BOSTON – The Boston Bruins return home to host the Penguins tonight leading 2-0 in the series. Game 1 was a lesson in defense for the NHL and the Bruins’ ability to lean on the Penguins skaters and wear them down. The result was a surprising 3-0 win for the B’s. Game 2 was equally surprising as the Pens surrendered a 6-1 loss to Boston.
Not so surprising now is the Boston defensive scheme dreamed up by head coach Claude Julien.
“There’s been a great commitment on the part of our team here to really play well defensively and have layers, take away some space from those guys and some room to pick up speed,” Julien said after arriving in back Boston. “The guys have really bought into that, so it’s helped us a lot. That’s why I said, we’ve got to continue doing that.”
For Julien, there are no surprises in how his team is playing right now. He traced the success back to the opening round series with the Maple Leafs.
“Yeah, I really think after Game Seven against Toronto, it was such a big comeback for us; it always seems to take something to really get the team really to gel and then to believe. That was a real big turning point for us. From there on in, I thought against the Rangers we played some really good hockey as well,” Julien said in the classic understatement.
“They’re a team that was gritty and was going to give us a lot of hard work to compete against. They did that, there was no quit in that team. That just helped us get better. We know what Pittsburgh represents and we haven’t lost faith in what we can do, but also we haven’t lost track of what they can do as well. They’re a potent scoring team and we’ve got to make sure we stay on top of our game, it’s as simple as that.”
The press room seemed to revolve around karma for the Penguins. Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma was asked how he was looking to change the Pens’ karma heading into Boston.
“I think there’s going to be some changes to our lineup and some of our combinations, our lines. I think very early on, we got behind by a goal and then the second goal right after the penalty kill, and we got off our game plan,” Bylsma said. “ We got off individual games by trying to get back a goal or goals by one play, by one instance, by one situation, and it got off — got us off a path, and we deviated from the game plan in an effort to do so.”
“And we have to, as a group and as lines and as D-pairings, we have to get back to playing our game. We have to get back to playing good defensive hockey, we have to get back to playing get away from the puck, and that’s got to happen throughout our lineup, and I think you’ll see some changes in our lines and a few guys being added to the lineup to do so”
It’s not just the defense that needs to get better for Pittsburgh. They have been outscored 9-1 so far and their efforts Monday night were abysmal with lack of flow and skaters literally running into each other in open ice.
There now seems to be a sense of urgency in the Pens or at least there should be. They are heading into Boston down 0-2 and their stars have been unable to get untracked.
Indeed, NBC Sports commentators were heard denigrating the efforts of some including Evgeni Malkin who was accused of a “fly by” during the post mortems on the game Monday night.
In broader terms, Bylsma tried to address this Tuesday.
I don’t think it’s another day. I think we have to really take a good look at where we’re at individually and as a group and how we’re playing, what’s happening on the ice, and we certainly — I think we did that. We did that, and we also have to understand where we’ve got to get better and where we need to get better, both individually, team and our mental focus and mindset going into this Game 3.
“Teams have gotten down 0-2 in playoff series and come back and won. We’ve had a history of getting down 0-2, they’ve been on the road and we come back home for Game 3 so it’s different in that regard. But it’s a disappointing loss,” Bylsma said. “It’s disappointing how we played that game. I think you certainly have to deal with that, deal with what we need to do to get better. But we’ve got to focus on now going back into Boston and going on the road and winning Game 3 and getting back the series to 2-1.”
Beyond the urgency of the series deficit is the feeling of frustration throughout the Pittsburgh bench.
“A little bit about mindset and focus of our team, we made reference to that, where we’re at, what we need to do on the ice, and we don’t expect to go into a game, score four goals. We don’t think that’s going to happen,” Bylsma said about the frustration in his team. “In the Ottawa series you can look back and say they came easy, and you end with five- and six-plus goals in games. We didn’t anticipate that to be the case.”
“I don’t think we’re frustrated by the fact that we haven’t scored as much as them getting up, leads, and especially in Game 2 getting leads, and now us playing from behind. In doing so I think we deviate by not being on the same page with not trying to get those goals with one player and one situation. We have to get back to the mindset that’s been successful for our team and how we played defending, keeping the puck out of our net, and playing games which we’ve been very good at all year long through very good stretches of hockey and get back to that.”
There is not much to like in this series now for the Pens.
“Right now we’re not liking the picture, down 0-2. They’re in control. They’ve won two games on the road. You know, we have to now refocus. We have to win Game 3. We have to go in there and focus on getting that win, and that’ll be our complete focus in how we get back into the series,’ Bylsma added.
Despite the Bruins’ lead, no one in Boston is celebrating just yet.
Andrew Ference was circumspect in his comments on the series and his team’s efforts thus far.
“We have a group that’s been through a lot. Really good highs and also some tough series where we’ve let teams back in, so I think that we have enough guys that they know when it’s the right time to get excited and when it’s time [for] business as normal,” Ference said.
“You learn a lot obviously from different situations that you’re in. A lot of us have it together and one of the important things about this time of year is to have an even keel. It’s not the time of year to be playing purely off emotions and you try to have a good balance of that, and I think you can really only get that through experiencing good and bad, I think that’s where experience kicks in.”
Boston forward David Krejci was equally reserved in his comments on the 2-0 series lead.
“The past few years I think we’ve been up 2-0 in a series. We’ve been down 2-0, and it went either way. I think we’ve learned from that and we’ve got to stay in the moment and just take it game by game,” Krejci said.
The Bruins have been up 3-0 before blowing the series so they have the memory of over confidence.
“We’re going to have to play even better than we did because they’re going to be desperate. It’s a really important game. It’s a big difference if it’s 3-0 for us or 2-1 for us, so it’s going to be a big game. The game is going to start from 0-0 so we’ve got to be ready to get off [with] a good start,” Krejci added.
Bruins forward Rich Peverley summed it best, saying, “They’re a great team, some of the best players in the league if not the world. So we expect their best, and we just have to get ready for the next game.”
Game 3 is set for this evening and Pittsburgh needs a win. But Boston is in the same position in needing a win. There is no need to give up the momentum of two road wins and then losing at home.
Active sticks and leaning in on the Pens skaters has worked so far.