It was probably inevitable. The Pittsburgh Penguins clinched a playoff berth on Saturday after four hard-fought and three hard-won games against Stanley Cup contenders, the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins. The Penguins poured themselves into shutout wins over each and limited shots and scoring chances like few times in their history.
Such games will take a lot out of a team.
And so on Monday night against a non-playoff opponent, the Penguins were flat as old pop. They spotted Philadelphia a 4-0 lead before rallying to 4-2 but eventually buckled to an ugly 7-2 loss.
“No, I mean, we’ve been we’ve been playing games tight, tight with each other all year, so I don’t think that,” Marcus Petterson denied a letdown. “We got some guys back today, too. We just know that we can’t be giving up that many chances–like last week against Washington–when we give up few scoring chances, we’re going to create our own offense.
“…We’ve just got to let that one behind us and not accept it. So we know we’ve got to do better.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins won’t have any time to dwell on their Monday night foibles. They will have time to head back to the hotel, probably catch the lowlights of the Washington Capitals-New York Rangers brawl touched off by Tom Wilson (again) and get back to it for the rematch on Tuesday.
The Flyers are the only non-playoff team in the East Division, which has a winning record against the Penguins and only the second team in the division with a winning record against the Penguins. The Boston Bruins are the other.
Conversely, the Penguins are the only playoff team against which the Flyers have a winning record.
“You know, it’s tough to put your finger on that. They’re a good team. You’ve got to give them credit. They played well tonight, and they’ve played well against us this year,” Penguins winger Jason Zucker said. “It’s obviously an in-state rival and a big rivalry for us. So they’re always up for these games. And we are as well. Obviously, tonight, we weren’t quite ready for that one.”
Philadelphia has won five of seven against the Penguins, which are 2-4-1 against Philadelphia. The Penguins have fewer wins against the Flyers than any team in the division, including the Boston Bruins (3-4-1).
Zucker did offer a succinct assessment of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ loss.
“I just don’t think we were very good tonight. I think that showed pretty quick. We were fighting it from the first shift, and seemed like it just seemed like everything we did was a step behind,” Zucker said. “We were slow on battles and making plays, and I made (a bad) one the second I got on the ice, which I wish I could have had back right away. It just seemed like a snowball effect for us and couldn’t really get out of it.”
The Penguins gave up a season-high 45 shots. It wasn’t one bad period. It was three; they gave up 20 shots in the first period, 17 in the second, and eight more in the third period. It’s a far cry from stifling Washington and Boston last week.
The Penguins did find a rhythm and had momentum, beginning in the third period. Philadelphia took four straight penalties from the final minute of the second period to midway through the third. The Penguins scored a pair of power-play goals and pulled to within 4-2.
On the next shift, captain Sidney Crosby had a scoring chance. Neither he nor Jake Guentzel could get the puck through Flyers goalie Alex Lyon.
Shortly afterward, Philadelphia broke the game open with their fifth goal.
You never know, just gotta put pucks on net, and all it was was two shots. You don’t look at it like goals–It’s two shots, and you never know what can happen at this level,” Penguins defenseman Mark Friedman said. “So I thought we were gaining some momentum there off a couple of power plays and some nice goals, and just sucks they put the fifth one in there.”
The Penguins wilted after the fifth goal, and Philadelphia put a couple more on the board. Petterson downplayed a letdown, but Penguins head coach sure seemed to acknowledge that it sure was.
“We want to feel good about our game, but also we want to finish as strongly as we can to give ourselves the best chance to be successful in the postseason. I didn’t envision us coming out and having this type of game,” Sullivan said. “But this is the human aspect of sports, and, you know, we’ve got to find a way to to to move past this and get excited for the next one.”
“…Part of me feels good about that because we don’t have to sit on this one for too long,” Sullivan said.
The Penguins and Flyers finish their season series on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. It may have been a bad game, but that’s a slick suit on Jason Zucker.