It’s been hard.
It’s been hard to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins – our Pittsburgh Penguins – collapse like this. It’s been hard to watch Vegas’ Stanley Cup favorites lose their first three games of the postseason. It’s been hard to watch head coach Dan Bylsma be completely out-coached by his counterpart. It’s been hard to watch Marc-Andre Fleury and the entire defense lose every bit of confidence and it’s been hard to watch Evgeni Malkin post just four meaningless assists this series after recording 109 points in 75 regular season games.
But most of all, it’s been hard to watch our Penguins and team captain Sidney Crosby become frustrated and resort to the goonery and cheap shots most often associated with the opposing Philadelphia Flyers. We’ve watched our team become exactly what we’ve always hated the Flyers for being.
But it’s happened and there’s nothing we as fans can do to change it. All we can do is continue to root, hope and pray.
With James Neal in addition to Arron Asham and Craig Adams suspended for tonight’s game, plus the absences of defensemen Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, the Penguins will need more than our prayers to hang on and extend the series beyond tonight.
They’ll need to start, you know, playing. We haven’t seen this team play a full sixty minutes thus far in the series, much less play a full sixty minutes of Pittsburgh Penguins hockey. We’ve seen them try and outgun the Flyers and we’ve seen them fail miserably in any attempt to play technically sound defense, two things Bylsma isn’t known for.
That will be step one to extending the series; getting back to Bylsma hockey.
Step two will be keeping their heads and their confidence.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much out there to suggest the Penguins will be able to do these things. They’ve scored first in every game thus far yet they’ve squandered every lead held during the series, including multiple multi-goal first period leads. That can’t happen tonight.
I can go on and on about things the Penguins can and can’t do tonight if they want to keep playing hockey this year. Those things seem obvious to everybody, so I’ll save the words. Here are the team’s lines from today’s morning skate instead:
Sullivan – Crosby – Dupuis
Kunitz – Malkin – Kennedy
Cooke – Staal – Tangradi
Jeffrey – Vitale – Park
Martin and Michalek both missed practice. Martin won’t play whille Michalek is officially a game-time decision, but doesn’t look likely to suit up. Simon Despres was recalled from Wilkes-Barre and will play tonight.
Crosby was also reinserted onto the top power play unit with James Neal out.
I don’t know where else to go from here. The Penguins needed to change something. The lineup will be drastically different from game one of the series.
All we can do now is wait for 7:30 to come and realize that, until these two teams shake hands (which is sure to be one of the most awkward end-of-series handshakes in NHL history, by the way), anything can happen. But it has to happen one game at a time, and it has to start tonight.
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