Pens squander chance to set tone

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PITTSBURGH -- It is an interesting blue print the Pittsburgh Penguins are following this spring that has them play only parts of games.

Not sure at the end of the day it's a blueprint that involves building anything but disappointment and regret.

Facing a New York Rangers team coming off a draining Game 7 victory over Philadelphia and playing its third game in four nights, the Penguins delivered an ugly first period of giveaways, miscues and general fumbling about that allowed the Rangers to take a 2-0 lead en route to a 3-2 victory in overtime.

Instead of taking the chance to put the pressure squarely on the Rangers, the Penguins now face their first series deficit of this playoff year.

Given how infrequently the Penguins have managed to deliver an entire game in which they are focused and on task, it isn't too early to label Sunday's Game 2 a crucial test.

"Anytime you lose one game in a series where four knocks you out, I think your desperation just naturally goes up that much more. You want to play with it all the time, but the fact is, once you lose games in the playoffs and you start to feel the grip of death on your season, you start to play with a little more desperation. We're one loss closer to being out, and I hope we bring that level in the next game," offered defenseman Rob Scuderi.

As for the junky start, sure it wasn't what the team planned.

"Yeah. It's disappointing, but it's past," Scuderi said. "Certainly, we would have had a much different outcome. We'd rather that. But we've already turned the page. We lost the game. It's over. We've got to focus on Game 2 and a good start in that one."

After not seeing an acceptable level of play during the first four games of their first-round series against Columbus, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma questioned his team's compete level, and the Pens responded with what he termed their two best games of the season in Games 5 and 6 -- both victories.

Friday night, the Penguins showed more of that level of play in the second period, as they dominated the Rangers, outshooting them 15-4 and tying the game on goals by Lee Stempniak and James Neal.

As Rangers coach Alain Vigneault noted, the Penguins brought their game to another level, something the Rangers struggled to do.

But how does one go about explaining the inability of the Penguins to deliver that kind of hockey from the get-go?

Is there an inherent expectation that it will simply happen when you possess immense talent in the form of players such as captain Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Neal and Kris Letang?

Surely, a team that was swept in the Eastern Conference finals last year and scored just twice in the series does not really believe that. Surely, a team that was bounced in the first round in 2012 by Philadelphia after dropping the first two games at home understands the need to take advantage of the opportunities that are presented, and Friday night was that opportunity.

Yet the wild ebbs and flows in the Penguins' commitment to playing the way they know brings them success is one of the most confounding elements of this postseason thus far.

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