ECF: Game One Recap

Game one was exactly what one team wanted and the other was not expecting.

In the most simplistic breakdown possible, Boston’s goaltending stonewalled Pittsburgh’s offense at every turn, forcing Pittsburgh into playing a style of hockey that only benefits the Bruins.

It started off as a game that saw Pittsburgh controlling play. They were everywhere on the ice and showed their excellent speed throughout the first ten minutes.

Pittsburgh had plenty of chances against Tuukka Rask early on. They had a total of 4 posts hit with shots and multiple close encounters that Rask turned away with brilliant play. His overall stability in net forced Pittsburgh into a panic mode that unraveled the league’s most potent offense.

Once the Penguins started to open up play, they became too offensive. In many sequences one could see Pittsburgh players trying to stretch the ice, simply leaving a minority of players trying to defend against the Boston cycle.

This game plan proved to be the undoing of the Penguins.

It was in the dying seconds of the second period that Evgeni Malkin of the Penguins decided to fight Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins. This fight removed Pittsburgh’s best power play player from the ice for the opening six minutes of the third period. Most likely costing Pittsburgh their best opportunity to tie the game and gain some form of momentum.

From this lack of control, many other scrums ensued. Sidney Crosby and Tuukka Rask had words before Crosby decided to shove Rask. Crosby then went right to Zdeno Chara to continue the talk in a lame attempt to gain some sort of advantage. (note; this was something we haven’t seen since the loss to the Flyers in the opening round of 2012)

It was the Penguins frustrations against a Bruins team playing top notch that ended game one. The Bruins won 32 of 48 faceoffs, controlling play from the get go in two thirds of the puck drops. This continued control forces the Penguins to chase the play, making their primary goal of puck possession secondary.

 Not in any way shape or form is this style the style of play that champions are made of. Champions do not chase, they dictate. They force the opposition into playing their game, not the other way around.

Despite Pittsburgh having more takeaways in game one, they had a total of eight giveaways. The nine takeaways are usually something to behold, but in this case, it was simply the chasing play of Pittsburgh that forced them to take the puck away.

Their eight giveaways though, were part of the sloppy play executed all game long. During a breakdown in the defensive zone one could see Pittsburgh forwards simply trying to slap or poke the puck out of the zone. This kind of break down is a lack of control.

Despite having a plethora of good skating defensemen and forwards, Pittsburgh refused to carry the puck from defensive zone to the red line. Their two line passes were getting caught in Boston’s 1-2-2, slowing the game down tremendously.

Boston had just one giveaway in this game. Showing that they played their game to perfection and controlled the puck throughout the game, Boston was able to execute two strong goal opportunities in the third period.

 The Bruins used the dump and chase tactic to keep Pittsburgh backing up. Great execution by the Bruins continued to force Pittsburgh back into their own zone, stemming the tide of Pittsburgh’s offensive attack.

Tuukka Rask’s play in this game was as pivotal as any though. He stopped 29 shots in game one, but twenty two of those came in the first two periods. This great play allowed Boston to slow the game into a pace that they feel comfortable with in the third period.

Once playing at a slower pace, Boston was able to keep Pittsburgh from opening the game back up. Pittsburgh had five one and done chances in that third period, proving once again that Boston’s game plan was working well. With Tuukka Rask shutting down Pittsburgh’s best scoring chances, Boston was able to react to offensive chances instead of forcing offensive play.

This style did not allow Pittsburgh to garner any type of momentum. Boston was able to shut the door on Pittsburgh in game one for these reasons.

Game two should bring a different story. As hard as it is to beat the Bruins in a seven game series, it will be equally as difficult to beat the Penguins. Boston’s physical play and cycle game take a lot out of teams, as does their 1-2-2; however, it can take just as much out of the Bruins.

In game one, the play was relatively even for the first two periods with slight emotional swings here and there, but it was still just a one goal game. Given how difficult it is to continue to do every little thing right in the game of hockey, logic dictates that someone will miss an assignment and allow Pittsburgh to garner a great scoring chance. If Pittsburgh’s playoff history thus far tells the truth, the Penguins should be able to execute their game plan from this.

Just as in game one, it could simply be just one bounce that can set a team back and give the other the needed momentum. Like Krejci’s first goal deflecting off Paul Martin’s leg, a simple bounce can change the tone of a game.

If Pittsburgh is able to capitalize early in game number two, unlike in game one, then Boston might be a bit jumpy. If Boston is trying to force offense while playing from behind, Pittsburgh can then capitalize on Boston taking offensive chances.

We saw what Boston has to do in order to win. In game two Pittsburgh must pounce on early chances and power play opportunities. They must force Boston to skate with them and not fall into playing Boston’s slower game.

Changes for Pittsburgh – Look for Pittsburgh to place either Simon Despres or Deryk Engelland into the lineup for game two. Also, Joe Vitale might take over for Jussi Jokinen to add grit and speed to the fourth line.

Changes for Boston – Just their underwear.

Notes; Matt Cooke’s five minute major and game misconduct was absolutely a reputation call and a big mess up on part of the refs. Likewise, if the precedent is set the refs cannot give Marchand two minutes for his hit. Both Penalty Killing units were perfect in game one.