Pittsburgh, PA
September 24, 2017
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
Pirates Q&A
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  Sports >  Columnists Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
Smizik: Penguins know series isn't over

Sunday, April 29, 2001

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When the Penguins and Buffalo Sabres met yesterday in a second-round Stanley Cup playoff game, the teams combined for four goals. Three of those goals were put into the net by the Sabres, which would lead to the rather obvious conclusion that the Penguins lost.

They did not.

They won, 3-1. The victory gave them a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which would lead to the rather obvious conclusion they are in control.

They are not.

About those goals.

The Penguins scored first midway through the second period when Robert Lang's blistering shot hit off the right pipe, caromed off the back of goalie Dominik Hasek's right leg and went into the net.

After Stu Barnes tied the score, Andrew Ference put the Penguins back ahead with 8:09 remaining in the second period on what even he called "a horrible shot."

Ference described his shot, from the top of the right circle, this way:

"I couldn't really directly shoot it at the goalie because the guy was going to block it. I just tried to put it off -- but not like that. It kind of flubbed off my stick. It was going wide for sure and it glanced off the guy's back."

The guy was defenseman James Patrick, who was so busy trying to push Mario Lemieux away from the crease that he never saw the shot that glanced off his back and past Hasek.

It can be safely said the Penguins' final score, into an empty net with three seconds remaining in the game, came off the stick of Alexei Kovalev and in no way was assisted by a Buffalo player.

About the Penguins not being in charge of a series in which they lead by two games.

Recent history tells us the Penguins, despite what appears to be a commanding lead -- especially because it was built on the road -- have plenty to worry about. They have been in this position before and remember it well.

The similarities are eerie. Last season, after beating Washington in the first round -- same as this year -- they opened the second round on the road -- same as this year. They won both of those road games, limiting their opponent to one goal -- same as this year. In those two victories they scored six goals -- same as this year.

When the Penguins came back home to Mellon Arena to, what most people believed, finish off the Philadelphia Flyers there was a lot of talk about how the series wasn't over -- same as this year.

Ian Moran recalled the feeling among his teammates.

"I don't think we were overconfident. I think players always try to guard against that. But as a whole maybe we started looking ahead too much."

The Penguins lost Game 3, 4-3, in overtime. They lost Game 4, 2-1, in five overtimes. When the teams went back to Philadelphia, the series was over. The Flyers won the next two games, 6-3, and 2-1.

The Penguins have not forgotten.

In fact, what happened last year was the subject of much discussion by the players immediately after the game.

"The series is not over," defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said. "We learned a lesson last year. We were up 2-0 against Philadelphia and lost four in a row. Hopefully, we will play as desperate at home as we did on the road.

"We talked about this after the game. We said we cannot celebrate. We have to get ready for Game 3. That's all we worry about."

Lemieux was in civilian clothes at this time last year, the team president and resident legend.

"We talked about it already," he said. "The general feeling is that nothing is over. In the playoffs you're going to face teams that are desperate, like the Sabres will be on Monday [ in Game 3] and you have to be ready to face the music every night. If you're not, you're going to get beat."

There is ample reason to believe the Penguins will not get beat.

Their commitment to defense is paying large dividends. They've allowed only 11 goals in eight games -- an average of 1.57 goals per game -- and at no time in their history have they been so dominant in this aspect of play in the postseason.

Even in their Stanley Cup championship years they weren't this stingy. When they won the final 11 games and were totally dominant en route to their second Cup, they allowed 24 goals, an average of more than two per game.

What's more, they won yesterday without Jaromir Jagr, who might return Monday.

But whether Jagr returns or not, the Penguins, who have won six of their past seven playoff games, have the look of a team that can't possibly blow this lead.

One more thing. They have Lemieux -- not like last year.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com.

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections