PITTSBURGH — Of course, everyone knew that the Bruins would waltz into Pittsburgh and outscore the home team 9-1 in two commanding victories. No surprise, right?
“Shocked? Not really shocked,” forward Nathan Horton after his team dismantled the Penguins 6-1 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals. “Or maybe shocked, I don’t know. We maybe didn’t expect this.”
Nope. Who would have expected the Penguins, laden with firepower but shut out 3-0 in the series opener and vowing to reassert their skill game, to suffer a 6-1 embarrassment on home ice in Game 2? What does this say about them, especially after the way they were derailed last year by the rival Flyers in a chippy, high-scoring series?
During the first two games, the Bruins have forced turnovers, made far fewer mistakes, gotten far better goaltending, rendered Pittsburgh’s superstars pointless, and now look like a decisively better team against the East’s Stanley Cup favorites.
Here are some thoughts and observations from a Game 2 shocker:
• Pittsburgh’s stars have been brutal. A lazy keep-in try by Sidney Crosby led to Boston’s first goal during the very first shift. Instead of reaching down to knock the bouncing puck safely to his feet, Crosby took a swat at it at the right point and was unable to bat it deeper into the zone. Brad Marchand then knocked it past him and, with a rink-long solo dash, beat goaltender Tomas Vokoun to the stick-side, giving Boston a 1-0 lead — only 28 seconds after the opening whistle. The goal quieted the crowd considerably. The giveaway was Crosby’s first of four on the night, twice as many as the Bruins committed as a team.
• The Penguins continued their sloppy play later in the period when defenseman Kris Letang tried to fire a free puck out of his own zone from along the goal line. Boston’s Torey Krug intercepted it and with one motion quickly flipped a shot at the net. Vokoun made the initial stop, but Nathan Horton tossed in the rebound as Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, who had Horton in his sights, failed to tie him up.
• David Krejci, who leads the NHL with 20 postseaon points, picked up his eighth goal of the postseason at the end of a nifty tic-tac-toe passing sequence at 16:31 of the first period. Horton (who has the postseason’s top plus-minus rating at +19) and Milan Lucic worked a clever give-and-go after they got the puck into Pittsburgh’s zone. Lucic slipped a pass between his skates to Horton, who fed Krejci for the goal that made it 3-0. That chased Vokoun, the subject of much pregame speculation about whether he should be replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury, who had melted down during the first round against the New York Islanders. Coach Dan Bylsma stuck by his veteran backup despite a questionable Game 1 outing and ultimately had to go back to Fleury to no avail.
• It wasn’t as if the Bruins were getting lucky bounces. At the time of the Krejci’s goal, Boston had outshot Pittsburgh by a hefty margin of 12-4. So Fleury returned to the net for his first appearance since Game 4 against the Islanders and the first relief outing of his postseason career. He stopped a couple of shots after coming into the game – at least one was probably going wide – but coughed up a goal by Marchand on the first official one he faced. That also marked the first time the Penguins had surrendered four goals in one period during the playoffs. Fleury ended up letting in three on only 14 shots.
• An unexpected source got the Penguins on the board with 34 seconds left in the first period when Brandon Sutter drove a shot from the top of the right circle over Tuukka Rask’s stick. It was one of the few times all night when the Penguins worked an efficient breakout (Martin-Matt Cooke-Sutter) that led to a clean scoring chance. But just 25 seconds later, with nine seconds to go in the period, Boston’s Jaromir Jagr made a strong impact play along the boards, knocking the puck off the stick of Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik, dumping him in the process. Jagr then passed to Patrice Bergeron who was speeding through center ice. Bergeron led Marchand down the left side from where he fired a 45-foot wrist shot over Fleury’s glove into the far corner. “March had a real good skip in his step tonight,” said Bergeron. “When he has that, he finds every loose puck. He was shooting pucks well and was first on pucks.”
• With the Penguins in desperate need of stopping the bleeding, the Bruins struck again just 27 seconds after the start of the third period as Bergeron won a face-off from Malkin and later converted from the slot after a backhand pass from Jagr, who may have had his best game of the playoffs.
• Defenseman Johnny Boychuk scored Boston’s sixth goal with 1:24 to play, beating Fleury with a straight-in 50-footer. Boychuk had tallied just one goal during 44 regular season games, but he now has five in 14 during the playoffs. In parts of six NHL regular seasons, Boychuk has never scored more than five goals.
• The Bruins have been the better team because they have been the smarter team. When Pittsburgh has pressed the attack, Boston has repeatedly made the right decisions under fire. Rumors suggested that Claude Julien’s job as head coach may have been on the line at some point during the first-round Toronto series just as it was during the Cup-winning season two years ago when the Bruins struggled early in the playoffs. But Julien’s team looks exceptionally well prepared. It isn’t only the plays the Bruins make, but the silly mistakes they don’t make. “Everybody was moving the puck really well, crisp and sharp,” said Bergeron. “If you don’t do that against [the Penguins], they’re going to burn you.”
• The Penguins outhit the Bruins, 37-19, yet in the official boxscore, Boston committed only two turnovers, compared to 12 for Pittsburgh.
• Penguins coach Dan Bylsma confessed to being surprised at his team’s poor showing in its two games at home. “How we played the last five periods? Yes,” he said. “We’ve gotten away from our game plan. We’ve deviated. Not too far after the second goal, we got off kilter and deviated again.” Another deviation in Boston and they’re more than probably done for.
• The Penguins have rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Bruins. In 1991, the season in which they won their first Stanley Cup, the Pens dropped the first two games in Boston before bouncing back to take the next four, going on to best the Minnesota North Stars in the Cup final. Of course, no one on this current Pittsburgh squad played in that series. Jagr could offer some advice, but obviously can’t given his present allegiance. Maybe Mario Lemieux can suit up and work some of his old magic.