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Conference Final

Coach's analysis: Penguins must regain focus against Senators in Game 4

Former Canucks assistant Doug Lidster says Pittsburgh needs to play with desperation to even Eastern Conference Final

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

For additional insight into the Eastern Conference Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, has enlisted the help of Doug Lidster to break down the action. Lidster will be checking in throughout the series.

Lidster, 56, was an assistant with the Vancouver Canucks from 2014-17. He won a Stanley Cup with the 1994 New York Rangers and one with the 1999 Dallas Stars during a 16-year NHL career, before turning to coaching. 

When the Pittsburgh Penguins took the ice against the Ottawa Senators for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday, they didn't appear to be ready, even though they had played the Senators almost evenly in the first two games of the series and were playing in the first conference final game in Ottawa in a decade. 

It showed when the Senators scored their first goal 48 seconds in, and then scored three more in the first 12:52 of the first period on their way to a 5-1 win.


[RELATED: Penguins not ready to announce starting goalie for Game 4 | Complete series coverage]


"They were barnstormed early and they weren't ready for it. I don't know why," former Vancouver Canucks assistant Doug Lidster said of the Penguins. "I think that they should have expected that."

And then came the goalie switch.

After Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on nine shots, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan opted to bring in Matt Murray, setting up the question of which goaltender would start Game 4 at Canadian Tire Centre on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Sullivan declined to choose Thursday but said Friday that Murray would start.

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm3: Sens tally four times in dominant 1st

"I think from a coach's point of view, you know the players felt like they let Fleury down," Lidster said. "He's been just absolutely terrific for them. He might not have been as sharp as he had been, but I don't think it was his fault. So the players, they're going to be feeling guilty. It's a tough decision.

"Fortunately for Pittsburgh, I think either way they go is a good decision. They could put Fleury back in there and I know that he would bounce back, the players would play hard for him. They're going to play hard for him, and maybe harder, because he's not in the lineup if they go with Murray. 

"So there's something that they can hang their hat on."

There were other factors Lidster noted, including Pittsburgh's continuing struggle on faceoffs, with center Evgeni Malkin winning 1 of 11 and center Sidney Crosby winning 9 of 23. Though Lidster said he liked the Penguins' physicality, he believed it was directed at the wrong players, at defenseman Dion Phaneuf instead of, say, defenseman Erik Karlsson. And there wasn't enough pressure put on goaltender Craig Anderson, who has been "just too comfortable in net."

Video: PIT@OTT, Gm3: Anderson pushes across to deny Kessel

Ultimately, the plan now for the Penguins should be to erase Game 3, to put it behind them. Other teams have bounced back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from worse defeats -- witness the 7-0 defeat of the Edmonton Oilers by the San Jose Sharks in Game 4 of the first round, before the Oilers won the final two games and advanced.

"I think [the Penguins] need to be focused," Lidster said. "They lost their focus, it was pretty visible there that they lost their focus. They lost their focus when they didn't get a good start and that's going to be important. They're going to have to get a good start."

Lidster pointed out even with its dynamic offense, Pittsburgh has led briefly in the series, the final 6:55 of Game 2 after forward Phil Kessel scored, and not at all in the other two games. 

So maybe, Lidster suggested, in addition to looking at some of the positives, including the power play late in the third period of Game 3, the Penguins' coaching staff might want to insert some levity into the situation. As he said, "Add a little bit of laughs. ... Just something fun to turn it around and remind them that this is a game, and to never give up."

The Penguins will have their chance to respond Friday, Lidster said.

"I guess the bottom line is, this is their game," Lidster said. "They know that they have to come out and play hard here. They don't want to go back down 3-1. That's a big hill to overcome. So they've got to play with some controlled desperation. They've got to play desperate like you would if you were down and you pulled your goalie, but you've got to be under control doing it. You can't just be running around."

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