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Penguins doomed by slow start in Game 1 loss

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins came out flat. Again.

The Penguins have started slowly in more than half of their seven Stanley Cup Playoff games, but they took it to another level early on in an eventual 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Rangers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Second Round series Friday.

The Penguins possibly played their least effective period of the postseason in the game's opening 20 minutes, resulting in a 2-0 deficit entering the first intermission. They were outshot 13-8 and seemed less like the team that had three days to rest and more like the one playing a third game in four days, as the Rangers were.

Pittsburgh responded with one of its better periods, drawing even at 2-2 heading into the third period, but cooled again before losing on Derick Brassard's overtime goal.

Against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round, the Penguins faced multigoal deficits twice and won three games in which they surrendered the opening goal. They were not as fortunate against New York and realize they cannot consistently rely on come-from-behind wins if they are to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.

"Anytime you lose one game in a series where four knocks you out, I think your desperation just naturally goes up that much more," Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "You want to play with it all the time, but the fact is, once you lose games in the playoffs and you start to feel the grip of death on your season, you start to play with a little more desperation.

"We're one loss closer to being out, and I hope we bring that level on the next game."

They will get a chance to raise their desperation level in Game 2 at Consol Energy Center on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).

Penguins forward James Neal, who scored the tying goal with 6:32 remaining in the second period, wasn't as concerned with Pittsburgh's start. He was impressed with the Penguins' response and was more frustrated with the way they performed in overtime.

"We found a way to battle back in the game and gave ourselves a chance to win," Neal said. "I thought we did a good job in the second and third of getting to the net and getting pucks there and being physical and doing things in the offensive zone that we should've started with, but that's hockey and that happens.

"I think going into OT, we have to have more of a push-forward attitude and get in the offensive zone right away from the first shift. … It's tough out there. They want to box you out."

The Penguins were coming off what Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma called their best two games of the postseason. He did not share the same admiration for their effort in Game 1 against New York.

"The first period, the first 10 minutes, we passed up three, four shot opportunities getting the puck there," Bylsma said. "Even on their first goal, our first goal against, we try to shoot the puck, it gets blocked and it ends up being a rush back the other way. The first really 14 minutes of the game, we didn't generate, didn't get pucks in that area, and they got the first goal with a shot on a redirect that got by [goalie Marc-Andre Fleury]."

Part of the sluggish start had to do with the continuing scoring struggles of forward Sidney Crosby, who has not scored a goal in his past 12 playoff games. He finished the first period with one shot and one turnover, and he was on the ice for all three Rangers goals.

Crosby has stressed the importance of patience concerning his goalless stretch, saying he is earning quality scoring chances. However, the game Friday was the second time this postseason he failed to register a point.

The Penguins will likely need the NHL's scoring champion to get going soon. Crosby echoed his teammates' sentiments regarding their start and second-period response.

"I think for whatever reason, we didn't come out hard enough," Crosby said. "I thought the goals in the second definitely gave us a boost. From then on, I thought we had some good chances. We just need to make sure we play on our toes. You have to expect they're going to get chances, but just make sure we're aggressive and create things ourselves."

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