The Pittsburgh Penguins have potentially reached the point of no return. While it's never wise to say a competition is over before it's over, Pittsburgh has reached the phase where one foot is in the grave and the dirt is starting to pile on. The case will be closed in the event of another Boston Bruins win in the Eastern Conference Final.
Facing the daunting task of a 3-0 series deficit, the Penguins have failed to capitalize on their biggest strength thus far in the series. Boasting an impressive collection of offensive talent, Pittsburgh has only managed two goals in 11 periods of hockey against the Bruins. During Wednesday night's Game 3, the team registered 54 shots against Tuukka Rask and came away with a single tally. This is a far cry from the Penguins that scored at least three goals in all but one playoff game prior to the conference final.
Of course, this is a dynamic that has been discussed at great length.
What comes into question now is what the Penguins can do to attempt to salvage the series. The coaching staff attempted minor alterations in Game 3 by moving Jarome Iginla onto a rotating line with Brandon Sutter, Brenden Morrow and Beau Bennett, while moving Matt Cooke onto the wing of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal. While an admirable attempt, it ultimately didn't result in increased production.
In terms of the team's defensive deficiencies, they weren't as visible as they previously had been in the playoffs. Bylsma stated prior to the contest that the team hoped to keep play out of the neutral zone and more concentrated in the offensive zone. They seemingly were able to accomplish that. However, it still didn't net them a victory.
Goaltending certainly wasn't an issue, as Tomas Vokoun compiled a steady performance that spanned nearly five complete periods of hockey. Bylsma stated he needed such a performance from his goaltender and he got it. Yet, it still didn't result in a win.
One would have to imagine that the Penguins are frustrated about what they can do to alter their fortunes. Game 3, in a general sense, was a fantastic contest. Both teams legitimately could have come away with a victory, which wasn't the case in the first two games of the series. Despite this, Boston still managed to find a way to earn the win.
When looking back on this series, it seems likely that many will wonder what could have been with Pittsburgh. Stock-piling some of the best players in the game, the Penguins swung for the fences in an attempt to capture the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup. While the possibility is still there, the door is rapidly closing on such a scenario.
Unless Pittsburgh manages to extend their season beyond Friday night, it could mean drastic changes this offseason. Speculation has already started to pickup. Of course, in order for those discussions to begin in earnest, the Bruins will need to record one more victory. In the event Pittsburgh performs the way they did on Wednesday night, it will be a challenge for Boston to close them out.
However, the difficulty the Bruins face in winning a single game pales in comparison to the perfection the Penguins will need to achieve to keep their season alive.