PITTSBURGH — Game 2 at the Consol Energy Center Monday night was not a playoff showdown. It was a circus act disguised as a 6-1 Bruins win before 18,619, most of whom never saw Johnny Boychuk flick one final insult behind Marc-Andre Fleury at 18:36 of the third period.
From the opening minute, when their captain fumbled away a puck that led to the Bruins’ first goal, the Penguins played as if they wore red noses on their faces. They submitted a rimshot-filled first period that should be considered NSFW during the Penguins’ video session prior to Wednesday’s Game 3 in Boston.
Tomas Vokoun, the backup-turned-starter following Fleury’s first-round crumbling, did nothing to bail out his teammates.
Vokoun waved at a Brad Marchand breakaway. He left a cookie out front that Nathan Horton jammed home. Vokoun couldn’t do anything about a wicked rush from the first line – Milan Lucic going through his legs, Horton zipping the puck to David Krejci – that ended with the puck in his net.
By the time Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma jolted awake from his snooze by pulling Vokoun, the damage was done. And maybe even the series.
The Bruins were equal-opportunity abusers of Fleury. The Penguins needed a timely save from their former ace. Brandon Sutter had halted the Bruins’ freight-train momentum with a laser over Tuukka Rask’s blocker at 19:26 of the first. The Penguins were only two goals down.
But when Marchand snapped a shot on goal at 19:51, Fleury couldn’t glove it. The Bruins were up by three goals once more. NBC Sports Network viewers reported hearing a laugh track accompanying the broadcast.
“We have to get restarted after that game and after that performance,” Bylsma said. “We made some mistakes that allowed them to get up in the score through the beginning of the game. Then we got off our game plan.”
Now, the Penguins have a stately, plump question mark at the sport’s most important position. The Bruins have no such concerns.
Rask has been nearly perfect. The only blemish in two wins is a Sutter beauty that few goalies could have stopped. Otherwise, Rask (26 saves) has been a fortress. He turned back Evgeni Malkin five times. He foiled James Neal on four shots. Rask either made clean saves or steered rebounds out of danger.
Neither Vokoun nor Fleury could say the same.
The shell-shocked Penguins have questions in goal. Their defense ran around. Their only goal came off the stick of their No. 3 pivot. Their other two centers did nothing, save for giving away pucks, with Sidney Crosby’s first-minute cough-up leading the parade.
The Bruins are not up 2-0 in the series because of Pittsburgh’s leaky goaltending. The shortcomings of Vokoun and Fleury reflect only one component of a team-wide decimation. Just about every Penguin, especially their best players, has submitted a ghost-like performance. Then again, the Bruins can make great players seem otherwise.
Through two games, the Bruins have excelled at the heart of their game: capitalizing on opponents’ mistakes. In Game 2, there were more mistakes than bridges in Pittsburgh.
Crosby’s attempted pass to Matt Niskanen ended up on Marchand’s stick. Later in the first, Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang sent an ill-advised, up-the-gut pass to the stick of Torey Krug. Moments later, Horton gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead. The Penguins had no answers for the Bruins’ first-line wizardry: Lucic’s between-the-legs pass to Horton, that quick dish to Krejci, a strike by the center to chase Vokoun.
The final breakdown kicked the Penguins’ in the gut. Jaromir Jagr steamrolled Brooks Orpik to start the breakout. Moments later, Marchand gave the Bruins a 4-1 lead.
“Definitely the biggest goal of the game was when we got that fourth one back to get the three-goal lead,” Lucic said. “Especially late in the period. When you’re going in, if they were able to get the last one of the period, maybe they had something to create some momentum off of. But a good, hard, strong play by Jags in the defensive zone to get the puck out of the zone created that opportunity. Marshy made no mistake with his great shot there.”
In theory, the Penguins can’t be counted out. They have the firepower to win four of the next five games. During the regular season, the Penguins ticked off 15 straight wins.
But the Bruins are making the Penguins look like paper tigers. Pittsburgh’s defense has no answers for the No. 1 line of Lucic, Krejci, and Horton. Jagr, pointless in the six previous games, recorded two assists Monday night. The Bruins’ defense hasn’t given Crosby or Malkin any time or space to work their magic.
“They played great,” Rask said. “It was one of the better games in these playoffs. Our D was really on top of it, cutting off those passes, making plays, taking hits, blocking shots, stuff like that. Everybody was on it today. It was really good to see. It made my job really easier.”
The Bruins are returning home. They are not playing like a team that intends to return to Pittsburgh for Game 5.
“Don’t be complacent,” Krug said of the attitude. “We’re not satisfied with just two wins. Two wins doesn’t make a series. We want to go back with the mind-set to win a game.”