BOSTON -- The nightmare did not recede when the Pittsburgh Penguins awoke from a too-short and too-haunted slumber at their hotel Thursday morning in the hours after their Game 3 loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Instead, the image of Patrice Bergeron scoring the winning goal with a nifty redirection in double overtime remained even after the Penguins' eyes fluttered open and their bodies started performing an inventory of the aches and pains absorbed during a four-hour game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There was no escaping the fate which the Penguins now face. They did lose Game 3 at TD Garden, 2-1, 15:19 into the second overtime, no less, and they are down 3-0 in the best-of-7 series that determines who represents the Eastern Conference in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
As the players rehydrated and refueled throughout Thursday morning, history haunted them constantly. The Penguins did not take the ice Thursday, staying at their hotel in an attempt to rest body and mind for the challenges ahead, starting with Game 4 on Friday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
Three teams in Stanley Cup Playoff history have trailed 3-0 and come back to win a best-of-7 series. The numbers danced in the Penguins' heads, reminding them of the daunting task.
"The first two rounds went our way and it's not going our way now in the first three games," Pittsburgh center Brandon Sutter said. "By no means are we just going to break down and give up. If you are betting right now, you're not betting on the Penguins down 3-0.
"But we're not going to quit. The percentages are obviously against us, but we have a good team and we're taking this day-by-day right now, getting ready for tomorrow. Our focus is on winning one game right now."
To do that, the Penguins have to forget about what has already come and focus on what remains.
They know they played well in Game 3 and believe if they play just a little bit better in Game 4 they can win.
"Obviously, it is not a good situation, but we are still alive," said goalie Tomas Vokoun, Pittsburgh's best player in Game 3.
The Penguins' goal can't be to win the whole series with a dominating performance in Game 4, because that is not reality and counterproductive at this point. There no longer are long-term goals for the Penguins. Instead, it is about the moment they are in. If they win that battle, they get to live to fight another one. Lose and their season will end.
"Looking at the situation, down 0-3, you can look at the odds, the history, it's not a very encouraging picture," Bylsma said. "We don’t have to win four games against the Boston Bruins. We have to win one game [Friday] night to get this thing back to the 'Burgh. That's what we have to look at."
Bylsma talked about how his team now faces four elimination games to get to the next round. In that way, it is no different than the Olympic hockey tournament, he said.
In 2010, Canada faced four win-or-go-home games on its march to the gold medal. Had the Canadians lost to Germany in the qualification playoff round, there would have been no next game. If Russia won in a highly anticipated quarterfinal, Canada's dream would have been finished. In the semis, Canada had to survive a determined Slovakian team to reach the gold-medal game. Then, it took an overtime goal from Sidney Crosby, who ironically plays for the Penguins, to finally deliver the gold.
All along that path there were hurdles that could have fatally tripped up Canada. It took a singular focus to clear them one at a time. Bylsma is asking for the same focus from his team.
"What's at stake for our future is a chance to play Game 5," Bylsma said. '[Friday] is an elimination game for our team. We have one game. We have 60 minutes. Win one game and move on to the next day."
Forward Matt Cooke has gotten the message. Thursday, he refused to discuss what the future -- as murky as it will be -- might hold if his team fails to win Friday.
"It's always about the next game," Cooke said. "There's a lot of belief in our dressing room in the group that we have and what we've accomplished. Right now it's about Game 4 and that's it.
"We need to be the team that we believe we are."
If the Penguins can embrace that belief of team, perhaps, they believe, they can escape the nightmare that has haunted them throughout the Eastern Conference Final.
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