"You can't beat us."
The best sports chants are totally spontaneous, born out of a collective emotion so strong that 20,000 complete strangers express it loudly in perfect unison, and so perfectly capture the truth of the moment that the object of their derision or adoration can't help but be cut to the bone.
Such was the scene with four minutes and 42 seconds left to play in the final frame of what can only be described as a "who's your daddy?" type of affair.
James Neal had just laid out Sean Couturier with a high blindside hit that left the young phenom woozy but thankfully concussion-free, and which, if Brendan Shanahan was paying any kind of attention, probably punched Mr. Neal's ticket out of the Pens' remaining playoff games.
As the scrum sorted itself out, the crowd gathered its indignation and feeling of superiority and showered the Penguins with the cold, hard, uncomfortable truth: "You can't beat us."
Neal's hit was simply the last gasp of a Penguins team that has been frustrated, embarrassed, and beaten at every turn. The third period of game three offered the perfect contrast between the two teams.
Twice in the first two games, the Flyers had battled back from multi-goal deficits to steal games in Pittsburgh. The Penguins, facing a two-goal third period deficit on the road in a game that they had to win for their playoff lives, disappeared. The lack of urgency and resiliency spoke volumes about the leadership of this Penguins team.
Pittsburgh has taken on the persona of its top players, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. In some ways, that's a good thing. Even counting Claude Giroux, Malkin and Crosby are the two best players in this series. They're also, without a doubt, the two most thin-skinned.
Malkin spent the third period slashing at Couturier's stick, clearly unhappy that the nineteen year old had once again proven his defensive match. Crosby....oh, Crosby. Sidney Crosby proved that his reputation for being a petulant, whiny, disrespectful punk has its roots in absolute truth.
Crosby, who managed a lone assist, spent his afternoon picking fights that he let his teammates clean up for him. In the first period, following a scrum, he kicked away Jake Voracek's glove and launched a melee that ended with Kris Letang and Kimmo Timonen getting ejected. Later, after Neal's hit, he jumped Scott Hartnell and had to be rescued by Craig Adams, who also ended up getting ejected.
Dominik Hasek's biggest weakness was his thin skin. Anybody who remembers the Flyers' Keith Jones getting under Hasek's skin in the playoffs probably had flashbacks this afternoon as they watched a nearly identical scene unfold, writ large.
Everybody knows that Crosby and the Penguins generally get the kid-gloves treatment from the national media, but this series has done a lot to take the shine off that coverage. The Penguins have been exposed as a group of gutless, dirty, and heartless players.
That's in perfect contrast to this Flyers team, a team on which everyone fights his own battles (Timonen, Giroux, and Voracek, not exactly a bunch of goons, all found themselves in gloves-off confrontations), and on which nobody gives up.
Make no mistake. The Flyers have the Penguins' number, and they're deep in the Penguins' heads. Pittsburgh would have done well in game three to bounce back, apply the pressure, and steal a must-win game in their opponents' building. Instead, they responded with the wrong kind of desperation, the kind that led them to take bad penalties and lose their composure.
By the time Neal took one last dirty, spineless shot out of frustration, the outcome of the game--and the series--was all but assured. And all at once, a crowd that smelled blood in the water and had been chomping at the bit from the opening faceoff made sure the Penguins knew what the Flyers had already figured out:
"You can't beat us."