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Penguins sure they can respond after Game 2 loss

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- When Sidney Crosby scored for the second time in a roughly four-minute span early on in his latest comeback Friday night, the 280th consecutive Consol Energy Center sellout crowd roared at a fever pitch.

Crosby answered a goal by the New York Islanders' Matt Moulson 18 seconds later, restoring the Pittsburgh Penguins' two-goal lead. All seemed well for the No. 1 seed Penguins, who appeared poised to cruise and take a commanding 2-0 lead in this best-of-7 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.

But as the fans roared, Dan Bylsma nervously stewed. After the game, the Penguins coach said he saw what happened next coming.

"Getting goals early in this game... the score was not indicative at that point of how well we were playing," Bylsma said. "It looked too easy at that point of time, and they were playing a much better game, a much more difficult game on our team. And that was evident even though the score was 3-1.

"We saw that bear out as the game went on."

Everyone did. The eighth-seeded Islanders shocked the Penguins, spoiling Crosby's return to the ice after sitting out more than a month because of a broken jaw. New York scored the final three goals of the game to win 4-3 and even the series at one win apiece.

It was a game reminiscent of Stanley Cup Playoff disappointments for Pittsburgh over the previous three seasons since claiming the Cup in 2009. The Penguins have lost their past three playoff series.

"Different faces, different mentality, different leadership, different guys in this locker room right now," forward Pascal Dupuis said. "Previous years don't mean much right now.

"[The Islanders] were a team that wanted it more than us. That was the story of the game."

That was an alarming sentiment echoed Jarome Iginla, who said, "We didn't match their desperation ... We got out-gritted."

That wasn't supposed to happen for the Penguins -- not this year, not after the roster overhaul general manager Ray Shero performed at the NHL Trade Deadline. Jussi Jokinen, Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray were acquired -- the latter three in particular, in part for their intangibles.

More often than not, the Penguins have superior skill and overall talent level than their opponent. If it's effort and attention to detail that can get them beat, Friday night might have shown how.

"We took ourselves out of our game," defenseman Kris Letang said. "We were not effective on the forecheck, we were not effective on breaking the puck out. They had a good forecheck, but we should have managed the puck better.

"There's many areas we didn't play well. We have to adjust; we have veteran guys in our room. We just need to bounce back."

The short turnaround before Game 3 at Nassau Coliseum -- faceoff is at noon Sunday (NBC, TSN, RDS) -- might help. The Penguins sound like a team that knows what adjustments and fine-tuning it will have to make.

"We'll go over things we need to get better on," Iginla said. "We'll throw it out [Saturday] and remember how hard we need to work and how hard we need to compete."

The Penguins never properly adjusted in losing in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers last season. Just as they did this season, they entered the playoffs as many experts' Stanley Cup favorite. But they fell into a 3-0 hole when they allowed 20 goals over the first three games of the series. Although they won Games 4 and 5, it was too little, too late.

"It's the playoffs; you lose games sometimes," Crosby said. "But I think we've got to make sure we learn from this one pretty quickly. It's not the way we want to play, and we definitely have a lot of room to improve.

"We know that we didn't play the way we needed to. They got a few bounces, but they worked for them. I don't think we feel like we did enough to deserve that one."

As was the case in the first three games of the series against the Flyers a year ago, the Penguins scored first but blew a lead. New York attempted 79 shots, 42 of which made it through to Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Islanders outhit the Penguins and forced them into 11 giveaways.

"They outworked us, they outbattled us in our zone," Dupuis said. "We turned too many pucks over and that ended up losing us the game. You can't do that in the playoffs."

Even though Bylsma said he felt like the early lead in Game 2 made things seem as if they were coming "too easy" for a team that went 36-12-0 and had separate winning streaks of 15, seven and five games during the regular season, the coach maintains his team was well aware the Islanders -- in the playoffs for the first time in six years -- were capable.

"We were preparing for a seven-game grind of a series," Bylsma said. "And we're now into one."

Despite their gaudy final record, the Penguins lost consecutive games five separate times during the regular season. Many of the losses were ugly -- Pittsburgh's average margin of defeat in games it lost this season was 2.4 goals.

That lengthy winning streaks often followed is comforting to Dupuis.

"I think the way we bounce back from those kind of [bad] games," he said, "I'm not really worried about Game 3."

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