BOSTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins forward James Neal seemed as eager for answers as the pack of reporters that pressed teammate Craig Adams with a barrage of questions about how the Penguins could find a way back from a devastating 2-1 double-overtime loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Jaromir Jagr, the Pittsburgh legend now wearing the black-and-gold of Boston had just set up yet another clutch goal by Patrice Bergeron, this one coming 15:19 into of double overtime, a dozen minutes after Wednesday had turned into Thursday.
As the Bruins celebrated to the right of the valiant, but ultimately beaten Pittsburgh goalie, Tomas Vokoun, the Penguins shuffled off the TD Garden ice, their bodies taxed by the effort required just to lose a game they had to win, their minds plagued by not only the what-ifs, but the what-will-bes.
The top-seeded Penguins, the odds-on favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, are just one more loss from heading home. The only way they make it to their stated goal is by winning four straight games against a Boston team that has lost only four times in 15 postseason games this spring -- and that has allowed the Penguins two goals in nearly 11 periods of play.
So how exactly do the Penguins stop the Boston express that is one stop from its second Stanley Cup Final appearance in three years?
Is it an almost insurmountable climb for the Penguins to salvage their season? That was the question asked of Adams as Neal leaned forward ever so slightly and turned his head just perceptibly to the left to better hear his veteran teammate answer.
"Well, yeah, I guess you could say it is almost insurmountable," Adams said. "'Almost' being the key word there. Obviously we got to get some rest regroup and win a game on Friday."
With that, Neal leaned back again, lost in his own thoughts for a minute before commiserating with his neighbor on the other side, captain Sidney Crosby, about the vagaries of a game that stretched across almost five full periods and four hours and had enough drama to fill a time frame almost twice as long.
Because for the Penguins, Adams' answer is the only one in which the Penguins can find solace. Versions of that sentiment became a mantra for the players as they filed out to try to answer the unanswerable.
"We stick with it. We can’t get three wins with one game," said Crosby, who doesn't have a point in this series. "We have to find a way to get back there and get back to that same level we had tonight, and hopefully capitalize on our chances. But I don’t think there’s too much we would change going into Game 4. If we can play the same game, and put those pucks in the net, then we can give ourselves a chance. "
The Penguins played a brilliant Game 4. They fired 54 shots on Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, they dominated the faceoff circle after being outclassed on draws in the first two games, they played a better brand of team defense and they established the forecheck-and-cycle game that was sorely missing in the first two contests in Pittsburgh, games they lost by a combined 9-1 score.
"The problem with dropping the first two is now there is no margin for error," Adams said after Game 3.
That came back to haunt the Penguins on Wednesday night. Because as good as they played, they couldn't separate themselves from a Boston team that has all the answers at the moment. Bergeron got a step on Brooks Orpik to find position to redirect a Brad Marchand pass past Vokoun -- and Jagr, who beat Evgeni Malkin in a board battle for a 50-50 puck in the neutral zone started the winning play.
Bergeron is too good in big spots -- remember his two goals on the road in Game 7 of the Final against Vancouver two years ago? -- to not seize that moment. He beat Vokoun with a shot that set off a wild celebration in Boston, one that perhaps even began the Stanley Cup Final pre-party in the stands
"I think everybody can realize how we felt, I felt," said a disappointed Orpik, who played a strong 38:10. "I mean you feel like you let 19 guys down, and that’s not a good feeling."
The Penguins can't start to feel good until they win a game to step back from the abyss they face. To begin that long and perilous journey, the Penguins must make the first step in a positive direction Friday in Game 4.
"It’s going to have to start with one period, one game at a time," Neal said. "We got to the game we like tonight in the game we were having so we’ve got to continue to build on that even with the loss and we just got to regroup [Thursday] and come into Game 4 with a new attitude. You’ve got to try to win one."
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