Zero Down, Four to Go: What We're (Not) Learning

Albany 2-Penguins 0.

As the East Division semifinals of the Calder Cup playoffs shifts to Wilkes-Barre, the good guys have found themselves in a pickle. They have played two games. Both have been one goal games. However, the Pens are not on the winning side.

Oh sure, Nick Johnson had a hat trick; including two special teams goals, in Wednesday’s game. Both Brad Thiessen and John Curry have been sold in net with 34 and 29 save performances respectively. Although their goaltenders are playing decent, it appears the Pens are not learning much from the mistakes they made in the regular season.

In the first two games of this series, the Penguins have given up last minute goals to lose the series. On Wednesday, Johnson had just scored at 18:38 of the third period to make the game 3-3. Just when you and I were beginning to get giddy for playoff overtime, Nick Dodge scored at 19:08 to give the River Rats a 4-3 victory.

Last night, Konstantin Pushkarev put home a Joe Vitale pass at 14:50 of the third period to make the game 2-2. 68 seconds later, Jamie McBain won the game for the Rats. Final score: 3-2. Albany now leads the series two games to none.

I don’t know why this is happening, but in my opinion, this has to stop.

The Penguins are now at the point in the season where we can’t use the excuses we used for them in the regular season. I don’t think it’s anymore valid to say “they are learning” or “they are young”. Last minute meltdowns have consistently cost the Pens games that they could’ve easily had at least one point in. You’d think they would learn from the heartbreak of that and maybe tighten up their defense or become the “Cardiac Penguins” and answer back. So far, none of these things are happening.

Some of my fellow WBS fans just say the Pens need to play at home and everything will be OK. I don’t want to sit here and say everything will be OK. It’s not because I don’t like them, but after seeing what I have seen, it would be a lie if I sat here and said we will be OK. When fans are quick to say that a team will be fine after a loss, I see that as pretending problems don’t exist. I don’t follow that belief system.

It doesn’t matter if the Penguins were to take over the Igloo for Sunday and Monday’s game and pack 17,132 fans all clad in white into the place. If these letdowns continue, the series will be over on Monday night.

If the Penguins need to learn anything right now, it is how every minute in every postseason game could make or break their Calder Cup hopes. It is that if they do get into the next round, they are likely to run into a Hershey team who can find ways to win and capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes. Better to fix it now before a vicious Giant Center crowd and league MVP Keith Aucoin stares them in the eyes and puts some fear into their rookie hearts.

Let’s just hope the lesson doesn’t come too late.

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