Depleted Penguins try to stay afloat
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Penguins' first-round playoff series against Philadelphia has produced a lot of numbers.
Some are large.
Like Claude Giroux's points-per-game average (2.67) and Max Talbot's plus-minus rating (+5).
Some are small.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 7:38 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
- TV, radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ilya Bryzgalov for Flyers.
- Penguins: Have not been swept in a series since 1979 quarterfinals by Boston. ... Have scored first in all three games. ... Fleury is 4-4 in career when facing elimination.
- Flyers: Are 3-7 in Game 4 when leading a series, 3-0. ... Are 6 for 10 on power play and have three short-handed goals. ... Nicklas Grossmann leads both teams with 10 blocked shots.
- Hidden stat: Penguins winger Matt Cooke leads the series with 14 hits and has no penalty minutes.
Like Marc-Andre Fleury's save percentage (.798) and the Penguins' plus-minus for goals scored on their power plays (0).
No matter which figures one examines, however, or how they are crunched, they always yield the same total: 0-3.
That's the deficit the Penguins face going into Game 4 at 7:38 today at 7:38 at Wells Fargo Center.
Lose again, and their visit to the postseason will be over just a week after it began. And the franchise will have a playoff embarrassment to rival blowing a 3-0 lead against the New York Islanders in 1975.
The Flyers have, to this point, given little reason to think the Penguins can take the series back to Consol Energy Center for a Game 5 Friday night.
They have had an edge in virtually every facet of the game -- a significant one in several of them -- and have prodded the Penguins into the kind of on-ice temper tantrums, lapses in judgment and loss of focus that used to be virtual trademarks of the Flyers anytime emotions spiked.
But if the Penguins have any hope of injecting even a little suspense into the series, it actually is rooted in the way Philadelphia has dominated to this point.
The Penguins, to a man, acknowledge how well the Flyers have played. And, to a man, they admit that no one should accuse them of doing the same.
It is that potential for improvement, they say, that convinces them that elimination in this round is not necessarily inevitable.
"If we felt like we played really well for three games, and, all of a sudden, we're down, 0-3, then you're like, 'Wow. Maybe this team is a lot better than us,' " defenseman Brooks Orpik said Tuesday.
"They've been really good for three games and they're a really good team.
"The thing that gives you hope is that we know we haven't played well for a full game, or probably even half a game."
Producing 60 -- or more -- solid minutes tonight might have gotten a bit more challenging since Game 3 because the Penguins will be without first-line right winger James Neal and two fourth-line wingers, Craig Adams and Arron Asham.
The NHL announced Tuesday night that Neal has been suspended for one game and that Asham has been suspended for four games for their actions Sunday in the Penguins' 8-4 loss in Game 3.
Losing Neal will be a severe blow to the Penguins' offense; he scored 40 goals in the regular season, got two in Game 3 and is tied for the team's playoff scoring lead with five points.
Generating goals hasn't been a major issue for the Penguins in this series. They have produced an average of four per game, which is a pretty healthy total under normal circumstances.
There is, however, very little normal about giving up 20 goals in three games, as they have done to this point. The quality of their team defense has, for the most part, run the gamut from porous to pathetic, and, if that doesn't change in Game 4, the Penguins can expect to be on the wrong side of a handshake line before the night is over.
"We're making mistakes," defenseman Kris Letang said. "And they're making us pay every time."
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury deserves some blame for that. His teammates are giving him no margin for error, but Fleury has made a few grievous ones, like mishandling the Max Talbot shot that became a shorthanded goal in the first period of Game 3.
Still, Fleury has gotten very little help from his teammates. Georges Vezina would have a bloated goals-against average if he was playing behind a team that executed the way the Penguins have in this series.
"We can't keep the puck out of our net," winger Steve Sullivan said. "We're scoring enough goals to win hockey games. We have to figure out a way to stop them from scoring. If we can do that, we think we can win a game."
Maybe even a few.
The Penguins, predictably, insist they believe they can rebound in this series, even though only three teams in league history have won a best-of-seven after starting 0-3.
"We know we can win one game," coach Dan Bylsma said. "We know we can win four games in a row.
"But, right now, we're focused on the first period, and winning the first period."
First Published April 18, 2012 10:27 pm