As I mentioned on Twitter the other night, forgive me for expecting the Conference Finals series to have better hockey than the quarterfinals. So far neither series has even been a series – it's been one team plowing over the other. The Chicago Blackhawks have been overwhelming the Los Angeles Kings, and the Boston Bruins have been too much for the Penguins to handle.
The Blackhawks are the favorites in their series, so while it was widely expected for the Kings to push them, it's also been pretty much expected that the Hawks will make the Stanley Cup Finals. The Eastern finals are a different story. The Penguins have been the favored team since before the season began and with their trade deadline acquisitions they only solidified that standing. So what gives?
You can point to all sorts of things: the goaltending hasn't been particularly reliable, the defense has been a sieve, star players aren't playing worth a damn – look at Crosby's inability to keep the puck in his zone last night. Between that and the rest of the team backing off, they might as well have gift wrapped that goal for Brad Marchand. It went pretty much downhill after that.
Game 1 was physical, but only because the Bruins are that way by nature. That's not to diminish the Pens' physicality, because they have it in spades, but that's not what they rely on. They have a naturally explosive offense that can overwhelm. The Bruins, though, have a presence that can make that offense walk off with its tail between its legs. That's what happened.
The trick to getting a team's offense to cease production is to get into their heads. Make them more worried about where that next hit is going to come from, make them try to stand up and best you with the rough and tumble. Get into their heads and shift their focus – that's all that it takes. Would you say that the Bruins did that during Game 1?
The team that is physical – the protagonist, if you will – can afford to start things like this because they assume that the other team will play into the whole situation. Good lord, did the Penguins ever do that. Crosby trying to start stuff with Tuukka Rask? Really? Jawing at Zdeno Chara – who could have launched him into the stratosphere if he felt like it? Great plan, Sid. Really.
All that the Penguins need to do is play their game. I realize it's hard to ignore someone who is getting under your skin, but by trying to go mano-a-mano with the Bruins all the Penguins are doing is playing right into their hands and losing focus. Ignore them. It's easier said than done, but when they stop giving the Bruins so much space in their heads, maybe they'll score a few more goals.