Game 7: Mirror opposites prepare to clash Tuesday

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“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the fairest one of all?”

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma called Games 3 and 4 (both won by the Penguins) “mirrored opposites” of Games 5 and 6 (tilts won by the Rangers).

History waits to be written.

New York won Game 6 inside Madison Square Garden, 3-1, on Sunday. My thoughts follow, with some tied to Sunday’s game.

The team scoring first has won all six games of the series. That scenario didn’t hold true in Round 1 against Columbus, but in general, scoring first is always a good thing. In Game 7, it’s more crucial than ever.

The Penguins’ playoff loss to Montreal went down four years ago Monday. In that game, Sidney Crosby took a bad penalty 15 seconds into the contest and the Pens never recovered.

Scoring the first goal Tuesday will set the tone for the game, on and off the ice. It seems as though Penguins fans need to know their team is willing to work. If by some chance the Rangers get the first goal, the energy inside Consol Energy Center could short-circuit.

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Chris Kreider cross-checked Jussi Jokinen in front of a referee Sunday and was subsequently called for a penalty. Kreider then sticked Jokinen and pushed him while he was already down on the ice.

Not surprisingly, NBC’s Mike Milbury assessed the situation as Jokinen diving.

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James Neal needs to play big Tuesday. He has two goals and two assists in 12 playoff games. Bylsma hasn’t given him the chances or ice time he saw in the regular season.

Neal has a tendency to commit penalties in crucial situations. Perhaps at this point, Penguins fans simply have to hope the forward doesn’t take any silly, selfish penalties in Game 7 and not worry about him scoring close, range one-timers on the power play — but that’s exactly the weapon Pittsburgh has missed in the postseason.

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Crosby is passing like the puck is a game of hot potato. He remains effective and dangerous on the rush, but set plays just aren’t clicking.

With 5:09 TOI remaining in the second period, Crosby had the puck on his stick below the right circle, with no one between himself and goalie, Henrik Lundqvist. Rather than shoot, Crosby passes to Kris Letang, who is 10 feet above the left circle. Letang gathers the puck awkwardly and his shot attempt is blocked.

To me, that’s lack of confidence on Crosby’s part.

Moments later, Crosby does get the puck back at the right dot. He takes a one-timer, only to have his stick break. The Rangers’ Derrick Brassard scores 30 seconds later, putting Pittsburgh in the 3-1 hole the team never crawls out of.

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Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury kept his team in the game early on Sunday. His short-handed save on Martin St. Louis was big, down 2-0 already.

The St. Louis emotion machine has to have run its course, hasn’t it? The Rangers probably would’ve rallied around anything to find some unity, but the unfortunate passing of St. Louis’s mother right before Mother’s Day really molded the team together.

I don’t think that will again be the storyline Tuesday, but St. Louis can still be a dangerous player in his own right. He made defenseman Olli Maatta look slow after stealing the puck from Maatta in the New York end, rushing up the ice past Maatta.

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The masses are a fickle bunch.

It was funny hearing the New York crowd change from booing their team in one game to chanting “Let’s Go Rangers” in the next. Some said it was the loudest they’d ever heard MSG get in Game 6.

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Penguins forward, Chris Kunitz, needs to hit, play physical in Game 7 — the way he did when he registered six hits in a game early in the series.

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The Marcel Goc short-handed goal celebration still needs work and better aim to beat King Henrik.

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Kris Letang got away with a penalty on a Kreider breakaway. The Penguins defenseman should’ve have been penalized or the Rangers’ goal should have counted. Instead, Kreider was flagged for goalie interference.

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You’ll know quickly Tuesday night about the Penguins mentality. If you see mostly vertical passes, the Pens are in a good place. If you see more horizontal, east-to-west ones, then the team’s in trouble.

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Letang seemed to injury his left leg midway through period 2 on Sunday. He blocked a shot, which would suggest a simply bruise or contusion, but it almost looked more like a balky groin when he struggled to get up off the ice. Either way, he skated the rest of the game.

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I didn’t catch Lundqvist’s water bottle spraying of Crosby, but to fine the goalie $5000 seems petty. How many opposing forwards spray ice into Lundqvist in front of the goalie on a rush?

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Pittsburgh’s third and fourth liners need to crash the New York crease, make Lundqvist feel a little less comfortable. I’m not suggesting any Daniel Carcillo shenanigans, but you get the idea. Speaking of Carcillo, the Penguins need him back in the NYR lineup.

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Brian Gibbons is a short-handed rush wizard, or hobbit. Whatever he is, he’s the best weapon the Pens have while killing penalties.

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Beau Bennett is another potential producer with little buzz surrounding his play. It might be asking a lot from a playoff rookie to come up big in Game 7, but Bennett has a flair for the dramatic.

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I highly doubt the USA-Russia relationship is affecting Evgeni Malkin or his play, but Malkin is a patriot and it’s got to be weird playing in the United States while your country is at political odds with the other. After all, the US has clamped down on some of the assets of prominent Russian businessmen.
Who knows what’s next?

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More Milbury.

Milbury mentions Crosby sticking Moore in the privates and then skating away to have Kunitz fight his battles. What Milbury doesn’t mention is that Moore was holding Crosby’s hockey stick the entire time before the skirmish occurred.

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I refuse to get into the Dan Bylsma speculation, job-on-the-line commentary because I think the Penguins should have fired him after last year.

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The Pens averaged more than three goals per game during the regular season and have scored two total in the last two losses.

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The officiating broke down late in Sunday’s game. Matt Niskanen should’ve been penalized for a forearm shiver along his end boards with 1:35 TOI remaining, but nothing was called.

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Penguin Interviews

Dan Bylsma:

Sidney Crosby:

Chris Kunitz:

Matt Niskanen:

Kris Letang:

Paul Martin:

James Neal:

Craig Adams:

Joe Vitale:

Dan Bylsma:

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin:

(Courtesy, Pittsburgh Penguins)

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Links

Av’s could take shot at Matt Niskanen, the Denver Post reports.

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Treasure Life!
JT
@JohnToperzer
@PiratesTalk

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