Say what you will about the sport of hockey, but it certainly has a funny sense of irony (as the fans in Tampa can also attest to right now). The Pittsburgh Penguins, three time Stanley Cup winners of the last decade are also now facing their third 0-3 series hole of the last decade.
And unlike being able to dig out of an 0-2 hole on occasion, we all know that just logically an 0-3 hole is a death sentence. More a matter of the inevitability of a loss rather than actually finding a way to win. History tells us out of 189 NHL series with a 3-0 lead, 185 times the team with the huge edge wins. They’ve done it 117 times (61.9%) in Game 4, wrapping up a sweep.
Yet, that glimmer of hope to be one of the four that have climbed all the way out remains possible among the most optimistic of fans. And there’s been recent precedent too- in the last decade there have been two teams to come back from an 0-3 hole, the Los Angeles Kings did last to the San Jose Sharks in 2014 in the first round.
There’s also a history of it in this series, although it doesn’t mean much now besides being a historical footnote. Back in 1975 the Penguins lost what many consider a very damaging series for the franchise’s trajectory when they blew a 3 games to nothing lead over the Islanders. NYI would go on to be one of the league’s premiere teams over the next decade, winning four Cups along the way in the early ‘80s. The Pens would be relegated down to the doldrums of the league until they got the chance to get Mario Lemieux, but that’s a different story for a different day.
Touching on what was mentioned above, the Pens in the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era are no strangers to being down 0-3 since this will be their third time. In a bit of gallows humor, you almost just have to laugh that when the playoffs go off the rails in Pittsburgh, there’s no doubt they go all the way off the rails.
The response of each 0-3 hole was different, though. In 2012 in the first round against the Flyers (Marc-Andre Fleury irrationals don’t read this) the Pens surrendered a whopping 20 goals in the first three games. The Pens blew leads in all three games, including multi-goal leads in two games. It was frustrating - as all occasions of falling down 0-3 are - but the sense was that this series should have been unfolding differently.
The Pens unleashed a cathartic reaction for Game 4, running up a monster 10-3 win in Philly to show they would not be swept by their rival.
They then returned to Pittsburgh, played well and won 3-2 in a tighter Game 5 but ran out of gas and fell behind early in Game 6 and quietly whimpered out of the playoffs at that point.
Still, the team at least answered the bell in quite convincing fashion in Game 4. They definitely lost that series early in with sloppy play, but pride/talent/emotion/energy or any factor you want to cite at least showed up and roared one last time before fading away.
That wasn’t the case in 2013 being down 0-3 to Boston. In that series the Pens lost a 2-1 double OT heartbreaker in Game 3, a game they were the better team in and carried play, yet could not beat a goalie playing well. At that point Pittsburgh looked content to give up and basically concede that they couldn’t beat the Bruins and laid down with a 1-0 Game 4 loss that felt very inevitable and a sad end to the playoff run.
Perhaps fortunately for Pens’ fans, while you can obviously make a case this year vs NYI has parallels to both 2012 and 2013, the situation should be more like 2012. The Pens weren’t dealt the emotional blow of a multi-OT loss yesterday. They weren’t good and were definitely frustrated by a team playing well, but one gets the sense that Pittsburgh is capable of breaking out and winning a game big, if they only get it all going. Still, as I think we all can admit at this point, finding that extra gear and a way through the NYI defense/goaltending has been a lot easier said than done.
At this point a series win is beyond a long shot, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step as the old saying goes. There’s no other step to take besides trying to have a good effort at home and at least give the fans one more win to cheer for. Do that and buy yourself one more day to keep playing. Then, we’ll go from there.