PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Arron Asham #45 of the Pittsburgh Penguins gets a match penalty for high sticking Brayden Schenn #10 of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
The Pittsburgh Penguins were completely out of character both during and after Game 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. They sullied their reputation and embarrassed their Hall of Fame owner in the process.
When the Vancouver Canucks fell to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night, they plummeted into a 3-0 series hole that seems impossible to climb out of. It's not that the President's Trophy winners can't pull off the miraculous feat, but the chances of it happening are absolutely slim-to-none. It's only happened three times in hockey history.
But the Canucks are at least going down with dignity. Sure, they might dive and they might complain to the officials after the game has already been decided, like Alex Burrows did immediately after the final horn at Staples Center following Game 3, but they're keeping their cool about them. They aren't turning the game into a joke.
The same cannot be said for the Pittsburgh Penguins. In their Game 3 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday, the Penguins sullied their reputation as a team and an organization that does things the right way and handles itself with class. The golden boy image of their superstar, Sidney Crosby, was perhaps irreversibly damaged, and the way the team behaved turned their Hall of Fame owner into an outright hypocrite.
We'll get the disclaimer out of the way right near the top, by the way: I'm a Philadelphia Flyers fan. I grew up hating all things Pittsburgh Penguins, and I still hate all things Pittsburgh Penguins. But while hating the Pens, I begrudgingly respected them. I respected the hell of out them, in fact, not only because they've won two Stanley Cups far more recently than my team has, but that in winning their third Stanley Cup in 2009, they acted with the dignity and class we've come to expect from the organization.
I can't say I woke up Monday morning feeling the same way. Not off an afternoon that saw Arron Asham throw cross-checks at the neck of Brayden Schenn after Schenn threw a clean hit on Matt Cooke. (You might say it's a two-minute charging minor. I won't argue with you. It doesn't warrant that response -- or frankly any response -- from Asham.)
Not off an afternoon that saw James Neal take a run at two of Philadelphia's most important players. Not accidental, either. Two blatant runs at Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux, back to back on the same shift.
Neal wasn't penalized for the hit on Couturier, and as he stayed on the ice for the offensive zone faceoff immediately after Couturier made his way to the locker room for observation, he gave it just a few seconds before taking an even more egregious run at Flyers superstar Claude Giroux.
The hit clearly left Giroux woozy. Scary woozy, in fact. That didn't look good at all, but he did remain in the game and seemed fine when talking to reporters afterwards.
The on-ice actions of these Pens didn't stop here. After the Giroux hit, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds attempted to confront Neal for going after their star, as they absolutely should have. There was no penalty on the Couturier hit -- a complete injustice by the officials -- and there was only a two-minute charging minor handed out for the attempt on Giroux, despite the rather obvious intent to injure.
When Neal stepped off the bench to skate to the penalty box, that was the chance for the Flyers to take justice into their own hands a bit, because at that stage it was clear the work of the officials would not suffice. Sidney Crosby then grabbed Hartnell from behind to keep him from getting at Neal, and then Craig Adams decided to beat the hell out of Hartnell for some reason that's yet to be explained.
If you didn't think the Penguins had come completely unhinged in the first period of Game 3, you couldn't help but realize it by the third period. They were playing awful hockey so far in this series -- atrocious defense, poor goaltending, the inability to hold a lead of any shape -- but this was an entirely different thing. They were losing, but they still had their dignity. In 60 minutes of hockey Sunday afternoon, they completely lost it all.
That wasn't the end of it, however. Once in the locker room with microphones and cameras in their faces, the Penguins simply couldn't stop embarrassing themselves. First, there's Neal talking about his hit on Couturier. (Shockingly, in Neal's eight-question session with reporters at Wells Fargo Center, not a single person asked him about his run at Giroux.)
"I didn't even mean to hit him. I don't even know if the puck was at his feet or not or where it was. I think we just chipped it. I let up as much as I could and it is what it is."
