Penguins Go Down Fighting as Season Pushed to Brink

When Scott Hartnell predicted that his Philadelphia Flyers’ series with the Pittsburgh Penguins had the potential to turn into “a bloodbath,” Game 3 – with its 158 penalty minutes and 38 penalties, including a match penalty and two game misconducts – was probably something like what he had in mind.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the series has been something of a bloodbath on the scoresheets, too. With Sunday’s 8-4 rout of the Penguins, the Flyers have a team that was considered a Stanley Cup favorite on the brink of being swept out of the playoffs in the first round.

Game 3 featured plenty of the freewheeling offense both teams have produced throughout the series. Just in case anyone had forgotten the intensity with which these teams dislike one another, however, it also featured:

  • two melees – one in the first period, one in the third – involving virtually every player on the ice;
  • a fight between Flyers star Claude Giroux and Penguins captain Sidney Crosby;
  • each team’s best defenseman, Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang and Philadelphia’s Kimmo Timonen, being ejected from the game midway through the first after a haymaker-filled fight;
  • the Penguins’ Arron Asham earning a match penalty shortly after that for cross-checking Flyers rookie Brayden Schenn after he had charged Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin, then punching Schenn when he was down;
  • Penguins winger James Neal leveling Philadelphia’s Sean Courturier late in the third, leaving his feet on a hit the rookie didn’t see coming; and
  • Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams getting into a late-game scrap with Hartnell that included hair-pulling.

“There was a lot of extracurricular activity during and after the plays,” said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma. “And that’s an area of the game we want to stay away from; we don’t want to be involved in those situations against this team. But the emotions are high and you saw it, numerous times tonight, spill over for both teams.”

“There’s more than one team getting in those things, so you can make a story all you want about us getting frustrated, but we didn’t,” Crosby said. “We’re playing playoff hockey. It’s intense, and they’re doing the same things we are.”

When a hockey game broke out amidst all the bad blood, the Flyers continued to dominate the special-teams battle, adding three power-play goals and one shorthanded marker to their series total of five and three, respectively.

And, although the Penguins again scored first, as they have in all three contests, Pittsburgh simply couldn’t sustain momentum as something – an ill-timed penalty, a lapse in defensive coverage, a bad bounce – consistently gave the Flyers the opportunity to answer.

“They’d score, we’d counter, come back with a big goal and think momentum was on our side, then we’d turn around again and it’s in the back out of our net,” Neal said. “Tough to keep having that happen to you; it just takes the wind out of your sails.”

“I don’t have a good reason for [why that’s happened],” Bylsma said. “There have been some abnormal things that we’ve seen in pretty much every game that we’ve played, from Game 1 to this game, just some strange situations.

“Today they get a [bouncing] shorthanded goal, it’s tough to explain that one, and we get up with the lead and find an interesting way [to fall behind]. I don’t think it’s been one thing, but we’ve made some mistakes, and they’ve cost us every game.”

Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins’ Stanley Cup-winning goaltender, wasn’t able to shut the door on Philadelphia’s responses, and was pulled after allowing six goals in the first two periods.

“It’s frustrating,” Fleury said. “They’ve got some scoring chances sometimes and I’ve got to make some key saves to keep my team in it, [but] it seems like every time they have one, they bury it.”

Despite Fleury’s shakiness, however – he’s 0-6 in his last six playoff appearances – Pittsburgh continues to have faith in its netminder, who finished second in the NHL this year with 42 wins.

“The games have not come down to Marc-Andre’s goaltending, but mistakes that we’ve made, situations we’ve put our team in,” Bylsma said. “And I know Marc-Andre’s going to be the guy in our net for the next four games.”

If the Penguins are going to play four more games this season, however, they’ve got to start by staving off elimination Wednesday in Game 4. They could be without a few players – Adams receives an automatic one-game suspension for taking an instigator penalty in the last five minutes of play, unless the NHL decides the Penguins weren’t trying to send a message and waives it; Asham will almost certainly incur supplemental discipline; and Neal’s hit also figures to warrant a look by the Department of Player Safety.

“I’m flying through the neutral zone; I’m regrouping,” said Neal, who scored two of Pittsburgh’s goals – center Jordan Staal scored the other two – and fired 10 shots on goal, double that of any player on either team. “I didn’t even mean to hit him; I don’t know if the puck was in his feet or where it was. I let up as much as I could; it is what it is.”

The Penguins still believe that they can turn the series around by getting back to the style of play that made them one of the NHL’s best teams this year. With their season pushed to the brink, they’re running out of time.

“We know what we have to do, and we’ve got to do it more consistently,” Crosby said. “Nobody’s in here pointing fingers; the fact of the matter is that we’ve made mistakes that have hurt us. There have been different reasons for that but, whatever the case is, there’s no point in going on now.

“We’ve got to win a hockey game here next time.”

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