Let's just get the most obvious unbelievable statements out of the way first:
• "I can't believe there was a game that saw 158 minutes in penalties without a deuce to Matt Cooke."
• "I can't believe there was an 8-4 playoff game in which Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin didn't get a goal."
• "I can't believe Marc-Andre Fleury's playoff goals-against average had actually gone down entering the final minute of the second period, when it was still just a 5-4 game for the Flyers."
• "I can't believe I saw hair pulling on a Sunday afternoon in which the TV fare wasn't a marathon of Bad Girls Club: Las Vegas."
• "I can't believe a team as clean as the Mario Lemieux-owned Pittsburgh Penguins could resort to garage-league hockey in a playoff game."
OK, about that last one: no disrespect intended to Le Magnifique, whose past letters to the NHL castigating the rest of the league for goonery were always correctly well-intended.
But no longer can Lemieux's Penguins pretend to play the role of innocent bystanders in a league of ruffians after Sunday's WrestleMania Game 3 between the Flyers and Pens (won 8-4 by Philly) at the burnt orange Wells Fargo Center.
Where to start? First off, Brendan Shanahan is going to be watching a lot of video -- like, the entire 60 minutes -- looking for suspension-worthy moments. He'll no doubt come up with a couple, starting with Arron Asham's crosscheck to the Adam's apple of Philly's Brayden Schenn with 5:45 left in the first period -- a retaliation for Schenn's charging penalty that, instead of putting the Penguins on the power play against a Jello-shaky Ilya Bryzgalov, set in motion what seemed like an afternoon's-worth of ashamed-looking Penguins. But that wasn't enough for Asham. For bad measure, he had to deliver a punch to Schenn's head while the Flyer was down on the ice.
Not only did the Penguins lose decidedly on the scoreboard in Game 3, they lost some face as an organization.
Fact is, Pittsburgh looked like an opponent of Hulk Hogan's in a 1980s WWF match. They got in a bunch of cheap shots but nonetheless were waved out of the building as vanquished losers by the "na-na-na-na, na-na-na-na, hey-hey-hey, goodbye" Philly crowd.
The game truly lapsed into Three Stooges territory in the final minutes when Pittsburgh's Craig Adams grabbed Scott Hartnell's flowing orange mane in a Moe-versus-Larry moment. Hartnell had just been jumped from behind by Adams after he and Crosby got into it a little bit along the boards. Hartnell then dropped the gloves and challenged Adams in his best John L. Sullivan pose at center ice. Right in front of benchside analysts Pierre McGuire and Ray Ferraro, Adams pulled the chute on the fight by dint of pulling Hartnell's locks. By then, McGuire had no choice but, in an apologetic voice, to officially declare the Penguins dead in this one.
Among the other greatest hits by Penguins players losing their cool included Crosby sticking the glove of Jakub Voracek away during a stoppage in play, and also hacking at Bryzgalov's glove. That led to penalties galore, including Claude Giroux grabbing Crosby by the shirt and wrestling around for a bit, followed by some penalty-box jawing between the two that might have included a profane word or two.
Then there was James Neal, who on one shift leveled Philly's Giroux and Sean Couturier with high hits, both of which looked to have caused some injury to the previously concussed Flyers. It's no wonder those two were targets for foul play, what with their superb performances in the series. Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have both been largely held at bay thanks to the tremendous defensive work by Couturier, who has been out there for almost every shift against the Penguins' superstars. Giroux checked in with a paltry goal and assist after his six-point effort in Game 2.
The Flyers cannot claim purity in their overall demeanor, however. There was a dirty knee-on-knee hit by defenseman Nicklas Grossmann on Neal in the second period, which Neal immediately converted for a power-play goal at 10:31 to make it a 4-3.
Matt Read then made it 5-3 with the first of his two goals. Jordan Staal responded with a tap-in after a hideous play of the puck by Bryzgalov, who on many other Flyer teams might have been booed to the bench by the faithful. But the killer goal came with 46 seconds left in the second period, when Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds took a nifty pass from Braydon Coburn, deked Fleury to the forehand and backhanded the puck to the short side. Flyers up, 6-4.
Brent Johnson relieved Fleury at the start of the third, strapping on his Led Zeppelin mask, but the levee had already broken.
Now, the Penguins stare at the forbidding numbers that face a team with an 0-3 playoff deficit. Counting the NHL, MLB and NBA, four teams out of 297 have come back to overcome the long odds and win a series: 1942 Maple Leafs, 1975 Islanders, 2004 Red Sox, and 2010 Flyers.
The Penguins also get to stare at this quote from Hartnell, given to reporters after the game: "They were going after a couple of our guys' heads. It's scary when it comes down to that level. You ask the best player in the world, Sidney Crosby, what they're thinking over there: 'That's playoff hockey?'
"For me, that's not playoff hockey, that is dangerous hockey. They were just trying to hurt people."
Countered Crosby, who was held to just an assist:
"There's more than one team getting in those things. You can make a story all you want about us getting frustrated. They're doing the same things we are. It's intense."
Intense and inane, and the stupidity is killing the Penguins.