PITTSBURGH -- They led 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 3-1 and 3-2 in Game 1 -- and lost.
They led 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, 3-2, 4-3 and 5-4 in Game 2 -- and lost again.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are proving they can't play with a lead in what already is a wild, unpredictable and full-throttle Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Now down 2-0 and headed to Philadelphia for a must-win Game 3 on Sunday, they'll find out if they can play from behind.
The Penguins offered plenty of reasons to explain why they couldn't hold a 3-0 lead during their 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday. Among them were a failed power play, defensive lapses and a failure to protect what should have been a safe lead.
Explaining away their 8-5 loss in Game 2 at Consol Energy Center on Friday night was much tougher. The answers certainly didn't come nearly as easily as goals did for the Flyers, who got hat tricks from both star center Claude Giroux and rookie Sean Couturier while scoring seven goals in the final two periods.
Couturier has been used all season to neutralize NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin; now he's outscoring him, too. Malkin has yet to find the net in this series; Couturier found it three times himself in the final 20:03 of Game 2.
And as the game went on and the goals began piling up – it was 4-4 even before the end of the second period – the Penguins seemed to abandon all pretense of playing a solid defensive game. By the end, after the Flyers scored the final four goals, Marc-Andre Fleury looked nothing like the goalie who lifted the Stanley Cup three years ago.
He looked more than confused -- and he wasn't alone.
"They're difficult losses, no question about it," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Both in the manner of how the games went and (that) it gives them a two-game advantage. Right now we'll have to put away this loss."
Or almost exactly what the Penguins said after Game 1.
"They scored on the power play, they scored (two) shorthanded goals too, and that's one of those things where you've got to play 60 minutes," forward Pascal Dupuis said. "The whole 60 minutes has got to be the same as the start."
The Penguins led 3-0 at the end of the first period of Game 1 and 3-1 at the end of the first period of Game 2. In the final two periods, they were outscored 11-2.
The history books show the Penguins rallied from this kind of deficit before. In 1996, they dropped the first two at home to the Capitals, then stormed back to win the next four games. Asked how hard it would be to pull off a similar comeback, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said," I don't know. I don't think we're thinking about it and going to dwell on it. We've got to win the next game."
Crosby scored only 3:43 into Game 1 and the Penguins couldn't win. He scored just 15 seconds into Game 2 – matching Greg Malone in 1981 for the fastest start-of-game goal in Penguins playoff history – and again Pittsburgh couldn't win.
And while the Penguins are 8-3-1 in their last 11 in Philadelphia, there's this: They are 0-7 against Philadelphia at Consol in games that matter over the last two seasons.
"They've got a lot of great players, and they're going to score goals," forward James Neal said. "We just need to find a way to win, close out games, and play a full 60 minutes. It's frustrating when we have such a good first period and we let it slip away."
The Flyers' biggest star -- Giroux -- is outplaying the Penguins' two big stars, Malkin and Crosby; Malkin doesn't have a goal yet in a series in which 20 have been scored. On Friday, Giroux became the first player since Mario Lemieux of Pittsburgh in 1992 to have three goals and three assists in a playoff game.
The special teams also are one-sided. The Flyers have a power-play goal in each game – they have one in each of their eight games against Pittsburgh this season – and they had two shorthanded goals, by Maxime Talbot and Giroux, in Game 2.
"They've won the special-teams game," Bylsma conceded.
"They scored a couple of shorthanded there, and that's a big momentum swing," Crosby said. "We've got to limit our mistakes, when it comes down to it. When we've made mistakes it's ended up in our net. We've got to be a lot better."
After Game 1, Flyers owner Ed Snider speculated to Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia that his team had gotten inside the Penguins' heads, given the Flyers' success in Pittsburgh. If the Penguins don't turn this series around in a hurry, they're not assured of playing another game on their home ice this season, against Philadelphia or anyone else.
"We have to be a little desperate here," Dupuis said.
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