The Penguins might have thought after their 8-4 loss Sunday in Philadelphia -- a defeat that put them in a 3-0 hole in their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series -- that things couldn't possibly get worse for them.
If so, they were wrong.
They face the very real possibility of playing Game 4 Wednesday night in Philadelphia without first-line right winger James Neal, who scored two goals Sunday but also delivered controversial hits to Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.
He will have a separate telephone hearing for each of those incidents today with Brendan Shanahan, who handles supplementary discipline for the league.
Giroux and Couturier appeared wobbly after the hits, and Couturier briefly left the game.
"It was kind of a weird hit," Giroux said Monday of the hit from Neal. "He kind of got his elbow in my head, but I'm fine.
"The one on Sean, kind of a late hit. ... I think it was a pretty dirty hit."
Coach Dan Bylsma said the Penguins hope to know whether Neal will be available for Game 4 before practice today, so they can make personnel adjustments, if necessary.
The Penguins virtually are guaranteed to be without fourth-line winger Arron Asham, who will have an in-person hearing with Shanahan.
That means Asham, who got a match penalty for delivering a head-level cross-check to Philadelphia's Brayden Schenn, then punching him when he was on the ice, can be suspended for six or more games, although there is no mandate that his punishment be that severe.
Schenn received a charging minor for a hit he delivered before Asham went after him.
The NHL will not rescind the automatic one-game suspension right winger Craig Adams received in connection with a penalty he was assessed Sunday.
Adams was given an instigator minor with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Per Rule 46.22, that carries a one-game suspension, unless the league office decides it should be revoked.
Adams will not be available for Game 4 Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center, and Bylsma will have to pay a $10,000 fine.
Winger Scott Hartnell said in his fight with Adams he had his jersey torn and his bushy hair pulled.
"You look at some of the plays, and I think a couple of [Penguins] took liberties with our guys -- not only trying to hit to be effective; they were hitting to hurt," Hartnell said. "That's not the game of hockey, not the way it's supposed to be played."
Bylsma suggested that the acts that drew the league's attention are rooted in the Penguins' exasperation with how the series is playing out.
"[I'm] certainly not proud of the situation that happened on the ice in the game, in a lot of respects," he said. "But I do know our players desperately want to win and are desperately playing.
"The emotions that boil over in situations like that ... they're competitors. ... Any team in that situation, it's an emotional response."
The Penguins have been carrying three spare forwards, so if any combination of Neal, Adams and Asham is not available for Game 4, Bylsma could replace them from a group that includes Joe Vitale, Eric Tangradi and Dustin Jeffrey.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has made it clear he is not the least bit satisfied with how the series -- especially Games 2 and 3 -- has gone for him.
No surprise there, given that he's 0-3, with a 6.34 goals-against average and .798 save percentage.
Bylsma, though, went out of his way to stress that Fleury should not be held solely accountable for the precarious position in which the Penguins find themselves.
And that if they are to somehow escape their seemingly hopeless situation, Fleury is the guy who will pull them out.
"It's imperative that if we are going to scratch back into the series and get back in this thing and start with a win in Philly Wednesday, it's going to be on the strength of Marc-Andre Fleury in our net," Bylsma said.
"There are 18 guys in front of him who really, as a group, we haven't been there, to a man, for him. It's not just Marc-Andre Fleury. We need the strength of him going forward in the next four games."
In the emotional moments after Game 3, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby crossly and repeatedly said he did not like any member of the Flyers .
"I guess we've got to be doing something right if he hates us, right?" Giroux said.
Asked if the feeling is mutual, Giroux said: "Well, after the first three games, it's got to be hard to like them. We're not big fans of them. That's why the series is so entertaining for the fans."
For the Flyers fans, anyway.
"It was a great hockey game," Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said of Game 3. "I got so many texts after the game. If you're just a fan of the sport, the enjoyment level of watching the game was great. It was back and forth. It was toe-to-toe. There were hits. There were fights. There were goals.
"I had a lot of people texting me saying it was one of the best games, if not the best game, they've ever seen. ... They thought the game was wildly entertaining."
The Penguins did not practice Monday. They will work out today at Consol Energy Center before flying to Philadelphia. ... The Flyers held a meeting at their practice facility in Voorhees, N.J., but did not skate.
First Published April 17, 2012 12:00 AM