Painful memories still linger for Penguins
Jayson Megna, left, and Sidney Crosby, right, battle for the puck behind the net in the second period.
Pens fans line the glass watching practice before the scrimmage.
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The Penguins have had nine months to think about it.
Or, more to the point, to try to forget it.
Few have. Some might never. Most probably shouldn't.
And, when the Penguins walk into Wells Fargo Center Saturday in Philadelphia to start a new season, memories -- nearly all of them cruel -- of how the previous one ended figure to wash over them.
They will remember the blown leads in their six-game, first-round loss to the Flyers. The defensive implosions. The porous penalty-killing. The inability to generate (or prevent) goals at critical junctures.
And mostly, they will be reminded what it feels like to have what was supposed to be a serious run at the Stanley Cup aborted in Round 1 by their most bitter rival.
Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
3 p.m. Saturday.
"The Flyers are the Flyers," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "I hate losing to them."
It's scant consolation to the Penguins that they lost entirely on merit. That they earned their seat in front of the television for the final three rounds of the postseason.
"I remember at different points, just kind of being in shock," center Sidney Crosby said. "A lot of different flashes go through my mind when I think about the series.
"Basically, what it came down to was, we didn't deserve to win. We didn't play well enough, all the way through."
Actually, there were a few times when they did.
Such as in the first period of Game 1 at Consol Energy Center, when they scored three unanswered goals. And the opening 20 minutes of Game 2, when they built a 3-1 lead.
Both times, those dominating starts failed to produce a victory.
Although the series formally did not end until a 5-1 Flyers victory April 22, the Penguins were effectively out of it when they faced a 2-0 deficit as the series shifted to Philadelphia.
"If you looked at the way we started the first couple of games, it was perfect," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It was textbook, exactly what we wanted. And it just kind of collapsed from there.
"Once you dig yourself a hole like that against any team in this league, really, it's tough to come out of. There aren't a lot of bad teams anymore, and Philly was a pretty good team last year."
The Flyers got sensational performances from the likes of Claude Giroux, easily the best player in the series, but there's little question the Penguins self-immolated, as well.
Why that happened isn't nearly so obvious, although Orpik offered an intriguing perspective.
"It was just a big lack of confidence," he said. "I think it was more a mental collapse than anything.
"You can dissect play after play, but I think the overwhelming reason on every play, if you looked at it there were hockey mistakes, but they were all tentative mistakes, really. Guys who were maybe afraid to make a mistake.
"On the [penalty-kill], you're going out there hoping they didn't score rather than going out there to kill a penalty. Our attitude was a little fragile."
Yeah, a little. Like butterfly wings that have been marinated in liquid nitrogen.
That was particularly evident when the Penguins were short-handed.
In the regular season, their penalty-killing success rate of 87.8 percent was third-best in the NHL. In the playoffs, it was 47.8, possibly the worst in the history of organized hockey.
"One of our strengths during the season was our [penalty-killing], and we had a rough one in the playoffs," Fleury said. "That was definitely a key point in the series.
"I didn't play every game the way I wanted to, and that hurt, too."
Not that he was alone. Almost any Penguins player who came out of that series satisfied with his work probably wasn't paying much attention.
"That was crazy bad," Fleury said. "Everything just went all wrong, all the time."
Breaking down the details of what caused the Penguins' hopes for a Cup to curdle so early, and so emphatically, is a job for the coaching staff, which had more than enough time to handle that task. A lot of players reflected on that in the offseason, as well, although it's unlikely any reached a satisfactory conclusion.
"I don't think it's one that's easy to analyze -- I think we've all tried to do it -- but even if you ask people outside the series, they'll never be able to explain fully what happened," Crosby said.
"It's kind of a weird one. I'm glad it's behind us."
First Published January 17, 2013 12:00 am