Series Over: Penguins Won’t Recover From Goaltender Scramble
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BOSTON (CBS) — It’s over.
The series is over.
Sure, the Penguins have two of the best offensive players in the entire sport of hockey. Yes, they put up 13 goals in two games against the league’s statistical top goaltender to eliminate the Senators. They are a championship-caliber team that shouldn’t be counted out.
But they don’t have a goalie. And when you don’t have a goalie, you don’t have a shot.
“Well the … we’re gonna … ” dejected Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma stuttered after a long, blank stare when asked after the 6-1 loss in Game 2 how he will evaluate his goaltenders going forward. “Everyone we put on the ice for Game 3 is going to be giving us the best chance to win the hockey game.”
That’s a fine philosophy, but no matter which goaltender Bylsma selects to start Game 3 (and Game 4 and beyond), it’s hard to look at their bodies of work and not expect Bylsma to have to use both of them. Neither netminder looks capable of giving the Penguins any chance to win any hockey game.
To be sure, the Penguins’ team defense has been atrocious, and the blame for all of the Bruins’ nine goals cannot be placed solely on Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury. Whether it was bad turnovers by all-world talents like Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, over-aggressiveness from Brooks Orpik that left too much open ice available, Douglas Murray being Douglas Murray and thereby standing still like a traffic cone or Evgeni Malkin treating his defensive blue line like an impenetrable electric fence, the Penguins as a team have been horrible at protecting their own end of the ice.
Still, at this stage of the playoffs, your goaltender has to be able to cover up some of your holes. Vokoun and Fleury have closed zero.
“It’s tough to evaluate,” Bylsma said, “given the breakdowns and the type of scoring chances that they scored on for both goalies.”
Fair enough, but that doesn’t mean the work of Vokoun was passable — not in the playoffs, not in the conference finals.
On Brad Marchand’s goal 28 seconds into Game 2, Vokoun didn’t recognize that defenseman Matt Niskanen had closed on Marchand, thereby eliminating any possibility of the B’s winger deking or going to the backhand. Marchand’s only shot was a quick forehand, but Vokoun just sat back and waited in his crease for Marchand to beat him. Marchand did.
On the second goal, scored by Nathan Horton off his own rebound of a tip from a shot from the point, Vokoun looked more like a soon-to-be 37-year-old who is ready for a summer of rest and relaxation than he did a goaltender hoping to win a playoff game. After making the initial save, Vokoun remained on his knees and tried to bat the puck away with his goal stick, leaving the entire net open in the process. Horton was quicker to get his stick on the puck, probably because he was actually putting in an honest effort, and he buried his seventh goal of the postseason.
David Krejci’s goal wasn’t Vokoun’s fault, but because of the earlier misplays, it was the one that sent him to the bench for the rest of the night.
In went Marc-Andre Fleury, who lost his job more than a month earlier due to poor play against the eighth-seeded Islanders. And Fleury arguably did worse than Vokoun. Marchand’s second goal would have been a tough save, but goalies in the conference finals are supposed to make tough saves. Instead, Fleury was beaten to his glove side on a shot from 35 feet away, all the momentum gained from Brandon Sutter’s goal was gone, and the Penguins essentially called it a night.
Fleury can’t be blamed for Patrice Bergeron’s goal, as that came off a filthy backhand pass through traffic by Jaromir Jagr, but the sixth goal was just terrible. Johnny Boychuk has a hard slap shot, but Fleury had a clear look at it. The best he could do was get a piece of his right pad on it, deflecting it in off the crossbar. The ping echoed through the dead-silent Consol Energy Center. It may as well have been an alarm, because it’s time to panic in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins are capable of winning a run-and-gun game with a 6-5 score, but they can’t win a series that way, especially when they’re already trailing by two games. Factor in the fact that Tuukka Rask has better numbers through 14 playoff games than Tim Thomas had in 2011, and forget about it.
The best chance the Bruins had in this series was to chase Vokoun in one of the first two games in Pittsburgh and plant a seed of doubt in the Penguins. Instead, they planted an entire forest.
The only shred of confidence the Penguins may have in Fleury comes from his work in 2009, when he posted borderline respectable numbers (2.61 goals-against average, .908 save percentage) on the way to winning the Stanley Cup. But at a certain point, Fleury should stop being considered the goalie who won the Cup in 2009 and instead be known as the guy with an .858 save percentage and 4.11 GAA in the past two postseasons.
Boychuk’s goal may have seemed like it came during garbage time, but it was a crucial moment for Fleury. He was out there trying to prove he can play in the postseason without melting in the crease. He failed.
And now the Penguins are done. All the offensive talent in the world doesn’t mean much if your goaltender can’t make a save. They have no goalie, no confidence and no chance to play for a Stanley Cup next week. It’s over.