Do the Penguins still have an extra gear?
From a distance, the Pittsburgh Penguins look nearly unbeatable. They are a game of NHL ’13 come to life. Perhaps no other team in the NHL can match their collection of world-class talent with players like Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jarome Iginla, Kris Letang, etc. However, after watching the Penguins lose the first two games of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals at home to the Bruins (3-0 and 6-1), you start to see the numerous warts on Pittsburgh and the reasons why it lost in the first round the past two seasons and haven’t been this far since 2009.
Boston will never match Pittsburgh’s skill level but that doesn’t matter since the B’s have bought into an outstanding system that allows everyone to play a specific role. If the Penguins stars aren’t scoring goals, what exactly is their role? The Bruins have done a brilliant job exposing the Penguins main weaknesses in shaky defensemen, forwards that don’t want to play two ways and goaltenders that are easily rattled. It only took two periods in Game 1 to see how much Crosby and Malkin were out of their element as the former bumped Tuukka Rask and the latter fought Patrice Bergeron in a misguided attempt to fire up his team.The Pens have plenty of physical players, so they can employ that style to a point. But their numerous attempts to intimidate Boston have been laughable at best. The only statistic that the Penguins have a decided advantage in so far are hits: they’ve outhit the Bruins 71-38. Pittsburgh has been so focused on taking the body that their defensemen have taken themselves out of plays or even worse, coughed up the puck in key areas (20 giveaways this series to the Bruins’ 3) which has led to a bunch of goals for the B’s.
Everyone is waiting for Pittsburgh to change gears (or strategy) and to start racking up the goals. The problem is that the Bruins aren’t the Islanders, they aren’t the Senators, they have a gameplan, a dependable roster and they’re not intimidated one bit by the Penguins. This all means that Game 3 Wednesday (8 p.m., NBCSN) at TD Garden becomes the most important in the series since it’s a virtual must-win for Pittsburgh. Boston appears to firmly be in the Pens’ heads and most importantly, in control of the series. Of the last 16 teams to go up 2-0 in the NHL conference finals, all of them have advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins will look to reverse that history by changing things up on the fly starting in Game 3.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate