PITTSBURGH — There’s a dry erase board in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ dressing room coach Dan Bylsma uses to remind his players about where they stand in their bid for a Stanley Cup.
For the first time this postseason, the Penguins find themselves with a zero next to their name after the Boston Bruins pulled away for a 3-0 victory in Game 1 on Sunday night.
“It’s a different look,” Bylsma said.
One that will only certainly get worse if Pittsburgh can’t collect itself in Game 2 tonight.
The Bruins rode David Krecji’s two goals, Tuukka Rask’s 29 saves and a hefty amount of antagonism to frustrate the Penguins into the kind of chippy play that does little favors to one of the NHL’s most talented teams.
For a spell in the second period, the Penguins seemed more intent in sending a message than evening the score.
Forward Matt Cooke earned a major boarding penalty and a game misconduct for blasting Boston’s Adam McQuaid behind the Bruins net. Forward Chris Kunitz was slapped with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after mixing it up with Boston’s Rich Peverley and reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin traded punches with Patrice Bergeron at the end of the period. The fight was the fourth of Malkin’s seven-year career and a symbol of just how frayed the top-seeded Penguins appeared.
“I think anytime you see Evgeni Malkin fighting he’s away from his game,” Cooke said. “Emotions are high.”
Cooke understands he and the rest of his teammates will have to keep them in check. The NHL declined to further penalize Cooke for his hit on McQuaid, meaning he’ll be back on the ice today.
“I’ve been in that situation before and it’s no fun,” he said. “I’m thankful I can go out tomorrow night and help my team.”
The Penguins could certainly use it after the Bruins took away the open space the Penguins enjoyed during first and second round wins over the New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. Whenever Pittsburgh did generate some momentum, Rask found a way to get a glove, a pad or a stick on whatever the Penguins threw his way.
Having a handful of shots clang off the posts helped. So did a defense that made things uncomfortable for Sidney Crosby and the rest of the star-laden Penguins.
“Tuukka stood tall and made a lot of saves at the right time,” Boston’s Brad Marchand said. “We just want to make sure we collapse low and try to take away lanes.”
That’s something the Penguins failed to do against Krejci. The NHL’s leading scorer during the postseason pushed his point total to 19 with his sixth and seventh goals of the playoffs. He beat Tomas Vokoun with a semi-flubbed wrist shot in the first period then added a gritty score in the third period when he charged the net and knocked in a rebound.
It’s what Krejci tends to do this time of year. He put up a league-high 23 points in the 2011 playoffs while leading the Bruins to their first championship in nearly four decades. He’s on pace to crush that number through 13 games.
“It definitely gives the rest of us a lot of confidence and makes us want to do our part too,” Marchand said. “It flows all the way through the lineup when a guy’s going like that and creates energy for the rest of us and allows us to feed off of that.”
Boston’s three goals were tied for the most given up by Pittsburgh goalie Tomas Vokoun since he replaced Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 5 of the first round. Bylsma didn’t place the blame for Pittsburgh’s worst loss of the postseason on Vokoun and doesn’t seem intent on switching back to Fleury.
“We lost Game 1. But Tomas, I thought, played real well in the game,” Bylsma said. “He made big saves.”
Rask just made bigger ones. A sprawling stop on Malkin at the end of the first period kept the Bruins in front and he appeared to get stronger as time wore on. Pittsburgh trailed all of 17 minutes in regulation during a five-game romp over Ottawa in the conference semifinals. Boston tripled that number in one game.
Cooke praised Boston’s preparation while hinting the Penguins weren’t as prepared as they needed to be following an eight-day layoff. The Bruins present a significant step up in class and a drastic shift in style over the Islanders and Ottawa.
“It’s a different game than we’ve seen,” Cooke said. “It’s round 3 and I think it’s an eye opener for us and expectations for how the games are going to go has to change. I think that’s healthy for us. Now we can get it out and move forward.”
Boston expects nothing less. The Bruins flustered Crosby and Malkin in the opener. They doubt it will happen again.
“I expect them to have a big game,” Bergeron said. “They’re players who have character, and I don’t even need to say they’re excellent players.”