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Time Running Out for Penguins to Respond to Senators

The Penguins suddenly have a lot to sort out as they attempt to respond to another disappointing playoff loss.

After watching the Senators get all the bounces in Game 3, the Penguins are once again in bounce-back mode as they ready for Game 4 on Friday night and Game 5 on Sunday afternoon of what has become an increasingly hard-to-figure Eastern Conference Final.

Wednesday night in Ottawa clearly wasn’t the Penguins’ night.

Nick Bonino blocks a shot, the puck ends up in the Penguins’ net.

Ian Cole blocks a shot, the puck ends up in the Penguins’ net.

Cole blocks another shot, the puck ends up in the Penguins’ net.

Anyone else sensing a trend?

It ended up 5-1 Senators, and in the estimation of Chris Kunitz the Penguins were as culpable as they were unlucky.

“I think you work for your bounces in hockey,” Kunitz maintained.

Fair enough; it wasn’t the Penguins’ finest hour from the goal out in terms of what they were doing around all those bounces and amid all that Ottawa puck luck.

But nor was this the blowout the final score suggested.

“We had a fair amount of scoring chances,” head coach Mike Sullivan insisted.

At the other end, “It wasn’t like we gave up a lot of scoring chances; we didn’t,” Sullivan continued. “But they all seemed to go in the net.

In summation, “I think the score is not an indication of how the whole game played out,” Sullivan concluded. “It’s not like we didn’t do anything right out there.”

The Senators nonetheless lead the series, two games to one.

And the Penguins suddenly have a lot to sort out as they attempt to respond as they had following a just-as-disappointing 5-2 loss in Game 6 against Washington.

The Pens had emerged from Games 1 and 2 against Ottawa believing they had the Senators figured out.

But the head-scratching developments in Game 3 included:

  • The previously trap-obsessed Sens shifting into attack mode in terms of how often they pressured with at least two men on the forecheck and how often they carried the puck into the Penguins’ end rather than dump it in, sit back and wait/hope for a mistake and transition opportunity. It’s a more familiar style in terms of what the Pens have been confronting throughout the postseason but it’s also one that threatens a defensive corps that continues to spring leaks.
  • The Penguins, despite the opportunities referenced by Sullivan, scoring just one goal for the third time in three games. Either the shots haven’t been as sharp or the Pens have yet to benefit from the meltdowns suffered and soft goals surrendered by Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby that helped nudge the Pens past Columbus and Washington.
  • The Marc-Andre Fleury bubble (temporarily, at least) bursting. Fleury wasn’t solely responsible for the quick 4-0 hole the Penguins fell into but nor should he be exonerated for his role in Game 3 getting out of hand in a hurry. And Matt Murray was razor-sharp in relief, which at least had Mike Milbury and Jeremy Roenick talking goaltending controversy on TV.
  • Sullivan bemoaning the lack of “readiness” and “hunger” and “conviction” evident in a team that has for the most part oozed intangibles and character dating back to last season’s run to the Stanley Cup.

For the Penguins, that’s out of character.

As a result, their position in this series is uncomfortable.

“You have to have the ability to respond,” Sullivan maintained. “There’s no doubt in my mind this group of players will.”

There’s no reason to suggest the Penguins won’t or the Penguins can’t.

But eventually, they’re going to have to become proactive.

As critical as the ability to respond can be, you only get so many chances.

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