The Pittsburgh Penguins are winning with all the special elements they've rarely possessed in a quarter-century of underachieve NHL
playoffsment: big-time goaltending, big-play scoring, defense and, yes, even discipline.They've rallied from a 2-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins, one of the NHL's traditional powers, to tie the best-of-7 Wales Conference finals at two games apiece. They've neutralized the top goal-scorer in the playoffs, Cam Neely. They've refused to make crucial mistakes and take stupid penalties.
We're definitely talking birds of a different feather.
But no matter how much they talk about it and analyze it and critique it, the Penguins still must prove they can win in Boston. They've won six times there in 24 years. They must win there once in the next six days to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
"No matter how well we play here, we've got to win in Boston, we've got to play a good game in the Garden," forward Kevin Stevens said after the Penguins' 4-1 victory Tuesday. "We've got to pick it up a notch in the Garden. . . . If we keep losing there, it will be summer soon."
"We're anxious to get them in our building," Boston coach Mike Milbury said.
No wonder. The Penguins rebounded from two series-opening losses in Boston to dominate the two games in the Civic Arena. But they are very cognizant of the assignment ahead of them. They now must go where no Penguin has gone before.
"Everything's ancient history," coach Bob Johnson said. "It's a best-of-3."
The Penguins surged into a 2-0 lead Tuesday on goals by Bob Errey and Joey Mullen, then survived Dave Christian's third-period goal and an ineffective power play that was 1-for-7 on the night and is 3-for-24 in the series.
And guess who did the major damage.
Just as he did by scoring 16 seconds after Boston drew to within a goal in the Penguins' 3-1 victory Sunday, Mario Lemieux put it out of reach in typical Lemieux style. Less than two minutes after Christian's score, Lemieux jammed the puck past goaltender Andy Moog off Mark Recchi's feed at 10:23 of the third to restore Pittsburgh's two-goal lead.
"We weren't in bad shape, they were trying to sit on that lead and then . . ." Milbury said.
The Penguins thought Boston played into their hands by trying to play with their heads. Angered by Ulf Samuelsson's jarring forcheck in Game 3 that left Neely with a gimpy leg, Milbury vowed the Bruins wouldn't go down without a fight. He even dressed tough guy defenseman Lyndon Byers, who hadn't played in three months and was well tanned after a long stay in Florida.
The call to arms - and to fists - had little effect. Much-penalized defenseman Chris Nilan drew several ill-timed penalties, including one for slashing Lemieux late in the game. And Neely didn't get off a shot for two periods as he tried to match Samuelsson check for check rather than goal for goal.
"They were looking for revenge. We were looking to win the game," Penguins defenseman Phil Bourque said. "We'll take a stick in the ribs to win the game. We have to stay disciplined and stay focused and not let them goad us into bad penalties."
With goaltender Tom Barrasso stopping 27 of 28 shots, Pittsburgh shut down all four of Boston's power plays and held Neely without a goal for the second straight game. Neely leads all playoff scorers with 15 goals.
"When you are winning hockey games in the playoffs, things are great," Bruins defenseman Ray Bourque said. "When you are losing, you get down. It's all a roller-coaster ride. We still have the home-ice advantage."
But do they have the edge in talent? In momentum? In energy?
The Penguins, who needed just five games to win their division finals while Boston needed seven to eliminate Montreal, aren't so sure.
"We're confident we can win the series," Lemieux said. "We have confidence we can win in the Garden. It's just a matter of working hard for 60 minutes."
Game 6 will be Saturday night in Pittsburgh, but Boston would have the home-ice edge if there's a Game 7 next Monday.
"I think we've got a better team, but the team with the most talent doesn't always win games," Recchi said.