Commentary

Sinking feeling in Pitt's stomach

Bruins emerge with 3-0 series lead despite presumed favorite Penguins' best shot

Updated: June 6, 2013, 9:33 AM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Over and out, Penguins.

Sorry, Pittsburgh, but that's sure how it feels.

It's ironic, really, that we'd be writing an obituary for Sidney Crosby and the boys after they finally displayed the effort, the skill and the explosiveness we all knew was lurking in that dressing room in spite of the disastrous results of Games 1 and 2 of their Eastern Conference finals series with the Boston Bruins.

The Pittsburgh Penguins devised a checklist of necessary developments that were crucial to salvaging their playoff run. They needed some stability in goal, and they got it from Tomas Vokoun, who recovered from his leaky Game 2 outing (three goals in the first period) to re-establish himself as the team's No. 1 netminder with some truly remarkable saves.

[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesPatrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand celebrate after connecting for the winning goal.

Only problem was, he was the second-best goaltender in the game.

Pittsburgh also needed a jolt from its superstars-in-residence, those highly skilled household names Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who will one day be ushered with fanfare into the Hall of Fame.

They got that, too, in spurts, but the living Penguins legend who produced the most critical play of the night was wearing a Bruins sweater.

That's right, Jaromir Jagr.

Some day, when Jagr retires for real, he will be remembered as one of the all-time great athletes in Pittsburgh history, a prolific goal scorer, a fan favorite, a supernova.

But Wednesday night, Jagr was content to be the grinder, the guy who lost control of the puck but stuck with the play, scuffled along the boards, poked and prodded and regained possession when he knocked the puck off Malkin's stick.

Jagr saw Brad Marchand skipping up the ice and delivered it to him. Marchand, in turn, laid the puck on the stick of Patrice Bergeron, who, with defenseman Brooks Orpik along for the ride, flicked it past Vokoun.

And, just like that, the Penguins were done, losers of a thrilling 2-1 double-overtime affair. The Bruins now hold a commanding 3-0 series lead, which is dramatically different from trying to recover from a suddenly tight 2-1 series advantage.

SportsNation

Will the Bruins sweep the Penguins in Friday's Game 4 in Boston?

  •  
    78%
  •  
    22%

Discuss (Total votes: 21,269)

Bergeron lauded the pass from Marchand, and the staying power of a resolute Bruins defense, but he also took time to acknowledge the role Jagr played.

"Just to fight for the puck like that, you notice that as a teammate," Bergeron said. "It goes a long way."

"What it tells you," added Bergeron, wearing the "player of the game" camouflage army jacket, "is everyone is buying in."

It remains to be seen if there is any fight left in a frustrated Penguins team that was heavily favored to win these Eastern Conference finals based on its lethal offensive arsenal. And yet, for the third time in as many games, neither Crosby nor Malkin contributed a point to the cause. Only Pittsburgh knows how demoralizing it is to execute your game plan and have nothing to show for it.

"We played exactly how we wanted to play," confirmed beleaguered Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma. "We just couldn't find that second goal."

That's because Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask would not allow it. Rask made 53 saves on a night when he was under duress for a significant part of the game, particularly during six Pittsburgh power plays that generated zero goals. Rask's dossier continues to blossom (Tim who?) as the Bruins go deeper into the playoffs.

In the third period alone, the Penguins outshot the Bruins 14-4, but it didn't matter. A hot goaltender will do that.

"I thought we generated more scoring chances than them," said Crosby afterward, "and I thought we deserved better."

Hmmm. Really. Most of the time, history tells us that you deserve what you get.

Jaromir Jagr
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsJaromir Jagr's hustle started the Bruins' winning sequence in double overtime.

Consider the first goal of the game, crafted by (who else?) David Krejci, who handled the puck and waited, waited, waited for someone to stop him. He was behind the Penguins net, and defenseman Matt Niskanen made a move toward him, then retreated. So Krejci took the puck out front, where he had a clear shot at Vokoun and still ... no one.

Do they know Krejci is the leading point scorer in these playoffs? Do they know the Bruins are 20-2 in playoff games in which he scores? Do they know the last time the Bruins went to the Stanley Cup finals, Krejci led the league in postseason points and goals? Because if they know all of that, someone really should have saddled up to him and gotten in his grille. Instead, just 1:42 into the game, Krejci, with a free shot at the net, drilled the puck past Vokoun.

That goal, that lead, that advantage by the slimmest of margins, held up because players like Daniel Paille are committed to making killing penalties their art form. It held up because Gregory Campbell dove in front of Malkin's missile, blocked it with his leg, staggered to his feet and continued to pursue the puck until the Bruins could make a line change.

When Campbell finally retreated to the sideline in excruciating pain, he left the ice and did not return. ESPNBoston.com's Joe McDonald reported after the game Campbell suffered a broken leg and is done for the remainder of the playoffs.

"Incredible," said Marchand, when asked about that effort. "We really wanted to win this for Soupie."

The Bruins were careful to assume the proper playoff jargon after this win, which is they know their job isn't done, that the series isn't over, and so on and so on. Boston's players conceded that Pittsburgh jammed up the middle and made it difficult for them to generate offense. They also acknowledged Vokoun's fine performance.

"We're obviously happy to come out on the right side of it, but I don't think anybody is kidding themselves," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference. "You know that it can go either way in a game like that."

Yes, it can. It's the little things that determine big games like this -- little things such as throwing yourself in front of a screaming puck that is hit so hard it shatters your leg, or taking off your "legendary scorer" helmet and replacing it with your "dig out the puck" helmet.

Or streaking to the net with your stick on the ice, just the way it should be, so that when Marchand, your favorite agitator, passes it, you'll be sure to convert.

Those are the things the Bruins did. That's why they are up 3-0 and look like a team poised for its second run at the Cup finals in three seasons.

Maybe the Penguins have something to say about that.

They better hurry.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

SPONSORED HEADLINES

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE

MORE NHL HEADLINES