It’s about a three-hour drive from Columbus to Pittsburgh and, my goodness, there must have been some heated, hyperbolic conversations about the Penguins on the trip back to Steeltown in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.
Just imagine what you’d be saying if you were a Pens fans damaged by what you saw during a 4-3 overtime loss in game four, a contest in which every hang up you have about your team came to life. They can’t hold a lead; the goalie is terrible; the captain hasn’t scored in nine playoff games and the other megastar hasn’t scored in eight.
The anger is understandable. The answer might be acceptance.
This is who the Pens are. And whether you’re a fan bleeding black and yellow or a person paid to have a take on these matters, it remains really hard to see that because the high-end talent is blinding. But four games into this post-season and almost five years after Sidney Crosby hoisted the Cup, it’s time to stop expecting the Penguins to look like the Boston Bruins.
Crosby can’t be held without a goal much longer; Evgeni Malkin is probably on the verge of a four-point game; Fleury is going to make some more jaw-dropping saves. And when it happens, we’ll all be tempted to once again believe in this giant Cup tease.
But that faith is misplaced. As Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out, of the Pens’ past 20 playoff losses dating back to 2010, nine have occurred after the team blew a third-period lead. Fleury? Sure. But that’s about more than goaltending; that’s about a team with systemic issues that won’t be worked out this spring.
The best approach for Penguins fans right now, difficult as it may be, is to embrace the ride. And from a tactical standpoint, you wonder if Pittsburgh shouldn’t actually try to blow teams out of the water. It sounds crazy, but protecting leads clearly isn’t working. Maybe they need to further exploit Sergei Bobrovsky’s .900 save percentage and stretch those goal gaps out as much as possible.
That may run counter to conventional playoff thinking, but at least Pittsburgh would be playing to its strength instead of trying to be something it’s not.
So it looks like Henrik Zetterberg may play in the first round after all. It was assumed he would be entirely absent for Detroit’s series with Boston, but the Wings captain was skating beside Pavel Datsyuk and Justin Abdelkader on Thursday morning and might be a go for game four.
If he does play, expectations should be extremely limited for a guy who hasn’t competed since pulling out of the Olympics after Sweden’s first game, and who’s clearly not operating anywhere near 100 percent. But when a team has just two goals through three games and can’t get anything going on the power play, you take your hope where you can get it. Zetterberg likely can’t be his usual puck-hounding self, but a slick pass or two on the man advantage might be all the Wings need to scare up another goal or two.