BOSTON – Sidney Crosby has been utterly shut down in two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston.
He is scoreless in each of the first two games, and has exhibited frustration while turning pucks over at an uncharacteristically high rate since his little scuffle with Zdeno Chara at the end of the second period of Game 1 at CONSOL Energy Center.
It was Crosby’s ill-advised cross-ice pass attempt on a bouncing puck at the start of Game 2 that opened Brad Marchand for a scoring breakaway in the opposite direction. Corsby made three other giveaways in the Game 2 blowout loss.
"I like the direction our team is heading into, but the challenge is keeping it going in that direction,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I think when you look at the skill level that they have, [there are] too many guys that can score goals. When you see not necessarily the Crosbys and the Malkins but the Dupuis and the Kunitz, they can skate Letang from the back end and Martin can carry the puck well.
“There are a lot of guys, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some, but there's a lot of firepower and a lot of layers in that department that they have.”
Fortunately for the Bruins, they have some of the best defensive players in the world. Both Chris Kelly and Patrice Bergeron have drawn duty against Sid the Kid in the first two games of the series. What’s their secret when Crosby gets possession in the offensive zone?
“l think if all six guys go to him, we should be okay . . . swarm defense,” said a smiling Kelly.
For the record, Pittsburgh tried to send five defenders at one Bruins player with the puck once or twice during Game 2 and it didn’t work out all that well.
It’s pretty amazing Crosby is a minus-4 in the playoffs given how dominant Pittsburgh has been through the postseason and entering the conference finals. But his play against the Bruins has been decidedly unimpressive. He’s fired off six shots on net and had four of Pittsburgh’s 12 giveaways in Game 2 -- he has the second-most giveaways on on the team throughout the entire postseason behind only Kris Letang.
Bergeron and Kelly have also whipped No. 87 in the face-off circle, with Crosby losing 21 of the 35 draws he’s taken against the Bruins.
Crosby's struggled to fire up his team, too. Instead of rallying his team by engaging Tuukka Rask and then Chara in Game 1, his actions instead revealed a group of Penguins players that were surprisingly frustrated 40 minutes into the series.
The carping to officials and animated lobbying for calls even has Jet Blue pilots comparing the Pittsburgh captain, and face of the NHL, to crying newborn babies.
So, really, what’s the secret to bottling up Crosby and Evgeni Malkin?
Kelly said it comes down to taking care of the puck, and limiting the places on the ice where Pittsburgh’s best offensive players have a chance to attack.
“He’s a great player," Kelly said of Crosby. "They have a lot of great players when they’re on the ice, and make sure that you’re managing the puck so you’re in a good defensive position. You also want to go out and contribute offensively, but I think everybody has done a good job of knowing when certain players are on the ice.
“We could still even be better managing the puck, but for the most part I feel like we’ve put the puck in good situations to retrieve them, and not given chances to make easy plays.”
Crosby’s parade of Game 2 mistakes were a great example of Boston’s impact on his mindset after scoring 15 points in the first two rounds.
Jay Pandolfo has had his share of defensive battles with the Penguins and Crosby over the years, and he admired the job that Chara, Bergeron and Kelly among others are doing on the Pens star.
“I think just limiting his time and space, really," Pandolofo said of how to defend Crosby. "Any good players that have time are going to make plays. Getting any good player frustrated can be a big part of it too. Sometimes they try to do too much, and that will benefit you. Bergie and Kelly have been doing this for a while, so they know what it takes to go up against these guys.”
Malkin has been the better player of the two Penguins superstars over the course of the first two games of the series, and the Bruins have survived to tell the tale. Containing both players might prove to be impossible over the course of a best-of-seven series, but there is little evidence to say the smother job on Crosby is going to end anytime soon.