Penguins vs. Bruins: Who's to Blame for Star-Studded Pittsburgh's Ugly Sweep
Now instead of going down as Stanley Cup champions, this version of the Penguins will be remembered for one of the most epic playoff collapses in recent memory. Even fans of the team will have a hard time finding positives to take away from this playoff run.
They were outplayed by the Bruins for long stretches, and Pittsburgh's top stars just weren't able to break through Boston's vaunted defense and structure. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both silenced entirely while the B's received timely goal scoring from throughout the lineup.
Pittsburgh Tried to Out-Bruin the Bruins
Heading into the Eastern Conference Final, much was made about Boston's physicality. Pundits wondered if the Penguins' stars would be able to hang physically with the bigger and more aggressive Bruins.
To the surprise of no one, the Bruins came out banging bodies in Game 1. To the surprise of many, the Penguins allowed the physical tone to alter their game entirely. Instead of attacking and maintaining control of the puck, Pittsburgh seemed more concerned with making big hits instead of making big plays.
The Pens never managed to recover their offensive touch and were shut out twice in the series while trying to grind out wins against the Bruins.
Struggles in the Faceoff Circle
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a team that counts heavily on a potent offensive attack to win hockey games. While the Penguins aren't bad in their own zone, they aren't built to spend a lot of time at that end of the ice.
Crosby, Malkin, James Neal and so on are all much more effective when they have the puck in the offensive zone. More often than not in this series, Pittsburgh's top guns found themselves trying to chase the puck down for half of their shift after losing an important faceoff.
After getting crushed in the circle in Game 1, the Penguins made some adjustments and managed to start winning more draws, but the Bruins continued to dominate when it came to critical draws in both the offensive and defensive zone.
Inability to Make the Stretch Pass
The Penguins aren't a team that likes to meander down the middle of the ice. Their D frequently tries to hit forwards with long stretch passes, skipping the neutral zone almost entirely when given the chance to do so.
Boston had a lot of success in this series when it came to clogging up the center of the ice, which forced the Penguins to battle for the neutral zone before hitting the offensive zone with speed.
Moreover, the Bruins managed to pressure the Pens into turning the puck over before hitting the red line with startling regularity. These turnovers often led to goals, and Pittsburgh never did get the hang of the dump and chase as this series progressed.
Power Play Goes Dark
Pittsburgh's power play was considered the most deadly in the league heading into the Eastern Conference Final. The Penguins shredded the Ottawa Senators and New York Islanders with the extra man and saw their power-play effectiveness climb to 28 percent.
After the series with the Bruins, Pittsburgh's power play is ranked fourth in the playoffs.
Boston was allowed to push the Pens around whenever it felt like it because Crosby and Co. couldn't find ways to make them pay for taking the roughs and slashes. Pittsburgh didn't score a power-play goal in this series—while Boston's penalty killing was outstanding, the Pens have too much skill to be blanked on the power play like that.
Adjustments were never made to a system that clearly wasn't working, and the Penguins ended up with zero power-play goals to show for their stubborn efforts.
Dan Bylsma Losing His Players Entirely
The Pittsburgh Penguins were knocked off of their game plan early on in this series, and head coach Dan Bylsma never found a way to rein his players back in.
Chara, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic all found ways to pester Pittsburgh's top players, provoking Crosby and Malkin to the point of taking swings and dumb penalties. That isn't Penguins hockey, and everyone in the NHL-verse seemed aware of that except for the man behind the bench.
General manager Ray Shero brought in veterans like Jarome Iginla to calm the Pens down during the more physical encounters that the playoffs tend to bring. That plan failed miserably, and the B's drug Pittsburgh into a street fight that it was doomed to lose.
Boston Out-Penguined the Penguins
The Penguins just weren't prepared for the skill level of the Bruins in this series. They seemed surprised by the talent that they were up against—Nathan Horton, Lucic and David Krejci were downright dominant through the four-game sweep.
While there was plenty of physical play from the B's and their top guys, the finesse and finish Boston showed at times caught Pittsburgh off-guard and flat-footed.
Krejci and Horton—not Malkin and Crosby—are the leading scorers in these playoffs, much to the surprise of the Pens and some onlookers.
Tuukka Rask Was Almost Unbeatable
Let's give credit where credit is due.
It isn't like the Penguins didn't have their chances in this series. They had plenty of outstanding opportunities to score but couldn't find a way to solve Rask, who suddenly became the hottest goaltender in the NHL.
He stonewalled an offense that had been averaging more than four goals a game in the playoffs, allowing only two goals against in the entire series.
Rask's numbers are staggering: His .943 save percentage is tops in the playoffs, and his 1.75 GAA is second only to Corey Crawford and his 1.72 average. He also notched two shutouts in the series, providing Tim Thomas-level netminding for the Bruins.
Sidney Crosby Couldn't Overcome Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron
Boston had an alarmingly easy time getting its preferred matchups against Crosby. Every time No. 87 hit the ice, Chara followed. Every faceoff Sid took, he was staring across at Patrice Bergeron.
The pair of Bruins shut down the best offensive forward in the game, holding him pointless in a playoff series for the first time in his career.
Boston's defensive efforts didn't end with Crosby, however. Malkin also struggled to find open ice, while secondary players like Pascal Dupuis were total non-factors. Pittsburgh's top guys failed to produce anything worth of note in this series, plain and simple.