Yeah, um. Go scroll up and watch that video again. It doesn't take a polygraph to realize how poorly Neal is lying. He's trying to avoid a suspension, but I mean, come on man.
Then there's Sidney Crosby. In the past, I've called on fellow Flyers fans to stop the "Crosby sucks!" chant for a multitude of reasons -- it makes him better, it's not accurate -- but it's safe to say that a lot of Crosby haters were vindicated by the way he acted on Sunday. He truly lived up to the Sid The Kid nickname.
I won't lie and say that's not hilarious, because it absolutely is, but at the same time it's just so unlike Crosby. It's so out of character, just as his post-game comments were completely out of character.
REPORTER: When you knocked Voracek's glove on the ice and hit it away was that just out of frustration?
CROSBY: I don't like any guy on their team there. It was near me and he went to pick it up and I pushed it.
REPORTER: Why don't you like them?
CROSBY: I don't like them, because I don't like any guy on their team so ...
REPORTER: The fighting and such. Was that you trying to spark their team a little bit?
CROSBY: Yeah, guys are emotional and there is a lot of stuff going on out there. There is no reason to explain. I don't have to sit here and explain why I pushed a glove away. They are doing a lot of things out there too. You know what, we don't like each other. Was I going to sit there and pick up his glove? What was I supposed to do?"
REPORTER: You could skate away.
CROSBY: Skate away? Oh well I didn't that time.
It comes off even worse in video form. There are a lot of words that can describe that attitude, but they're all synonymous with childish.
Don't take it from the Flyers fan, though. You have no reason to trust my opinion on the matter. But you should take it from those in Pittsburgh who agree with me. There are a lot of these people. First, columnist Dejan Kovacevic in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
... don`t come back [to Philadelphia for Game 4].
Not until you're ready to use - and keep - your heads. Not until you're prepared to take the ice with some semblance of dignity, discipline and, yeah, maybe even a shift or two of defense.
Want to send a busload of call-ups from Wilkes-Barre?
Go nuts. It's right up the road.
Those kids, even the full-time knuckle-draggers, wouldn`t soil the franchise`s reputation like Arron Asham did with his disgraceful stick assault on Brayden Schenn, that before jabbing Schenn while face-down on the ice.
You can also take it from long-time readers at Penguins blog PensBurgh, including one who wrote an open letter to team management in the wake of Sunday's loss:
The way in which to Penguins conducted themselves in Philadelphia on Sunday validates every criticism that members of media and other fanbases have espoused in the post lockout era. We have been called entitled, spoiled & arrogant. Those critiques were turned into indisputable facts with our absolute lack of discipline, class and professionalism.
Or you can take it from the guys at The Pensblog, who recorded an hour-long podcast on Sunday night in which they expressed a tremendous sense of embarrassment for the way their team handled themselves in Game 3.
Every time we've played the Flyers in the playoffs, we've stood by and laughed. 'Oh, they wanna goon it up. They wanna get in fights. We'll, we're just gonna score goals and win the game.' It was the total reverse this time. Yes, the Flyers fought back when they had to, but they stayed away from the crap.
The worst part of Sunday's mayhem wasn't that it all boiled over for Pittsburgh, though. Emotions are crazy things, and while I think it takes more than just sheer anger and frustration to target two players heads in a single shift of hockey, things like this happen. Nobody is exempt from it.
The worst part was how this all embarrassed one of the greatest players in hockey history: Penguins owner Mario Lemieux. You'll recall back to February 2011 when Lemieux railed against the New York Islanders after a fight filled game between the clubs at Nassau Coliseum.
Mario was 100 percent correct when he called out the league for failing to levy hefty discipline on the Islanders, saying that "What happened Friday night on Long Island wasn't hockey. It was a travesty. It was painful to watch the game I love turn into a sideshow like that."
Now? His team is the one turning the game into a sideshow.
Stick with SBNation.com for full Flyers vs. Penguins series coverage. For more from the Philadelphia perspective, check in with Broad Street Hockey, and for more from the Pittsburgh perspective, check in with Pensburgh.