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Opportunities lost: Pens early series decisions biting them now

The Pittsburgh Penguins found there was a little difference from being in a groove to going into a rut, as their momentum from early series has quickly evaporated into a 0-3 series deficit.

Bruce Bennett

A hungover Penguins nation can only shake their head and think- it wasn’t supposed to be like this. The mighty Penguins, riding high after dispatching Ottawa in five games in the second round, now find themselves in an almost insurmountable zero games to three hole. The despair is magnified by a 54 shot, double over-time effort that ended the way all the other games this series have ended so far: defeat.

The fallout hasn’t even begun, because the season isn’t officially over, but the 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins are about as cooked as a turkey dinner. Some are pointing fingers at everything from roster construction to coaching, and there will be plenty of time to analyze that when the series is over.

The simple fact is the Pens pissed away the early two games of this series with foolish mental mistakes, physical errors that ended up in their net and useless after-the-whistle scrums. Call it the curse of Max Talbot- every fight does not inspire a glorious comeback, as Talbot’s legendary 2009 fight did. But yet, a stunned place is where we are. The Pens, led by captain Sidney Crosby, tried to get in Boston’s face after the second period ended of a 1-0 game. A game where Pittsburgh was on the power play. Evgeni Malkin dropped his gloves and came to blows with Patrice Bergeron, putting him out of action for a sizeable chunk of the third period. Not good. Not good all-around.

But it was better than Game 2, a comedy of errors started by an early Crosby turnover and then quickly compounded by mental mistakes highlighted by Kris Letang. Before the Pens had broken a sweat the score was 3-0 early and Tomas Vokoun through little fault of his own was on the bench. And while the Pens finally got on the scoreboard when Brandon Sutter’s high shot eluded Tuukka Rask, they would give a three goal edge right back when Marc-Andre Fleury allowed a goal on his first official shot attempt just seconds before intermission.

A team like the Boston Bruins are good enough to win playoff series without such gifts, but if the Pens are generous enough to give them, why not take it.

Game 3 was different. The Penguins were more determined and focused. Crosby and especially Malkin were brilliant. But Rask, Zdeno Chara and the Boston defense were up to the task. The B’s, unlike the Pens, were not interested in giving out anything easy.

So it stands after five days and three games. The Pens thought they were in a groove, it’s turned into a probably insurmountable rut, with an astionishing quickness.

It hurts, it stings, but it’s life. The Pens can either roll over and die, accepting the inevitability of their series loss, or they can become emboldened by their turnaround from Games 2 and 3 and try to play the same way, with maybe a little more luck or better bounces offensively to beat Rask. The Bruins, while talented and former champions, also have the spector of blowing a 3-0 playoff series lead three springs ago. It can happen. Doesn’t always, but it’s playoff hockey. Nothing’s over until it’s over.

The Pittsburgh Penguins just have to wonder when that will be.