Pittsburgh Penguins in Deep Hole: Time to Start Climbing

Todd FlemingAnalyst IMay 4, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 04:  David Steckel #39 of the Washington Capitals faces off against Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinal Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 4, 2009 at the Verizon Center in Washington,  DC.  (Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images)

The Penguins lost the war of the hat tricks, a game for the ages in which the league's two biggest superstars went head to head and smashed everyone's already high expectations. 

The intensity of both Crosby and Ovechkin was scary at times. 

Unfortunately for the Pens, they didn't get the same kind of effort out of their other superstar, with Evgeni Malkin making the play that likely turned the tide against his team.  

Malkin's unnecessary tripping penalty was almost immediately followed by a goal.  The look of horror on his face as he took his seat in the box said all that needed to be said.  That is the kind of stupid penalty that teams aspiring to drink from the Cup can not afford to take.

If there was ever a time for Malkin to find his game and shed his reputation for underperforming in big playoff games, that time is now.  The Penguins are staring up from a deep hole and they aren't going to climb out of it without Malkin shouldering a much bigger share of the burden.   

They can take some consolation from history, considering the Pens have bounced back from 2-0 deficits to the Capitals twice in recent memory (1992, 1996). 

I like their chances of doing it a third time.  The primary reason I would give is because the Washington Capitals are not last year's Detroit Red Wings

Only the most hopelessly optimistic Pens' fans gave them a chance of bouncing back in that Stanley Cup Finals series after watching the first two games in which the Red Wings put on a clinic in puck-possession hockey.  The Penguins were outplayed in every game in that series—including the two they won.

But, the Pens have not been significantly outplayed in the first two games of this series.  They are not getting beaten by the better team.  In fact, they have controlled much of the action.  They should also get an added spark from returning to the friendly confines of the Civic Arena.

They need to continue to work on improving their power play, which despite tallying two goals still looked lost at times in this game.  They didn't even threaten on their power-play opportunity that immediately proceeded Malkin's mistake.  The also need to focus more on putting the puck on net and crashing in behind it. 

But for a couple soft goals, Simeon Varlamov has been outstanding in net and has outplayed Marc-Andre Fleury through two games.  But Fleury does not seem to get rattled by pressure, and will likely step up big over the next couple games.  

Game Three now takes on monumental importance for the Pens.  Win and they are back in the series.  If they lose, they are effectively done.  They aren't going to bounce back from that kind of hole.

I still like the Penguins' chances in this series, but the margin for error is now down to zero.