The Pittsburgh Penguins can come back, if only in the literal sense.
Three teams in NHL history have survived a three-games-to-none deficit in a best-of-seven series, while 171 clubs in that predicament have lost the series one way or another. That success rate comes out to less than 2 percent, although one could argue this year’s Penguins have a better shot of pulling it off than your average No. 7 or 8 seed.
If you’re looking for even more optimism, the Boston Bruins – featuring many of the same players who have the Penguins on the brink – blew a 3-0 series lead to the Philadelphia Flyers just three years ago.
An argument can even be made that the Pens are just the team to rally in this situation, if only because of (unfortunate) recent experience. Last spring, the Pens made it halfway back from a three-game hole against the Flyers in the first round before bowing in Game 6.
Put all of the wishing and hoping aside, though. The mere fact that the Penguins are in this unenviable spot is enough to brand this team a failure. Especially this year, when general manager Ray Shero loaded up at the trade deadline and coach Dan Bylsma had his best collection of talent since arriving in 2009, the expectations are Stanley Cup Final or bust.
The reasons why the Pens are leaning heavily toward a summer of somber self-examination can be debated, and surely will be if they don’t break off a four-game winning streak under pressure. The Bruins will be a worthy finalist if they move on, but Pittsburgh has made their quest much too easy, especially in the first two games.
Perhaps the Penguins’ gutsy Game 3 performance portends a historic comeback, or at least a return trip to Boston for a sixth game. But regardless of the team’s improving form, anything short of an Eastern Conference championship means no one, save Sidney Crosby and perhaps Evgeni Malkin, is guaranteed to show up in the fall for training camp.
Friday night’s Game 4 at TD Garden could be the last time in Penguins colors for many players, it could be a stay of execution or it could be the start of something incredible.
The third option is by far the least likely, meaning this 3-0 deficit could have already triggered serious ramifications.