philadelphia last postseason.
An 8-4 loss in Game 3 at Philadelphia essentially ended that series, which the Flyers won in six games. That defeat sent shockwaves through the Penguins' organization.
There will be questions that general manager Ray Shero must ask if the Penguins fail to rally in this series.
• What of Bylsma, whose clubs would have gone 3-4 in series — all against lower-seeded opponents — since winning the Cup in 2009? The Penguins are 10-12 at home in the past four postseasons.
• Is the best use of shrinking salary-cap space on a double-his-salary contract for Letang, who will have one season left on a contract that pays him $3.5 million annually? Letang has been on the ice for six of the Bruins' nine goals this series.
• Are wingers Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow and defenseman Douglas Murray — the key three in-season acquisitions, and all unrestricted free agents — worth trying to retain? Iginla, a career right winger, has played the left wing and not looked comfortable. Morrow is mostly a fourth liner. Murray is physical but lacks the skating ability Shero prefers in his defensemen, and the Penguins' system is stocked with defense prospects.
• Can dressing-room leader Pascal Dupuis, tied for the team lead with seven playoff goals, be affordable given his back-to-back 20-goal seasons? He is 34 and will seek a raise on his $1.5 million salary and a three-year deal — a length of term Shero has rarely awarded to players in their 30s.
• Finally, what does the future hold for franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has won just one playoff series since that last-second save on Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom that clinched the Cup four years ago? Fleury was only reinserted into this postseason when the Penguins were desperate for a spark Monday.
All of this — and more — is on the line as the Penguins head to Boston.
“Guys have a lot of pride, a lot of character in here,” Crosby said. “I'm not worried about how we're going to respond.”
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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