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Therrien distraught after Penguins' collapse

There were no answers to be found inside the Penguins' dressing room Thursday after 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals at Mellon Arena.

Not one player could explain the club's complete collapse -- blowing a three-goal lead with 38 minutes remaining, getting outshot, 21-6, in the third period -- against a Capitals' team that appeared lifeless early.

"It can't happen," said captain Sidney Crosby, who has yet to score a goal in five games. "We gave it back to them in the third. We didn't make them earn it. We tried to play too passive, and we didn't do little things that it takes to win hockey games.

"We learned a tough lesson."

Coach Michel Therrien's post-game comments suggested the Penguins can expect some more schooling at practice today.

"Unacceptable ... (immature) and unacceptable," Therrien said of the Penguins' third-period performance.

"We lost the game because we stopped working in the third period. It's pretty simple. We didn't follow the plan in the third. We played on our heels. We were losing battles.

"We are not paying the price to score goals."

Washington center Boyd Gordon capped a stunning comeback by beating goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 15:43 of the third period.

Therrien described the Penguins' 5-on-5 play throughout the game as "horrible."

That's a trend not exclusive to last night. The Penguins have scored a 5-on-5 goal in only one of their past four games.

A maligned power-play, which opened the season only 1-for-14 over two games against Ottawa in Stockholm, Sweden, has contributed six of the Penguins' 12 goals to date. The Penguins went 3-for-6 on the man advantage against Washington, getting second goals from defenseman Alex Gologoski, center Evgeni Malkin and right wing Miroslav Satan.

Even when Washington left wing Tomas Fleischmann scored at 5:45 of the second period, the Penguins' 3-1 lead seemed safe. They carried that edge into the third period, which the Capitals entered with only nine shots.

But for the fourth time, the Penguins were outshot by an opponent in the third period. They have been bested in that category, 66-29, including 50-16 in three contests at Mellon Arena.

Goals by Washington left wing Alexander Semin and center Michael Nylander preceded Gordon's winner.

Defenseman Mark Eaton had no answers.

"We can't have a mentality where we are just going to sit back and kill the clock," Eaton said. "But it's tough to say ... your guess is as good as mine. It's tough to figure out right now."

Malkin, who recorded three points, had no clue why the Penguins played a "bad system" in the third period last night. He was equally dumbfounded as to why fellow Russian and Washington left wing Alexander Ovechkin appeared intent on cutting his promising NHL career short.

"I don't... Ovechkin is a great player," Malkin said. "Every time he hits me, I don't know why."

Eaton said the Penguins "for some reason changed (their) game in the third" against the Capitals. But Therrien was adamant they were not instructed to sit on the lead.

The Penguins had lost only once in regulation when leading after the second period over the previous two seasons.

"Do you really believe I ask those guys to back up, just wait, and Marc-Andre is making 20 saves?" Therrien said. "I don't remember in the last few years losing a game with the lead in the third period."

Additional Information:

The Trib's stars

The 3 best players from last night's game according to the Tribune-Review:

1 C Boyd Gordon, Capitals

A late third-period goal gave Washington the win.

2 C Evgeni Malkin, Penguins

Recorded 3 points against Russian rival Alexander Ovechkin.

3 C Michael Nylander, Capitals

Set up goal to get Capitals close, scored one that pulled them even.

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