• SHARE:
  • email
  • Bookmark and Share

Penguins humbled, disappointed after being ushered from playoffs by rival Flyers

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier, left, takes Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin off the puck near the Flyers' net during the first period in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 22, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

Zoom Image

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier, left, takes Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin off the puck near the Flyers' net during the first period in Game 6 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Sunday, April 22, 2012, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The Pittsburgh Penguins never stopped believing they could beat the Philadelphia Flyers.

Not when the Flyers won the first three games of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series. Not when the Flyers raced to a quick lead in Game 4. Not even in the waning moments of Game 6, when an unlikely comeback died in a surprisingly one-sided 5-1 loss.

The Penguins began the playoffs eyeing a second Stanley Cup title in four years. The journey ended before it barely began.

Again.

A year ago, the Penguins had excuses when they fell to Tampa Bay in seven games in the opening round. Stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were out. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson played the series of his life. Pittsburgh was worn down after grinding for months without their two superstars in the lineup.

Not this time. Pittsburgh started the playoffs at full strength only to get outplayed and—even worse—outclassed by the Flyers.

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was erratic, the special teams were abysmal and the resolve Pittsburgh showed while winning 51 games during the season missing for long stretches.

"We put ourselves in a pretty big hole," Crosby said. "We pretty much had to play perfect hockey to get back in the series and did a pretty good job until today .... Just, when you put yourself three-zero, it's pretty tough to get back in."

Pittsburgh never could. There's a reason only three teams in post-season history have climbed out of 3-0 deficits to win a series. It's tough to win four straight games during the regular season, much less against your arch rival in the playoffs.

As the Flyers celebrated on Sunday afternoon, the Penguins filed slowly to the dressing room to ponder another spring that ended far too early.

The NHL's highest scoring team pumped in plenty of goals against Philadelphia. Pittsburgh found the back of the net 26 times in six games. In most series, that's plenty.

Not this one, where traditional playoff hockey sometimes took a backseat to the kind of offensive explosion normally reserved for the All-Star game.

Philadelphia scored 12 power-play goals in the series, a franchise playoff record. No matter how many defencemen the Penguins dressed or how many adjustments coach Dan Bylsma made, the Flyers had an answer.

"It's not a good feeling and the guys are definitely going to remember this feeling," Pittsburgh centre Jordan Staal said. "Hopefully we can take something positive out of it and really do what we can next year."

Staal's sentiments were a familiar refrain throughout the dressing room of a franchise that looked like a burgeoning dynasty not so long ago.

Pittsburgh made consecutive Cup finals in 2008 and 2009, winning it all three years ago behind the spectacular play of Malkin and Fleury.

Three straight springs have produced dismal results. Two years ago, the Penguins fell to unheralded Montreal in the conference semifinals. Last year, the Lightning stormed back from 3-1 down. This time the Penguins ever had the advantage after squandering an early three-goal lead in Game 1.

Now the question becomes how much longer the core will remain intact. Crosby and Staal can become free agents after next season.

Though it's a near certainty the Penguins will do what they can to keep Crosby, they may not be able to afford Staal, who had six goals and three assists against the Flyers and was easily Pittsburgh's best player in the series.

Staal is hardly ready to look too far down the road.

"I love the guys in this room and I believe in every one of the guys in the room," he said. "I think we have the character in this room to not give up. We didn't give up in the series and it was too bad we still came up short."

Something that wasn't supposed to happen for one of the NHL's marquee franchises. Any major off-season moves will likely focus on shoring up a defence that floundered late in the year and was totally exposed by the Flyers.

Either way, the Penguins will have to wait 12 long months to get another shot and spend the next six weeks watching the chase to this year's Cup carry on without them.

"That's hockey sometimes," Crosby said. "You don't always get to achieve the stuff you want to and there's a lot of other teams that want the same thing. It's not a good feeling, but that being said, we've got to find some way to learn from this and be better for it."

___

AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed to this report.

More Stories

Pittsburgh Penguins season capsule

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS LAST SEASON: 51-24-7, 109 points. Won Metropolitan Division. Lost to New...

Crosby, Penguins face same "Cup or Bust" expectations with new coaching staff, front office

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - The puck is the same size. So is the rink. The goal too. So forgive...

Kasperi Kapanen, Andrew Ebbett score in first period, Penguins beat Blue Jackets 2-1

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Kasperi Kapanen and Andrew Ebbett scored in the first period to help the...

Winger Steve Downie looking to bring toughness and grit to Penguins

PITTSBURGH, Pa. - Winger Steve Downie and assistant coach Rick Tocchet came off of the ice and...
blog comments powered by Disqus

THN on Twitter

What do you think the struggling Toronto Maple Leafs need more right now – a major trade, or to fire coach Randy Carlyle?




Contests

Our Partners