Penguins Must Fend Off Sweep Shorthanded

Pittsburgh must now mount a comeback against their cross-state rivals without three players.

Ed Millerby Ed Miller

Hyped as perhaps the most enticing matchup of the playoffs, the Stanley Cup Quarterfinal series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers has certainly lived up to its projections. There have been comebacks, plenty of goals and enough fisticuffs to make the UFC jealous; but the series has been lopsided in favor of the Flyers, who now hold a commanding 3-0 lead.

Now the Penguins need a miracle to become just the fourth team in NHL history to win four straight games while on the brink of elimination. Pittsburgh first has to avoid being swept for the first time in 33 years.

But after Sunday’s game, an 8-4 thumping by the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center which looked more like Thunderdome, three Penguins had to answer to the NHL’s head disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. Typically, the Penguins play a disciplined fundamental game, while their cross-state rivals are often known for playing physically – often resulting in cheap shots – but the roles were reversed in Game 3.

The first suspension came to Penguins forward Craig Adams on Monday afternoon. Adams received an automatic one-game suspension for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game. It will also cost Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma a $10,000 fine.

Meanwhile, forwards Arron Asham and James Neal had to wait until Tuesday for their hearings with Shanahan. While Asham met with Shanahan in person for a vicious cross check to the throat of Flyers forward Brayden Schenn after Schenn laid him out on a clean hit.  Neal had two phone hearings, one for each of his separate questionable hits.

The first came thanks to a hit Neal had on Sean Couturier in which he left his feet and hit Couturier in the open ice when the puck was not in his possession. Just minutes later, Neal took a run at Flyers star Claude Giroux, attempting to hit him in the helmet with his elbow.

While Asham received four games for his incident, Neal was only suspended for Wednesday night's Game 4, much to our surprise.

The Penguins, missing a 40-goal scorer in Neal, an agitator in Asham and a fourth liner in Adam must now try and pull off a miracle with three holes in their lineup – guys that have been there all season. But with the Penguins facing elimination, Pittsburgh can look to the Flyers for some inspiration.

It was just two years ago the Flyers mounted a 3-0 comeback against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. Philadelphia became the third NHL team to accomplish the feat – the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals and the New York Islanders in the second round also went on to win four straight while facing elimination.

If the Penguins don’t figure out a way to get the Flyers out of their head and start playing a disciplined game, Pittsburgh will be able to make their golf reservations early this year.

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher/Icon SMI

Ed is the lead hockey writer for CraveOnline Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @PhillyEdMiller, and subscribe on Facebook @ CraveOnline Sports.