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Why Couldn’t Penguins Play Like This Sooner?? 3rd Periods Haunt Season



Pittsburgh Penguins, Casey DeSmith

The Pittsburgh Penguins are probably two games away from the end of their season. For the first time since Ziggy Palffy bolted mid-season, Mario Lemieux retired, and Eddie Olzcyk coached the team, the Penguins could miss the playoffs because they need the Florida Panthers or New York Islanders to lose one of their remaining two.

But it just doesn’t feel like that is going to happen.

Florida needed a win Saturday against the Ovechkin-less Washington Capitals. Washington tied the game 2-2 in the second period, so Florida bombarded them in the third. Washington didn’t get their second shot on goal of the period for about 18 minutes, and Florida finally scored the winner with exactly one minute remaining.

The Islanders took care of Philadelphia from the opening drop.

The Penguins also took care of business with a complete win over the pesky Detroit Red Wings 5-1, but it has a bad feeling of too little, too late.

The Penguins waited until Game 79 to finally, FINALLY, play a defensively structured third period. They waited until Game 80 to do it twice in a row.

There have been too many flat, disinterested losses. How did a pathetic showing like that in New Jersey last Tuesday happen with just four games to go?

How does a good team lay down as they did in the lackluster March 16 loss and March 18 beatdown, both administered by the New York Rangers? A sloppy loss to the lowly Montreal Canadiens on March 14, in which they gave up the winning goal minutes into the third period, should haunt them.

Just as the March 28 third period meltdown against fading Detroit should have scared them straight, but nothing did until now.

Through the course of 80 games, the Penguins have been outscored in the third period 96-87. 

Until Saturday, the Penguins alternated wins and losses over their last eight games.

The feel-goods from the Penguins’ current two-game win streak and Sidney Crosby’s 1500-point milestone Saturday aside, the Penguins are 6-8-0 in their last 14 games.

Again and again, with the warning lights flashing, the Penguins did not pull up on the yoke. They crashed and burned with the lead in nine third periods this season. If you’d like a jaw-dropping comparison, the Penguins are 27-4-5 when leading after two. The Detroit Red Wings are 22-1-2.

The young, offensively-minded, and goaltending-poor Buffalo Sabres are 26-0-4.

This season, the Penguins lost despite having a three-goal lead twice, and six times they lost with a multi-goal lead.

Only three other teams have punted more two-goal leads: Arizona (7), Vancouver (7), and San Jose (8).

Stats from

The common thread among the teams that can’t hold multi-goal leads is they were eliminated from playoff contention long ago.

Go ahead, pick any one of the Penguins’ blown leads. Any singular flip from loss to win puts the 2022-23 Pittsburgh Penguins in a playoff spot.

You can even discard the pile of inexplicably “unacceptable” losses in which they “weren’t good enough.” Even the inconsistent goaltending hasn’t specifically There were plenty of those, but they didn’t specifically put the Penguins in this predicament.

There were also plenty of missed opportunities by allowing later third period goals. The Carolina Hurricanes twice burned the Penguins with comeback wins. Last week, the Penguins were three minutes away from a point against the Boston Bruins but gave up the winning goal on a mistake-filled play.

Average lead retention puts them well into a spot and preparing for their 17th consecutive dance at Lord Stanley’s ball. However, when faced with the task of defending a lead, the Penguins alternated between risky hockey and too-conservative, on-their-heels hockey.

Mistakes compounded. Opponents got the advantage. The Penguins squandered points.

And those points are killers of playoff hope right about now.

The Penguins’ best chances to sneak into the playoffs are if the Toronto Maple Leafs or Carolina beats the Florida Panthers, and the Penguins dispatch the already humbled Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets.

If Florida beats Toronto and Carolina, and the Islanders beat the Capitals and Canadiens, it doesn’t matter what the Penguins do.

But it does matter what the Pittsburgh Penguins did. And if they have locker clean-out day in mid-April for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie year, they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

And nor should a late rally positively affect anyone’s future job status.