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Penguins vs Bruins

High-powered Penguins go dry at worst possible time

Saturday, 06.08.2013 / 12:46 AM / Penguins vs Bruins - 2013 Eastern Conference Final

By Arpon Basu - Managing Editor LNH.com

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High-powered Penguins go dry at worst possible time
After lighting it up during the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins picked the worst possible time to hit an offensive dry spell.

BOSTON -- The Pittsburgh Penguins gathered their embarrassment of offensive riches for one final shot at extending their 2012-13 season at least one more game, wanting just one more breath.

Goaltender Tomas Vokoun was on the bench with the Penguins facing a 1-0 deficit in the final minute of Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins, needing just one goal to force overtime, to earn another chance at redemption after a series of frustration and misfires.

In many ways, that final, frantic minute of play was a microcosm of the entire series for the Penguins -- one that was filled with a number of golden scoring opportunities for the most potent offensive team in the NHL, and one that ended in disappointment.

"If you look back, the chances are there," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said after finishing the series with no points in four games. "I mean, you try to fight, you try to get through to the net and get rebounds and sometimes they come to you and sometimes they don't.

"Obviously you score two goals as a team in four games, and personally to go without any points it doesn't sit very well."

On that final sequence, the puck entered the Bruins zone and found Crosby at the top of the left circle. He put a pass through the slot to Evgeni Malkin, forcing Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask to scramble for one of the few times in the four games of this series. Malkin deked back toward the middle as Rask was sliding in the opposite direction; Malkin saw an empty net -- but 6-foot-9 Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara was able to reach back and block the shot with his arm, preventing a sure game-tying goal.

Later in the shift Crosby had the puck at the side of the net with a swarm of teammates getting into position in front, but his pass found none of them and slid out of danger.

Then finally, with the last seconds of the Penguins' season ticking down, the puck came to the top of the slot on the stick of Jarome Iginla -- general manager Ray Shero's prized acquisition just before the NHL Trade Deadline. Iginla, knowing he had no time to wind up, unleashed one of his patented snap shots labeled for the top corner. Except there was no one between him and Rask -- and as has become apparent during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, if Rask can see the shot, he will stop it.

That's exactly what happened.

Iginla's shot was gloved by Rask, the horn at TD Garden sounded to end the game -- and the Penguins' season was over in remarkable fashion.

"Even going down to maybe the last play at the net by Malkin when he had the empty net, it felt like something was keeping the puck out of the net," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "It certainly wasn't a lack of opportunities or scoring chances or situations for our team, for our players, for our power play. We did have them. And at the end it felt like not only Tuukka Rask was keeping the puck out of the net, but there was a force around the net because we had some great opportunities, good situations for our team, and were not able to find any kind of goal in this series."

That final flurry featured all of the things Bylsma spoke about, including a man-advantage situation with the goalie pulled that didn't count as a power play, but which had the same rate of success as the Penguins had on their 15 official power plays in series: zero.

The incredible blocked shot on a prime scoring chance for Malkin was appropriate because he was the Pittsburgh forward who most consistently created chances to score on Rask. The fact Chara blocked that shot was also reflective of the job the Bruins captain did the whole series to help disrupt Penguins shooters.

There was the opportunity for Crosby at the side of the net, with loads of time to try to find an open teammate, and instead putting his pass right through the group in front. It would have been a difficult play to put a pass on a teammate's stick in that situation, but he decided to try anyway, and it didn't work. Much like many of the decisions Crosby made in the series that didn't result in a positive outcome for the Penguins, this one didn't either.

Then there was Iginla, who struggled through the entire series, having the puck on his stick with time winding down and a chance to score the goal that would allow the Penguins some new life.

But Rask was there to make his 134th save on the Penguins' 136th shot of the series, a save percentage of .985 for Rask or, depending on your point of view, a shooting-success rate of 1.5 percent for Pittsburgh.

"We tried to throw everything at him to find the back of the net, to find a goal," Penguins forward James Neal said. "We had great looks again today. We battled for every chance, we're right there, and we just couldn't find one. Again, all game I felt like we were in on the forecheck, getting chances, getting shots.

"Last two games we just couldn't find a goal."

That, in a nutshell, described the demise of the NHL's highest-scoring team in 2012-13. The Penguins, of all teams, just couldn't find a goal.

Quote of the Day

It's time we got a break. People that have watched us, I'm sure they said, 'Finally, some things are going our way.' We'll take the breaks when they go our way.

— Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien after a 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday to snap a three-game losing streak
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