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Sloppy start dooms Penguins in Game 2

by Shawn P. Roarke /

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby won the opening faceoff Monday night to start Game 2 and, shortly thereafter, managed a shot on goal.

Unfortunately, that was the high point of the first period for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who played their worst period of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs -- perhaps their worst period of the entire season -- in allowing four goals in the first 20 minutes and trailing by three scores.

The only other time Pittsburgh allowed four goals in a period was March 7, when they allowed the Philadelphia Flyers to score four in the first before rallying for a 5-4 victory.

There would be no comeback on this night, however, not even for a normally prolific Pittsburgh offense as the Boston Bruins strangled the life out of the game, as well as the crowd at Consol Energy Center en route to a 6-1 victory that delivered the visitors a commanding 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final.

No team has come back from 0-2 down a conference finals series since 1991 when the Penguins accomplished the feat against the Bruins.

In large part, Pittsburgh will have to climb that same hill in this best-of-7 series because of a disastrous first period of titanic proportions.

Unlike Game 1 when Pittsburgh got to its game early before being stung on the counter attack, Monday was all Boston in the first.

Less than 30 seconds after Crosby won the initial faceoff, Boston was up 1-0 on a breakaway goal by Brad Marchand that was set up by a Crosby giveaway at the attacking blue line when he mishit a bouncing puck along the blue line and right into the path of Marchand, who beat Tomas Vokoun with a high shot at the 28-second mark.

"I turn that puck over there 30 seconds in and they get up 1-0 and I felt like we tried to get it back and might have took some chances to do that," Crosby said. "We started chasing when we got down a couple and once you start doing that against a good hockey team, you put yourself in some bad positions."

It was the first of six giveaways Pittsburgh would offer up in the first 20 minutes.

The Penguins tried to stabilize after that early dagger, but they couldn't gain entry into the Boston zone regularly. When they did, they could not get to the cycle nor disrupt the ease with which Boston exited its own zone.

After winning the first two faceoffs of the game, Pittsburgh won just four of the final 14 contested in the period, further stymying efforts to gain possession.

Pittsburgh's second shot of the period didn't come until after the nine-minute mark of the period had passed. Rarely when giving the opportunity to generate offense did Pittsburgh oblige. The Pens missed the net on three shots and had eight others blocked.

"We've gotten away from our game," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "We've gotten off our game plan. We've deviated. We get down early today again and not too far after the second goal, we get off kilter and deviate again from how we can play and what we need to do."

They finished the period with just six shots against Boston goalie Tuuka Rask and perhaps only the last one -- a wicked wrister that beat Rask over the shoulder with 34 seconds left in the first -- was a true tester. But, they gave that goal back almost immediately.

"I think it was good to get that shift right away where we scored, because obviously their goal probably gave them some momentum on the bench, so we had to come back with a strong shift at the end there," said Boston center Patrice Bergeron, who had a goal and an assist Monday.

While Rask was having another solid, if unspectacular, period, the Penguins’ goalie situation was also imploding. Vokoun, who started, and Marc-Andre Fleury combined to allow Boston to score on its final three shots of the period.

Vokoun was pulled at the 16:31 mark after allowing Nathan Horton and David Krejci to score less than two minutes apart. Then, Fleury, who had not played since May 7, allowed Marchand to score on the first shot he faced, which came 25 seconds after Brandon Sutter had given Pittsburgh its only lifeline of the period.

After that, it was just a case of the first-period snowball building into an avalanche of frightening intensity as the Bruins built on their lead and frustrated the Penguins at every turn.

But, it is the first period that will linger the longest. But, Crosby says that is a good thing as the team must find motivation to fight its way back into the series.

"We got to be smarter, make sure that we are not giving them their opportunities. They are a good hockey team and you can't give them easy ones," Crosby said. "I did that on the first shift and it ended up in the back of the net. We've got to make sure that we find a little bit more desperation and make some harder plays out there."

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