It’s not when they’re trying to go toe-to-toe with the Bruins like they did Saturday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Pittsburgh got caught up in the extracurricular activities, and it sure looked like it took them out of their game.
The result was a resounding 3-0 win for the Bruins in a physical, hard-fought game that featured some hatred we’ve yet to see in any of the Bruins’ two series leading up to this point.
The Penguins certainly have their fair share of physical players, there’s no denying that. However, if the Pens are going to oblige the B’s when it comes to the extra-physical stuff — pushing and shoving after the whistle, dropping the gloves, etc. — they’re going to be up against it. On more than one occasion in Game 1, it certainly looked as if the Bruins were under Pittsburgh’s skin.
The physical stuff got started in earnest in the second period, thanks to who else, Matt Cooke. The Boston nemesis planted Adam McQuaid with a hit from behind that led to a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for the supposedly reformed Penguins forward. Toward the end of the second period, Bruins forward Brad Marchand then hit James Neal from behind with a questionable hit of his own that led to a minor penalty for Marchand.
It was a golden opportunity for the Penguins. Marchand’s penalty came toward the end of the period, meaning the Pens would have a chance to turn the momentum going into the room and maybe score a power-play tally in the final seconds or at the beginning of the third period. However, things got out of hand for Pittsburgh after the horn sounded to end the period.
All the players on the ice gathered at center ice with plenty of pushing and shoving. Tuukka Rask and Sidney Crosby had a little dust-up that led to Zdeno Chara giving Crosby a piece of his mind.
That all came to a head when Patrice Bergeron and Evgeni Malkin — far from noted pugilists — dropped the gloves and engaged in a short, spirited scrap at center ice.
Not only did that fight swing the momentum back to the Bruins, it left the Penguins without one of the best offensive players in the league to begin the third. That obviously cost the Penguins’ power play, as Malkin and Chris Kunitz (serving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty) sat in the penalty box to start the period.
“I don’t think the situation at the end of the second period was in our favor,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said after the game. “We had a power play coming out into the third period and we got two of our power-play guys off the ice with that altercation. That’s not something we certainly want to be into and we don’t want to make the game that way.”
The Bruins did a great job of making the Pittsburgh power play — which was clicking at a 23.8 percent success rate entering the series — look mediocre at best. Having Kunitz and Malkin in the box, as Bylsma noted, certainly didn’t help.”
The Bruins had taken the Penguins out of their game, and there was no denying that.
“We want to play 5-on-5 and starting really at that point in time, starting with those guys going off the ice, I think it did get us off our game,” Bylsma admitted. “If we could have come out and scored a pow-play goal, it might have been different, but we weren’t able to get back into our game after that power play.”
The Bruins’ physical play, a style that sometimes goes over the line, has frustrated plenty of teams over the last few seasons. That was the case in Game 1, and the Pens’ top players weren’t immune to that. After his fight with Bergeron, Malkin wasn’t able to get a shot on net in the third period. That’s despite the fact that he was arguably the best player on the ice through two periods putting four shots on net. Sidney Crosby, on the other hand, was a non-factor, a rarity for someone who many call the best player in the world.
The Penguins are the more talented team in this series, and for them to win the series, they’re going to need to play like the more talented team. Playing like they did in Game 1, especially if players like Crosby and Malkin (nine combined penalty minutes) are involved, isn’t going to do the trick.
“We want to make sure we stay focused on playing and worry about and staying out of the box,” Crosby told reporters.
There’s a pretty long track record of teams failing to succeed when they wake up the Bruins by trying to get nasty. If the Penguins don’t learn from their Game 1 lesson, they could be looking at a long series.