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Prisuta: Strong Performance by Penguins, Despite Loss

by Mike Prisuta / Pittsburgh Penguins
This one was more about persistence than pretty.

More about the system than the spectacular.

More about tenacity than tic-tac-toe.

Aren’t they usually at this time of the year?

In the end Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Penguins and Senators was also about an overtime goal that someone had to score eventually and, as it turned out, survival for Ottawa.

That goal was scored by the Senators Matt Carkner at 7:06 of the third extra session.

Still, the Penguins’ failure to close Ottawa out once and for all was less a reflection of their ability to get to their game and play it for extended stretches than it was an example of how the puck bounces sometimes.

Through 60 minutes against a team desperate to stave off elimination, the Penguins had forced the Senators to block more shots (26) than they had been able to launch at Marc-Andre Fleury (23).

The Pens had registered 42 shots on goal through three periods and had out-attempted the Senators, 79-43.

It was tied at that point mostly because the Penguins had stumbled out of the gate, surrendering a power-play goal that deflected off one of Mike Fisher’s skates and then one of Sergei Gonchar’s before entering the net at 10:25 of the first period, and then a forecheck goal to Jarkko Ruutu from the doorstep at 11:33.

Pens head coach Dan Blysma opted to call his timeout at that juncture and Chris Kunitz was among the Penguins who got the message.

“Wake up,” Kunitz said. “We weren’t playing our game and they capitalized on it.”

“They came out and played very well,” Bylsma said. “They were not only getting to the offensive zone physically but they were doing it with numbers. They did a good job of putting us back on our heels.

“I don’t think our execution in our game was where it needed to be and that was the message.”

The tide turned almost immediately thereafter.

The Penguins began to get the puck deep and kept it there. They stormed and they cycled. They blasted away from long range and they hacked and poked from in close. They kept it simple and they kept the puck going north.

They did everything but score goals with the regularity the vast territorial and statistical advantage they enjoyed suggested they could have.

“Obviously if we had that many shots and they blocked that many, that says a lot, that we had the puck a lot,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “Eventually they’re going to get through and we’re going to get goals.”

Kris Letang got one through with less than two minutes remaining in the first period (at 18:05) and Kunitz did the same in the final two minutes of the second (at 18:34, this one wasn’t official until an initial no-goal call was reversed by a replay review).

And when Crosby converted his fifth of the playoffs after a couple of unsuccessful whacks by Evgeni Malkin from in close at 9:01 of the third, the 162nd consecutive sellout crowd at Mellon Arena could smell a hard-earned, just-keep-coming, series-ending triumph for the home team.

Alas, it didn’t work out that way, and now there’s another game to play on Saturday night in Ottawa.

The Penguins will seek a different result and a different start but not necessarily a different game.

Even after things evened out somewhat following a gradual degeneration of play through all those overtime minutes the Penguins still wound up with a 125-88 advantage in attempts and a 59-44 edge in shots.

Although such numbers aren’t always accurate barometers as to how a game plays out, Crosby and the Penguins like their chances most nights when they’re able to amass such bloated totals.

“If you play the right way, and we feel like we did, and we’re confident in our game we’ll get rewarded for it,” Crosby said. “We’ve gotta play the same way.”

Mike Prisuta is the sports director for WDVE-FM in Pittsburgh and the sports anchor for “Jim, Randy & the DVE Morning Show.”

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