Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins faces off against Jean-Gabriel Pageau #44 of the Ottawa Senators during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on May 17, 2017 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
OTTAWA – There are several ways the Penguins could react to the 5-1 drubbing they took in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night.
They could be terrified by it.
Could a team that has played 203 games since the start of last season – not including exhibitions or the World Cup of Hockey – be hitting a wall? Its defense corps is riddled with injuries and its forwards have managed three goals in three games against the Ottawa trap. The sky is falling. The end is near.
They could dismiss it as an aberration.
Two of Ottawa's goals during a four-goal first period came on lively bounces off the end boards and glass. Another banked in off a defenseman's skate. The Penguins are a resilient team with a championship pedigree. They've bounced back from lopsided losses as recently as Game 7 of the Washington series. Nothing to see here. All is well.
Their captain, though, thinks they should take a different approach.
"You've got to learn from it either way, however it shakes out," Crosby said. "If you lose in double overtime or you have the kind of game we had, you've got to learn from it. We've got to find another level here."
The response was typical of Crosby's level-headed approach after the game.
While teammates such as Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen were saying the Penguins should have been embarrassed by their performance, Crosby simply said the Penguins will need to be better when they look to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole in the series in Game 4 Friday night.
He's never been one to use the media to light a fire under teammates, and he's not going to start now.
When Marc-Andre Fleury gave up four goals on nine shots and was pulled less than 13 minutes into the first period of Game 3, it insured that the team's goaltending situation will be a topic of conversation in Western Pennsylvania for hours on end until the puck drops to start the next game.
Fleury or Matt Murray? Everyone will have a take. Some will be hot.
Not Crosby. He said the Penguins need to play better in front of whoever is in goal Friday.
"You don't want to put your goalie in that situation," Crosby said. "A start that put him in a bad spot and put our team in a bad spot. You can't expect to win games getting off to a start like that, especially in the playoffs."
When a defense corps that was missing Kris Letang and Justin Schultz was taken advantage of during a three-goals-in-three-minutes outburst in Game 3, it insured that questions will be asked about the team's blue line until it proves it can be successful with its current personnel.
Crosby won't be the one asking those questions.
Learn from it? Sure, but don't bother publicly pointing a finger at every mistake every player made during the Ottawa surge.
"I think it was different things," Crosby said. "They get a good bounce on the first one. The second one went off (Ian Cole) maybe. They worked hard for their chances. Give them credit. They came hard. It's hard to analyze every single goal. They worked hard and earned it. We didn't have a good enough start."
Crosby scored a third-period goal to break up Ottawa's shutout bid in Game 3, redirecting in a Phil Kessel shot from the left circle on a late-game power play.
It was Crosby's first goal since suffering a concussion on a Matt Niskanen cross-check in the face in Game 3 of the Washington series and a rare bright spot in a tough series so far for the captain and his line.
When Crosby's been on the ice at even strength in the series, the Penguins have been outshot 22-20 and outscored 4-0. He was on the ice for three goals against Wednesday night.
How does Crosby figure he and the rest of the team's forwards can improve on those numbers as the series goes forward?
Just watch and learn.
"Bottom line," Crosby said, "is we have to be better."
THE SERIES: Ottawa leads, 2-1.
LAST GAME: After Marc Methot, Derick Brassard and Zack Smith scored in a three-minute span in the first period, Ottawa cruised to a 5-1 victory in Game 3 Wednesday night.
NEXT GAME: Potential goaltending drama aside, the Penguins will need to figure out how to score more than one goal in a game if they want to win Game 4 at 8 p.m. Friday in Ottawa.
A NOTE: After Game 3, Methot gave an update on the pinky finger that was mangled by a Crosby slash during a March 23 game at Ottawa. "The pain for the most part is gone," he said. "I think at this point it's re-calcified and a lot of it's kind of grown back, but there's not much feeling there. Obviously, it's still numb, but aside from that, I've been in very good hands here with this team, and they've taken good care of me. It's come a long way."
A QUOTE: "For me, the takeaway is you can't lose the first period by four goals and think you're going to win." – coach Mike Sullivan
A NUMBER: 0 – times the Penguins have trailed after three games in Sullivan's previous six playoff series as head coach
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.
Editor's note: Visit triblive.com for the Chipped Ice A.M. report every morning the Penguins play or practice throughout their series with the Senators.