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Kovacevic: Don't bother showing for Game 4

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By Dejan Kovacevic
Monday, April 16, 2012
 

PHILADELPHIA — Within a couple hours of maybe the most pathetic playoff performance in Penguins history, the sloppy, senseless and stupid-beyond-words 8-4 loss to the Flyers in Game 3 on Sunday, the tattered remains of this team boarded an aircraft for Pittsburgh. That's where they're set to practice the next two days, then return here for Game 4.

Do us a favor, gentlemen: Don't come back.

No, I mean it.

Just fold the sweaters like you've folded mentally in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Pack up like you've packed it in, and head off to Moose Jaw or Magnitogorsk for the summer.

But don't come back here.

Not until you're ready to use — and keep — your heads. Not until you're prepared to take the ice with some semblance of dignity, discipline and, yeah, maybe even a shift or two of defense.

Want to send a busload of call-ups from Wilkes-Barre?

Go nuts. It's right up the road.

Those kids, even the full-time knuckle-draggers, wouldn't soil the franchise's reputation like Arron Asham did with his disgraceful stick assault on Brayden Schenn, that before jabbing Schenn while face-down on the ice. The NHL's suspension should be fierce.

Those Wilkes-Barre kids wouldn't waste half the afternoon petulantly chasing personal grudges, either. Kris Letang killed the Penguins' early momentum with his stupid, selfish cross-check, then saw fit to get tossed for fighting while another fight was going on. Chris Kunitz was no sharper when slashing a Flyer in the attacking zone when the Penguins again had something going in the third. James Neal's later hit that wiped out Sean Couturier wasn't nearly as bad as folks here fussed about, but it was well away from the puck.

Even Sidney Crosby lost his cool, inexplicably risking his health by fighting Claude Giroux — though Crosby assured me nothing landed — and whacking his way all over the rink.

Afterward, too, despite assurances that "we're not frustrated," he uncharacteristically raised eyebrows by saying of the Flyers' mega-pest Jakub Voracek, "I don't like him. Why• Because I don't like him. I don't like any guy on their team."

That's Crosby?

These are the Penguins?

You shouldn't wonder what Mario Lemieux was thinking. I saw No. 66 shaking his head outside the locker room like a disgusted parent, and he had every right. He speaks out for the NHL to clean up its act, and his team pulls this garbage?

And yet, amazingly, the defense was still ugliest of all.

In all seriousness, do you suppose those Wilkes-Barre kids could hold the Flyers to fewer than 20 goals in three games?

Jordan Staal — who, along with Neal, Craig Adams, a gutsy Matt Niskanen and only a couple others, performed at an actual playoff level on this day — looked me in the eye and said the effort was there. I believe him. There are 11 ring-bearing champions on this roster.

But there's a colossal difference between working hard and working smart, and the Penguins fell laughably shy of the latter — yet again — when it came to preventing goals.

The breakdowns spanned the length of the Turnpike, but nothing stood out like Pascal Dupuis failing to dump the puck on a penalty-kill late in the second, leading to Wayne Simmonds' breakaway goal that put the Flyers up, 6-4. This after relentless reinforcement about moving forward all week.

Dupuis is smarter than that.

The Penguins as a whole are far, far better than this. Or at least they should be.

They still sound determined, minus any bold declarations.

"We'll be fine," Staal said.

They still sound together, too, with Crosby and Brooks Orpik offering — wholly unsolicited — that there's "no finger-pointing" in the locker room.

But none of that matters with Evgeni Malkin being outclassed by 19-year-old Couturier, with Marc-Andre Fleury fishing rubber out of his net every five minutes, with the citizenry still waiting on Dan Bylsma's first strategic adjustment and, above all, with dumb turning dumber.

Figure it out, fellas, or save the airfare.

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