PITTSBURGH -- One of the characteristics of the Pittsburgh Penguins in recent playoff losses has been the under-the-skin factor.
As in, they've let teams get under their skin, fallen out character with retaliatory penalties and become engaged in stuff away from the play.
And while the Columbus Blue Jackets aren't the the Philadelphia Flyers, the Penguins' chief nemesis in this matter (head coach Todd Richards went to great lengths to insist they were going to play their game, not the Flyers' game), they are a team that loves the physical play and their identity is tied up in a physical forecheck.
In Game 1, skilled Penguins defenseman Kris Letang found himself called for a retaliatory slashing penalty in the second period after a particularly hard hit by Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner. The Blue Jackets did not score on the ensuing power play but they did score one goal with the man advantage.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma wasn't too pleased with the Letang play and acknowledged as much Thursday, a day the Penguins took off with Game 2 set for Saturday in Pittsburgh.
"He got a message," Bylsma said. "That's something he's got to be better at. And that's something we have to be better [at] as a group."
Skilled players are always going to be targeted, especially in a playoff series, the coach added, and it's up to teams to be prepared for that kind of physical play and accept it as part of the process.
"You have to expect it and deal with it," Bylsma said. "We know it's coming. We have to be better at it in our reaction."
Former NHL defenseman Phil Bourque, a Stanley Cup champion with the Penguins in 1991 and 1992, had an even more blunt assessment of the issue for the Penguins.
"I don't think I can sugarcoat this," Bourque told ESPN.com. "It's got to stop.
"There needs to be a line in the sand drawn that this cannot continue, whether you're playing the Columbus Blue Jackets or anybody else in the playoffs. The retaliation stuff is the stuff that's going to bite you right on the backside. You're going to lose games, you're going to lose games, which [is] going to lead to losing [the] series."
The longtime broadcast analyst speculated that the Blue Jackets will see a reaction like Letang's and increase their efforts to get under the Penguins’ collective skin as this series progresses.