The Pittsburgh Penguins are the Mike Tyson of the NHL — they're full of big names, are always a topic of national discussion, and haven't actually won anything significant in a long time. Like Mr. Tyson, the Penguins don't deal well with adversity, and similar to Iron Mike, if you push back, there's reason to believe they'll crumble.
While the Rangers 3-2 overtime victory in game one won't be enough to make Pittsburgh unravel just yet, it's a start.
The uncomfortable truth around the NHL is that the mental state of it's most visible team — the Pittsburgh Penguins — and it's banner player — Sidney Crosby — has been teetering on the brink for several seasons now. Take the first period of Friday's game as an example. Pittsburgh came out flat, the Blueshirts sprung out to a 2-0 lead, and the tension in the building was immediately palpable. For the first period of a seven game series, there was undue angst in the Penguins game. But, that's what happens when the past four years have been filled with high profile flops and failures.
The Penguins — to their credit — didn't fold, and used a penalty riddled second to seize the momentum of the game, but losing game one on home ice puts the pressure squarely on the shoulders of the home team in preparation for tonight's game two. Marc-Andre Fleury surely won't be allowed to forget Benoit Pouliot's early goal which glanced off the netminders shoulder and into the net. Crosby will hear about his minus-3 on Friday and the fact that he's now gone an unfathomable 12 playoff games without a goal.
How Pittsburgh responds will be anyones guess, but adversity has not been the Pens friend lately. This is a team that hasn't come from behind to win a playoff series since the first round in 2010, a team that was embarrassed by heavy underdog Boston last season, and lost all semblance of composure in being ousted by Philadelphia the year before that. It's the Rangers job to get them doubting themselves, to make Crosby and Malkin more concerned with throwing punches than scoring goals, and to make Fleury wilt.
Punch the bully in the mouth and he'll crumble — it's what did Tyson in — and it's a strategy that's turned the Penguins — hockey deities not long ago — into mere mortals. The blueprint is there — now it's up to the Rangers to follow it.
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