It was a meltdown of epic proportions.
There is no doubt the Pittsburgh Penguins felt they needed to establish a physical presence in Sunday afternoon's Game 3 at the Wells Fargo Center. But the day obviously went nothing like they had planned, as the Philadelphia Flyers took full advantage of the Pens' total and complete lack of composure in an 8-4 shellacking.
There were 158 penalty minutes in the game, and rather uncharacteristically, 89 of those went to the visitors. Five different Pittsburgh players ended the day with double-digit PIMs -- Kris Letang and Craig Adams each with 17, James Neal and Deryk Engelland each with 12, and Arron Asham with 10.
Dan Bylsma's squad has been very disciplined since he took over the team in February of 2009, and the ugly, selfish outbursts that ended up costing his club Sunday are the types of things that never seem to happen to the team from the 'Burgh.
The game, quite simply, was won on special teams. Incredibly, with the disparity in PIMs, the power play opportunities ended up even at six apiece, but it's what each team did with those chances that decided the contest. The Flyers scored three times with the man advantage, while their counterparts from the western side of Pennsylvania were successful just once -- while yielding a shorthanded marker to Maxime Talbot.
As a matter of fact, Talbot's shorthander came at a crucial time. Already trailing by a 1-0 score -- the third consecutive game in which Philadelphia fell behind early -- Jakub Voracek was called for a high-sticking minor less than two minutes after the Penguins' goal.
With a golden opportunity to go up by a pair, Pittsburgh instead began a pattern of self-destruction.
Claude Giroux broke out on a shorthanded rush with Talbot, and the ex-Penguin was able to swat the rebound of Giroux's shot toward the Pens' net. A Pittsburgh defenders got a partial stick onTalbot's shot, which seemed to put a crazy spin on the puck as it caromed toward Marc-Andre Fleury. As he went to glove the shot, it bounced between his left pad and mitt and squibbed across the goal line to tie the contest at 1-1.
As the shot entered the net, Matt Niskanen -- who was seeing action in his first game of the series -- was in the process of working Giroux over at the side of the net. The defenseman was whistled for an extra cross-checking minor in addition to the coincidental roughing minors, sending the Flyers to their first power play chance of the afternoon.
Another ex-Penguin would figure in the ensuing sequence, as Jaromir Jagr sent a pass to Scott Hartnell at the side of the net to Fleury's left. Fleury came out to take away Hartnell's angle and with nowhere to shoot the left winger sent a perfect cross-crease pass to Briere, who roofed a shot over Fleury's desperation dive to give Philly their first lead of the game at 2-1 at the 8:19 mark.
After Neal picked up a power play goal of his own midway through the second period to cut the Flyers' lead to 4-3, the man advantage unit struck again when Chris Kunitz took a tripping minor. This time, it was Jagr finding Matt Read in the left hash marks, and the rookie made no mistake in netting his second goal of the game to give Philly a two-goal lead at 5-3.
Philadelphia yielded a goal to Jordan Staal just over a minute later to make it a 5-4 contest, and as play entered the last minute of the middle frame, it appeared it would be a one-goal game heading into the third.
But defenseman Braydon Coburn had other ideas, finding Wayne Simmonds with a long home run pass to spring the winger for a breakaway. Simmonds went forehand-backhand and tucked it past Fleury with 46 seconds left in the stanza, giving Philly some much-needed breathing room at 6-4 heading into the third.
Brent Johnson replaced Fleury to start the third period, and it became apparent the Flyers were likely on their way to a 3-0 series lead after Giroux made it a 7-4 game in the first half minute.
After a wild melee broke out with 4:42 remaining in regulation -- which looked a lot like the Penguins attempting to vent some of their mounting series frustrations -- Talbot notched his second of the game on the resultant man advantage to set the game's final score.
Some of the carnage from Pittsburgh's game plan could have continued fallout, as suspension(s) could be forthcoming for several Pens.
- Asham would seem like an automatic. The ex-Flyer took offense to a clean Brayden Schenn hit along the boards and responded by cross-checking Schenn across the throat, then punching Schenn to the back of the head after he had fallen to the ice. Asham received a match penalty for intent to injure, one of the few calls the officials actually got right during the tilt. "That's just his temper rising, nothing more than that," reasoned Schenn after the game. "Really nothing really more than a cross-check and a punch." We'll see if NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan feels the same way. Suspension-worthy? Absolutely. Shanaban probability? Likely. Asham was actually given a match penalty for intent to injure, so even the on-ice fumbled their ways to that conclusion. Throw in the fact that Asham is a bottom-six player and not a huge loss to the Pittsburgh lineup, and it's a pretty easy move for Shanahan to make to enforce a suspension.
