[Listen to the Raw Emotion recap podcast below or click here to subscribe on iTunes. For a read on why we actually feel terrific coming out of Game 3, click here]
When Matt Cooke devilishly drew a slashing penalty on Erik Karlsson with 87 seconds left in the game, we were fully prepared to lavish the Pens with praise after what may have been their best performance of the postseason. A 1-0 win? With almost nothing to complain about? In what seemed like an actual normal playoff game after two straight series of sometimes bizarre play? Sign us up!
One bad play doesn't erase 59 minutes of strong play. But man, did that suck.
This loss would go in the heartbreaking category if the Pens were underdogs, or if some Senator made a great play on the tying goal, or if the Pens had lost 1-0 in overtime with Craig Anderson shutting the door all night. But when the Pens, from the coaching staff to every player on the ice except Vokoun, make a series of inexcusable decisions on the tying goal, the Raw Emotion reaction is to be disgusted. And when you feel yourself not being surprised that it happened, because the Pens cling to mental errors like a baby clings to his blankie, it raises serious questions about whether this team has the mental discipline to pay attention to all the details necessary to win the Cup.
Everyone says it and it's a boring cliche, but it's true -- if the Pens just cut back the mental errors, there's no one that can play with them. The problem is that there's limited evidence they can do this. We're still hopeful that the Pens can win the Cup and VERY optimistic that the Pens can still make short work of the Senators. The overwhelming talent should be plenty to do the trick. But if the Pens somehow fall short, then we already know why.
The problem with the Pens' approach to the late power-play was that they had no approach. They were caught in between trying to score and trying to play the prevent defense and, obviously, this meant they didn't do either. A brief run down of the problems.
Personnel: Crosby won the draw to start the power-play but was off the ice by the time the Sens scored. Sid was probably doing the smart thing by changing before he was tired, but Malkin and Kunitz -- not two guys you'd want on in a late-game defensive situation -- weren't on the same page. This is not praise of Sid for getting off or criticism on Malkin and Kunitz for staying on -- it's criticism of the coaching staff for having some guys operating one way and some guys operating another.
Personnel Part 2: And who replaces Crosby on the ice? Brandon "I play like the back of a piece of sandpaper" Sutter. Maybe Sutter is an OK defensive player and we could understand him being out there if it was for a face-off but when you're up a man you cannot simply try to keep everything to the outside and get in shooting lanes. YOU'RE UP A MAN. Go get the puck. Go make it hard for them to make a pass. Sutter is horrible at those things. And it's not that Sutter is to blame for the tying goal, but his brief cameo in the general vicinity of Milan Michalek before the pass to Alfredsson -- without really doing a thing that made it remotely difficult for Michalek to make the pass -- is a perfect snapshot of his season.
|Come on, dude.|
The Prime Minister: Is he on the wrong side of the ice as Guilherme points out? Is he covering any shooting or passing lane in the below screen grab? Is he making it difficult on the passer? We don't go to practices so we don't know if PMPM is doing what he's told here, but whatever the case, he isn't doing the right thing.
Kunitz, Malkin, and Letang: Do you have to be a hockey savant to know that when the other team is down with 30 seconds to go they're going to send a bunch of guys to the net, and yes, even when they're short-handed? If like 8 other things were different about this play, the Pens would have been in perfect defensive coverage.
This is an awful lot of analysis of one play in a game that lasted 90 minutes. But this play just made what should have been a relatively easy series a lot harder.
Upon further reflection after our podcast, the way the Pens played in the first 59 minutes makes us more hopeful than if the Pens had won 6-5. Offensively the Pens were buzzing all night and when the top two lines were getting stymied by a hot goalie and a market-correction of shooting and save percentages, the third line came through with a HUGE goal. That's how playoff games are won. The tying goal is just more confirmation that as much as this team has the ability to make amazing plays to win playoff games, you don't have to dig too far under the surface to find the ability to make plays that lose playoff games.
The sky is far from falling on the Pens. But that was a hell of a hailstorm in the last 30 seconds.
Pens in 5. LGP.