PHILADELPHIA -- The Penguins did not expect it to end this way.
Not this quickly.
Not this painfully.
Penguins drop Game 6 and series to Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and head coach Dan Bylsma talk about the Pens 5-1 loss to the Flyers. (video by Peter Diana; 4/22/2012)
But, when the playoff run they'd hoped would last two months was aborted in less than two weeks, they didn't have a hard time figuring out why.
Just as it's easy to understand why only three teams in NHL history have been able to win a best-of-seven after losing the first three games, as the Penguins did in their opening-round series against Philadelphia.
So, while the series might have ended with their 5-1 loss in Game 6 Sunday at Wells Fargo Center, it effectively had been lost much earlier.
"They played really, really well, and we didn't play very well for three games," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "There are obviously a lot of regrets in the room, and stuff you can't take back.
"You can't change the outcome of the first three games. When you look back at a number of things you could have done better, that's a little harder to accept."
There's much about losing their third consecutive playoff series that the Penguins will have to try to accept -- and digest -- but plenty of time for them to do it, since they couldn't escape Round 1 for the second spring in a row.
A year ago, their seven-game loss to Tampa Bay received a pass of sorts because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were injured. This defeat carries no such asterisk.
This year, the Penguins' lineup of choice -- the one they were convinced had championship potential -- was largely intact.
"Everybody, from the top down, believes this is the group that's going to let you win," left winger Chris Kunitz said. "That we can go out and compete and play with any team out there."
That wasn't evident, however, for much of the Flyers series. Game 6, the first loss in which the Penguins did not squander a lead, did nothing to change that assessment.
They simply fell behind early -- Claude Giroux beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a short-side shot 32 seconds after the opening faceoff -- and stayed there for the rest of the afternoon.
Giroux's goal came after he had dropped Crosby with a hit in the neutral zone just seconds after the game began and was the first of his three points.
"His game tonight was monstrous," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who labeled Giroux "the best player in the world."
Scott Hartnell and Erik Gustafsson ran Philadelphia's lead to 3-0 at the first intermission, then, 36 seconds after Malkin restored the Penguins' pulse with a power-play goal at 8:34 of the second, Daniel Briere scored to put the Flyers back up by three.
There still was half a game to be played, but Game 6 all but officially ended then.
There will not, of course, be a Game 7 in this series, which might be the only way the Penguins can prevent Giroux from racking up three or four more points. He finished the series with 14, just one shy of the franchise record, and easily was its dominant presence.
"He was the best player on the ice, but I don't think we were surprised by that," Orpik said. "Maybe two years ago, we'd be surprised by that. He's a guy we're well aware of and have tremendous respect for."
The Penguins' high-profile players, conversely, didn't fare nearly as well as Giroux. All -- from Crosby to Fleury, Malkin to Kris Letang -- had their moments; none had nearly enough of them. It is revealing that their shutdown center, Jordan Staal, was their top player and leading scorer.
Five of Giroux's points came on power plays, although he hardly was the only Flyer to feast on the Penguins when they were short-handed.
Philadelphia performed a six-game vivisection on the Penguins' penalty-killers -- some of the best in the league in the regular season -- by scoring on 12 of 23 chances with the extra man.
Hartnell's series-winner came during a power play, which was perfectly appropriate but hardly surprising, since Philadelphia got half of its 30 goals during the series from its special teams, including three while shorthanded.
"You can't afford to give up one [short-handed goal], let alone three or four like we did," Crosby said.
Perhaps, you can't, but the Penguins did. It's one of many things on which the Penguins can reflect when they think about this series. And about what might have been.penguins
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 23, 2012 8:30 PM