PITTSBURGH -- There is no more daunting challenge in any sport than trying to rally from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven playoff series. Such a comeback has been successfully mounted only three times in 167 attempts in Stanley Cup Playoffs history, only once in Major League Baseball and not a single time in the NBA.
But the Philadelphia Flyers of 2010 gave hope to all teams who find themselves in the most precarious of positions by surging back from three games down and a 3-0 deficit against Boston in Game 7 to win the final four games and the series. Last season, the Blackhawks and Red Wings both forced a Game 7 after being down 3-0.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who have a history of pulling off improbable comebacks, are trying now to climb the steepest of playoff mountains. Not just beaten but embarrassed while losing the first three games of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series to the Philadelphia Flyers by 4-3 in overtime, 8-5 and 8-4, they managed to pull off a 10-3 rout in Game 4 to force a Game 5 Friday night at Consol Energy Center.
PENGUINS VS. FLYERS
Asham dares to dream the improbable
By Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent While the Penguins remain one loss from elimination, forward Arron Asham knows from experience a comeback can be made. READ MORE ›
Maybe that's why, instead of it being the end to their season, the Penguins are looking to Game 4 as hopefully being the beginning of a comeback. Still, they know they can't afford one more bad game, perhaps even one more bad period.
The Flyers, however, failed to close the series on home ice. The Penguins are hoping that's the opening they need.
"All the pressure is on them," defenseman Zbynek Michalek said Friday. "They got a 3-0 lead and everybody wrote us off, and didn't give us any chance. We won Game 4, got us some confidence and [Friday] it's a new game. We still know it's a do or die for us. … (But) we believe if we play our game the way we can, we will be fine."
Obviously, these are desperate times for the Penguins, but they have some history of operating successfully as a desperate team. In 2009, they were down 3-2 to Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final and managed to win both series by taking the final two games.
"I think it helps from the experience of being down, you try to use the experiences you have," captain Sidney Crosby said. "But most times (the circumstances) are not the same. In that situation (2009) we had played pretty good hockey, didn't make a lot of mistakes, but we got some bad bounces and lost. In this situation we didn't feel like our game was where we needed it to be and we knew we could improve a lot more. We have to make sure our game is where it needs to be -- we have no other option."
This comeback must be twice as good -- the Penguins must win four in a row merely to keep their season going, not just two straight -- but they believe it is possible despite the long odds and their proven inability to beat Philadelphia on their own home ice. The Flyers are 7-1 at Consol Energy Center, with the only loss being a virtually meaningless end-of-season game two weeks ago.
Penguins forward Arron Asham, who was part of the Flyers' comeback team, said playing with desperation can be a good thing because it keeps every player focused not on a lone game, but every shift.
"In this situation we didn't feel like our game was where we needed it to be and we knew we could improve a lot more. We have to make sure our game is where it needs to be -- we have no other option." -- Penguins' captain Sidney Crosby
"You have to turn the page and start over," Penguins defenseman Kris Letang said. "The focus has to be there. The first three games it was tough to get focused, there was a lot of up and down (play) with a lot of scrums and a lot of whistles. We have to focus like we did in Game 4, and no matter what happens on the ice, keep that focus."
As forward Jordan Staal, the worst thing a team could do now is thinking about winning four in a row.
"It's about winning one game and we'll go from there," Staal said.
Coach Dan Bylsma wants it broken down into smaller increments than that.
"We've got one game and it starts with the first five minutes, the first 20 minutes and we need to be at our best," Bylsma said. "The building needs to be at its best, the fans need to be at their best, the people outside watching need to be at their best."
And now that they've reduced it to 3-1, the Penguins can look back into their deep past for assurance that such a comeback is possible. They won the final three games and the series from Washington in both 1992 and 1995.