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Penguins' undisciplined play of late resembles team's recent postseason losses

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The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin takes a cross-checking penalty against the Islanders' John Tavares earlier this season in Uniondale, N.Y.

Mighty meltdowns

In critical playoff games of the past four postseason series lost by the Penguins, penalties and big deficits have ruled:

Year Opp. Game Pen. Deficit Final

2013 Bruins 2 2 3-0 6-2

2012 Flyers 3 20 4-2 8-4

2011 Lightning 5 8 7-0 8-2

2010 Canadiens 7 5 4-0 5-2

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Friday, March 21, 2014, 11:36 p.m.

Brooks Orpik knows the book on the Penguins. It is a best seller in hockey circles.

“Every team knows it,” Orpik said. “Target certain guys, and try to get under our skin. (Opponents) know eventually they can get us off of our game and get us to lose our focus.

“It's something you can talk about over and over. Until you do it and show some maturity with it, it's going to keep biting us.”

The Penguins admit they talk a great game regarding discipline. They just often do not play the disciplined hockey great teams do.

“It has to be a personal decision for each guy,” forward Craig Adams said. “You can't make somebody do it. We've talked about it enough. It's one of those things you have to do if you want to win.”

Injuries have defined the Penguins' season. They will pass 430 man-games lost against Tampa Bay at Consol Energy Center on Saturday.

However, health has nothing to do with discipline, winger Tanner Glass said after the Penguins practiced Friday at Southpointe Iceoplex.

There is a line, and the Penguins too often cross it, Glass said.

“Retaliation is almost always over the line,” he said. “I don't know why we're not learning.”

The Penguins are 5-4-2 since the NHL returned from its Olympics break. They have allowed opponents 42 power plays over that span — and officiating is not to blame, Orpik said.

“Let's be honest. We've gone pretty far over the line with some of the penalties we've taken,” he said, adding that no player is without blame. “It hasn't been riding that line. There have been a couple where maybe it's marginal calls, but there have been others where we've watched replays and it's not even questionable.”

An overtime loss Thursday at Detroit offered a glaring example of how — as several veterans phrased it a day later — the Penguins are usually their worst enemy.

The Penguins erased a two-goal deficit early in the second period to carry a 3-2 lead into the third. However, they were called for four penalties within the opening 11 minutes of the second period — including cross-checking minors by wingers James Neal and Jussi Jokinen.

Rarely have the Penguins carried less momentum into a final period after such a dominant offensive showing.

With 11 games remaining and the Penguins seemingly locked into the East's No. 2 seed, coach Dan Bylsma said his players' challenge is to avoid the kinds of penalties they have made habit of taking lately and in recent postseasons.

“That's at the top or near the top (of challenges) for our team,” Bylsma said.

The Penguins have lost four of seven playoff series since winning the Cup in 2009. Each defeat has included an in-game meltdown to which a lack of discipline or composure has contributed.

• 2010: Blown second-round series leads of 2-1 and 3-2 against Montreal, and a Game 7 home loss that started with captain Sidney Crosby's boarding penalty after the opening faceoff.

• 2011: A blown first-round series lead of 3-1 — albeit without Crosby and Evgeni Malkin playing — featuring a suspension for an illegal hit by winger Chris Kunitz and a home loss in Game 5 in which Tampa Bay raced to a 7-0 lead.

• 2012: A first-round series during which Philadelphia erased multiple-goal deficits in Games 1 and 2 at Consol Energy Center and later won two games at home by a combined score of 13-5. In a must-win Game 3, Crosby was most noticeable for a fight, Malkin for being unable to shake off a pesky rookie, winger James Neal for a hit that led to a suspension and defenseman Kris Letang for an ejection.

• 2013: A conference final loss against Boston in which the Penguins scored two goals and dropped a crucial Game 2 at home after unforced turnovers contributed mightily to allowing three goals in the opening 16 minutes.

In four crucial games in those series, the Penguins combined for 35 penalties, trailed early by multiple goals in each and were outscored overall 27-9.

Though players on Friday did not mention names, the Penguins' brightest scoring stars – Crosby, Malkin and Neal — often either have allowed themselves to be taken out of games or they have come unhinged.

Defenseman Deryk Engelland guessed how that happens. It is from the action he takes against opponents' stars.

“A little whack in the back of the legs, finishing every hit or between-whistles bumping a guy as he goes to the bench,” Engelland said. “You want to just a guy know you're around, see if you can get him thinking more about you than playing hockey.”

Neal said “that stuff” is most prominent in the playoffs.

“You've got to let it go and work through it, not let it bother you and try to not let it affect your play,” Neal said.

“It starts with guys like myself.”

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