Analysts picked the Pittsburgh Penguins as a favorite to win the 2012 Stanley Cup. Then the team's first-round series against the hated rival Philadelphia Flyers commenced.
Three games and 20 goals against later, the Penguins' run for the Cup looks to be virtually over. (Update: A 10-3 goalfest in Game 4 on Wednesday night has Pittsburgh hanging on with a 3-1 series deficit.)
The Flyers out-hustled, out-worked and out-played the Penguins in all but the first periods of Games 1 and 2.
The relentless Flyers offense beat Pittsburgh's defenders to loose pucks, found open ice to shoot and scored more goals shorthanded than the Penguins scored on the power play.
Only one Pittsburgh defenseman mustered a positive plus/minus rating through the first three games, and two defenders accounted for a total of three points from the blue line.
The utter collapse of the Penguins' blue-liners and overall team defense allowed the Flyers to rally from a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 and a 3-1 deficit in Game 2 and win Game 3 by a convincing score of 8-4.
The six members of the Penguins' defeat are the single reason for Pittsburgh's downfall, but too many glaring mistakes by the blue-liners have made them the scapegoat of the series.
If there is any chance of the Penguins doing the near-impossible and rallying from a 3-0 series deficit, the defense has to shut down the Flyers' well-oiled attack.
In addition to the Penguins' defense, several other players on all 16 playoff teams need to contribute more to if they want to lift Lord Stanley's Cup in June. Let's take a look at 10 of them.