By Dejan Kovacevic, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Sean Couturier #14 of the Philadelphia Flyers scores hat trick against Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Flyers defeated the Penguins 7-5. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
If someone had told you Sidney Crosby would score 15 seconds after the opening faceoff, that he'd make a moving show of leadership by giving up his place on the power play, that it would reap a reward right away, that his sweet setup would bring a two-goal lead in the first period ... would you take it?
If someone had told you Tyler Kennedy would snap a tie in the opening minute of the third period ... would you take it?
If someone had told you the Penguins could enter these Stanley Cup playoffs richly healthy, with the exception of defenseman Matt Niskanen, for the first time in three years ... would you take it?
Don't ask these Penguins. They're too busy throwing it away.
They should be capitalizing on more talent than they've had up front since the early '90s, more good fortune than they've known since Crosby raised that Cup in Detroit. But instead of stamping out a Philadelphia team they've had under their foot countless times, they've crumbled again and again.
Flyers 8, Penguins 5.
"We're down, 2-0," coach Dan Bylsma said of the score that really counts. "There were some crazy situations, a lot of back and forth. The bottom line is that they came into our building and won both games."
And, really, how ugly it all looked: Every rush up ice by the Flyers brought a cringe, every rebound seemed to find an unguarded opponent, and every shot felt like it would find a hole. Marc-Andre Fleury gave up a touchdown on 30 shots, even though he really only could be faulted on the final two goals, and the defensive play — forwards and defensemen included — fluctuated only from porous to pathetic.
The day after Bylsma stressed moving forward — skating and passing — defenseman Ben Lovejoy maddeningly flicked a puck across the middle of the Penguins' zone, right at Philadelphia's Sean Couturier. That resulted in a breakaway and the goal that made it 5-5 just 17 seconds after Kennedy struck.
As if it didn't occur to anyone on the home side to preserve a lead for, oh, a minute or so.
How about Brooks Orpik going for a big hit in the neutral zone to set the stage for Philadelphia`s last-second goal in the second period?
Or Zbynek Michalek passing the puck laterally through the neutral zone in the third … to a linesman?
Seriously, there wasn`t a teammate within 30 feet, and he still went sideways.
Small wonder most Penguins sounded mostly eager to erase this and get on with Game 3.
"We've got to be a lot better, and that's all that we can control from this point," Crosby said. "The mistakes that we've made have ended up in our net. It's not like mistakes have gone by without any consequence."
"We made some mistakes, and they capitalized" Orpik said. "But there are 20 guys working as hard as they can. No one's pointing fingers in the room. Everybody's giving max effort."
He'd better be right. If things are going to change, it will be in performance and not personnel.
I'd been calling since mid-winter for the Penguins to promote Simon Despres and prepare him for the playoffs. But he's still in Wilkes-Barre, and that ship likely has sailed.
Odd how Niskanen, a third-pairing guy, has been so terribly missed in this setting, huh?
While I'm asking questions, here are others the Penguins might want to ponder ...
Will Evgeni Malkin, the league's imminent MVP, continue to be outshone by the 19-year-old Couturier, who not only shut down Malkin again but also netted a hat trick? Or will Malkin stop trying to stickhandle through the world?
Will the power play score or allow more goals by series' end?
Will the penalty-killing ever expand from its tiny box against the Flyers' killer power play?
Will Fleury flat-out dominate, because that's now critical?
Was Chris Kunitz really a minus-5 with two goals?
It's very much worth praising the Flyers. They've been relentless in bouncing back, furious on the forecheck and deadly on the finish. They found a way to hold their only lead in the third.
But sorry, I can't accept that this Philadelphia roster is the '80s Oilers reincarnated. It's a good group of forwards, but it's not eight-goals good. Nobody is in today's NHL. That takes two.
Alas, it takes only one to blow a beautiful opportunity.