- Neal was Pittsburgh's best player all afternoon -- two goals and three points, a +2 rating, and 10 shots on goal -- but he was also heavily involved in some of the Pens' misdeeds. "No, it hasn't been a problem for us," said Neal, believing his team has been able to retain their composure. "Obviously, we got a way from that tonight with emotions running high." Neal was involved in two ugly incidents in the third period, one of which wasn't even penalized. Seconds after the puck left the area at center ice where Sean Couturier was skating, the Penguin lined him up, left his feet, and delivered a high, hard hit on an unsuspecting player. "Well, on Coots, he didn't have the puck and Neal hit him," said Jagr. "The puck wasn't even close, nowhere close. I thought it was kind of dirty play." Head coach Peter Laviolette concurred. "It's hard to watch," he said. "We've got a young player on the ice who's playing some great hockey. So it's difficult to see that." Couturier, who had a head injury earlier in the year that was never officially diagnosed as a concussion, was left writhing on the ice after the hit. When no penalty was legislated on Neal, he went out of his way to go for another Flyer, this time Giroux. He went for the high hit, catching Giroux -- who missed four games in December with a concussion -- in the head with an elbow. Giroux was dazed, quickly losing his balance and looking like Bambi trying to walk on ice as he attempted to get back up to his skates. Suspension-worthy? Absolutely. Shanaban probability? Not likely, given the preferential treatment star players have been shown (see Shea Weber situation on Henrik Zetterberg hit) and the ridiculousness of the League-wide inconsistencies of the NHL's Wheel of Justice. Neal is usually a solid citizen and honest player, but sometimes good players do dumb things, and Neal was guilty of that twice within a few minutes. Nonetheless, look for Neal to be given a fine or maybe two, but the star factor will almost certainly come into play and save the 40-goal man.
- While Hartnell -- public enemy No. 1 in Pittsburgh for some time now -- was engaged in a scrap with Sidney Crosby, Adams came into the fracas as the third man in, and began to throw haymakers at (again) an unsuspecting and defenseless player. The numerous punches were thrown from behind as Hartnell was prone against the boards, knocking his helmet off his head. Suspension-worthy? Absolutely. Shanaban probability? An automatic one-game ban, unless the NHL decides to rescind the instigator penalty he received in the game's final five minutes. If Adams' suspension is upheld, Bylsma would also receive an automatic $10.000 fine.
The actions of all three players are the exact type of thing the NHL is preaching they are attempting to get rid of as they try to make the game safer for the players.
Shanahan came into his job guns a-blazing, handing out suspensions to players for their dirty actions on the ice, and it was viewed as a breath of fresh air as the consistency factor was something that had been horrific in the Colin Campbell-era preceding Shanny.
But that has since gone by the wayside, as Shanahan's calls on player accountability have looked like Campbell is standing behind a curtain and making the decisions himself, akin to the Great Oz.
"I saw that one," said Briere of the Neal hit on Couturier. "Frustration. It was the same thing he did on Claude (Giroux) after that. He is not the only one. For us, we can't worry about that. We can't control that. All we can control is ourselves, the way we stand up for each other, they way we stick together and at the same time the way we stay composed. I thought we did a really good job of that today."
"We have been talking about the whole series," said Kimmo Timonen on the issue of remaining disciplined. "We are not going to get any favors from the referees or league. We have to be the ones that stay disciplined. I thought we have been doing a pretty good job at it. Obviously, it looks like they are not."
And speaking of Crosby, Hartnell said "The Kid" has instigated much of the ugly stuff that has transpired after whistles.
"I think after every scrum we made it a point to walk away every time, and I think Crosby started almost every scrum," the mopped-haired winger said after the game. "You know, the fight that he had with Giroux, the last one he came and grabbed me from behind and for almost every thing he was out there. If they're trying to get under our skin, they're not. They're just getting more frustrated with themselves, which is great."
Indeed, the Flyers have done the better job of keeping it together throughout the series. And the club's special teams have made sure to make the Penguins pay for their undisciplined play.
In the past, we have seen games like these where the Flyers have come unglued sometimes too often. But today, it was the "NHL's model franchise" that fell to pieces.
It will be interesting to see if Bylsma can put them back together in time to recover and get themselves back into the series.