The Penguins awoke Friday after their Game 1 loss to the Rangers encouraged about their prospects for the rest of the first-round playoff series -- with a caveat.
Yes, they expressed confidence based on what they said was an even match at even strength against the heavily favored Rangers, or maybe even a little better than even.
But they lamented that they did not get to play as much five-on-five as they would have liked, given the four penalties they took in the first period. (The Rangers had none.)
One of the four resulted in the deciding power-play goal in a 2-1 loss.
The four combined, though, prevented the Penguins from bouncing back from the Rangers' goal 28 seconds into the game, and limited the ice time of stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"We can't take that many penalties, especially in one period, where you put yourselves back on your heels and take your key payers out of the game," coach Mike Johnston said at the Pens' midtown Manhattan hotel after he canceled an off-day practice. "That was a momentum turner. But then the second and third [periods], I thought we started to take over five-on-five."
"Take over" might be a bit of an overstatement, but the Penguins did at least show they belong on the same ice sheet as the Presidents' Trophy winners.
"It's tough to get momentum when you're in the box that much," said former Islander Blake Comeau, who scored the Penguins' only goal. "After the first period, I thought it was a pretty even game."
Johnston said that in the postseason, players must walk away from provocations for the greater good. "This time of year, you want to battle, you want to compete, but you have to take it," he said.
Johnston said teams were warned before the playoffs that protecting goaltenders would be a point of emphasis.
"The standard has been set," he said, "and our players have to adjust to it."
One key to the Rangers' success was bottling up Crosby and Malkin, even after the Penguins got past their early spate of penalties. The two combined for three shots on goal.
The Penguins plan to stick with their overall approach for Game 2, on the theory that it was not far off in Game 1.
"I think besides our slow start, we gave ourselves that reason to believe we could be right there," Paul Martin said. "Five-on-five, we played a lot of the way that we wanted to play."
Said Maxim Lapierre: "I think if we take the first 10 minutes off the chart, we got better every minute of the game . . . We'll have to come in tomorrow and look them in the eye and know that we can beat them, and that's the way we're going to win this series."