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 bagel 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 on Monday night.
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 on sending a message than evening the score.
Matt Cooke earned a major boarding penalty and a game misconduct for blasting Boston’s Adam McQuaid behind the Bruins net. Chris Kunitz took an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after mixing it up with Boston’s Rich Peverley, and 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 that he and 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 on the ice Monday, offering Cooke a sense of relief. Once one of the league’s most notorious hitters, Cooke missed Pittsburgh’s opening round loss to Tampa Bay two years ago while serving a suspension. He has cleaned up his act, but watching the second half of the game from the dressing room gave him unwelcome flashbacks.
“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 go 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.”
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.
Cooke praised Boston’s preparation while hinting the Penguins weren’t as ready as they needed to be after an eight-day layoff. The Bruins present a step up in class and a big shift in style from 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.”