PITTSBURGH -- You look down for a mere moment and when you look up again, the Flyers have already spotted their competition a lead. Its almost as though they have super-sharp shovels that are better at digging deep holes than other shovels.
What happened on Friday evening at the CONSOL Energy Center would have seemed impossible -- if similar situations hadnt already unfolded. The Flyers played from behind. Again. The Flyers called a timeout to right themselves in an attempt to wake up from a sluggish start. Again. The Penguins built a nice lead. Again. The crowd went nuts. Again. The second verse was the same as the first -- including the incredible, improbable comeback.
The Flyers beat the Penguins, 8-5, to go up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Some 18,826 people were in the building. It was nice of the Penguins organization to hand them rally towels, but they should have given away anti-anxiety medication or strong tranquilizers instead. It was that kind of game and that kind of finish.
After the first game, Scott Hartnell theorized that a demoralizing loss like that might get in their heads a little bit. So how might blowing two games affect the Penguins mentality and morale?
Theyre difficult losses, theres no question about it with the manner that both of the games went, Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said. When his post-game press conference began, Bylsma sat in front of the microphone for a while before he answered the first question. Like his team, he seemed to be at a loss for words to explain what went wrong.
After the first game, the Flyers talked about how they couldnt afford to fall behind against the Penguins. Wayne Simmonds said it. Kimmo Timonen and Max Talbot said it. Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux and Peter Laviolette said it. They all said it. Then they allowed the Penguins to take the early lead. In the last 14 games, the Flyers have been down 2-0 (or worse) nine times. Laviolette was not so thrilled with that continuing trend. When he called a timeout in the first period, you could see him screaming at his players. His face was the color of a cherry tomato.
On Friday evening, the Penguins built several leads. They were up 3-1. Then they were up 4-3. Then they were up 5-4. And then, in the end, they were down 8-5. The mood in Pittsburghs locker room reflected that demoralizing result. Many of the Penguins fled the scene before the media was allowed inside. Those who stuck around, like Sidney Crosby, practically whispered their answers when asked why they have so much trouble winning when they have big cushions.
We have to find a way to get better with a lead, no doubt, Crosby said in a gross understatement. The way he said it was so unnaturally calm. If he was a pilot instead of a hockey player, you could imagine him watching two of his four engines catch fire before saying we really should land this thing -- no rush though.
Seriously, you guys arent worried at all? Youre down two games and now youre headed to Philly.
We dont think about it like that, Crosby insisted. We just think about winning the next game. Thats our mindset.
Uh-huh. So no urgency at all?
Given the situation were in, Crosby finally admitted, we should be a desperate hockey team.
What do you know? The guy has a pulse after all.
Though it took Crosby a while to confess that things arent going so well for the Penguins at the moment, the fans at the CONSOL Energy Center appeared to grasp the gravity. They shuffled out of the arena as though they had just attended a great party that turned into a depressing wake midway through the evening.
One of those fans was the now-famous Hulk Hogan impersonator. He had a Jaromir Jagr jersey with him, but Sybil was stitched across the shoulders instead. It was evidently an obscure joke about a mid-1970s mini-series of the same name. In it, Sally Field played a woman with dissociative identity disorder. Not-Hulk was apparently sending a message about Jagr being Pittsburghs guy until he decided to become Phillys guy -- or something. No one can be totally sure about what goes through the mind of a Yinzer who dresses up like a pro wrestler on days that arent Halloween.
Oddly enough, Not-Hulk might have hit on something. Its almost as though these teams have split personalities. The Penguins get out to big leads and the Flyers fall behind early. Then the Flyers make runs and the Penguins fall apart.
Sally Field won an Emmy for Sybil, by the way. If things keep going this way, the Penguins wont win anything but some extra vacation days.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org