PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins, considered one of the Stanley Cup favorites only a week ago, are on the verge of being swept in a playoff series for the first time in 33 years.
Given the opponent, the circumstances and the scores -- they've yielded eight goals in each of their last two losses -- the Penguins are having trouble finding the right words to explain what's happening to them against the cross-state Philadelphia Flyers.
But the message delivered Monday by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma summed up the feelings of a team that not only has lost three consecutive playoff games to a big rival, but also appears to have lost its way defensively while doing so.
"I think there's a little bit of shock, disbelief, disappointment in the situation being down 0-3 and how we played," Bylsma said on a conference call with reporters. "I think you'll find that to a man. We don't think in this series and in these games we've played our hockey, played good hockey. I think you see that frustration in the game build up and overflow."
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What overflowed Sunday during an 8-4 loss in Philadelphia were the pent-up emotions of a team that only days ago appeared to have the talent, depth, experience and commitment to make a lengthy run during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not only did they lose badly, they lost defenseman Kris Letang and forwards Arron Asham and Craig Adams to in-game disciplinary action; Letang fought Kimmo Timonen, Adams took an instigating penalty and Asham cross-checked and punched Brayden Schenn, earning a match penalty.
The status of Asham and forward James Neal's status for Game 4 Wednesday will be determined during separate disciplinary hearings Tuesday. Neal's hearing is the result of his hits on Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux.
The overall performance was troubling to the Penguins beyond the scoreboard; even captain Sidney Crosby wasn't immune to all the emotion that was swirling through the Wells Fargo Center. Crosby angrily swatted away Jakub Voracek's glove just as the Flyers forward was reaching to pick it up, nearly fought with Timonen and finally fought with Giroux, even if that was the last thing the Penguins wanted Crosby to do given his concussion history.
"A little bit of what we saw yesterday was him trying to spark our team and trying to get back in this thing and scratch and claw to do it," Bylsma said. "(It was) more calculated than losing emotional control."
Bylsma declined to use the word "embarrassing" to describe his team's play, but came close.
"I'm certainly not proud of the situation that happened on the ice in a lot of respects," Bylsma said. "I do know our players desperately want to win and are desperately playing and emotions boil over like that … they're competitors."
He also suggested that other teams would be responding similarly if they were under the same circumstances as the Penguins, who are coming off the second-best regular season in franchise history.
"If the shoe was on the other foot, in different situations, I think you'd see the same reaction," he said. "There was frustration built up. You have to hand the Flyers a lot of credit. In every game they've capitalized and capitalized on the opportunities they've been given and have played real well."
The Penguins are losing in about every way possible. They have given up an average of nearly seven goals per game, have been outscored 9-3 on special teams and have allowed three shorthanded goals. Marc-Andre Fleury, so strong in net three years ago when the Penguins lifted the Stanley Cup, has a 6.34 goals-against average and a save percentage of .800.
"I think there's a little bit of shock, disbelief, disappointment in the situation being down 0-3 and how we played. I think you'll find that to a man. We don't think in this series and in these games we've played our hockey, played good hockey. I think you see that frustration in the game build up and overflow."
-- Penguins' coach Dan Bylsma
While Fleury was benched for the third period Sunday, he will start Game 4. Bylsma said, "We haven't, to a man, been there for him."
"I think it's imperative, if we are going to scratch back in the series and get back in this thing, and start with a win on Wednesday, it's going to be on the strength of Marc-Andre in our net," Bylsma said.
Because of the gap between Games 3 and 4, the Penguins flew back to Pittsburgh on Sunday and won't return there until after they practice Tuesday. They took Monday off, with Bylsma probably figuring that a day away from the rink would be as productive as an hour or so on the ice.
The Penguins have been swept in four-game series only twice, by Boston in 1979 and Chicago in 1972, both times as decided underdogs. They were favored this time, a situation that is making their performance all the more disappointing.
Evgeni Malkin, the NHL's leading scorer during the season, does not have a single one of the 32 goals that have been scored in the one-sided series.
"They're a talented group, but we've given them a little too much respect and backed off in a lot of areas," Bylsma said. "We may have given them too much respect and not done what we've been successful at all year."