On the 200-kilometre stretch of highway from Erie, Pa., to Pittsburgh, there were no fewer than 21 deer carcasses on the shoulders of the southbound lanes yesterday.

Around here, the only other species to have almost as tough a Memorial Day weekend was the Penguins. They also were road kill; rolled over with machine-like efficiency by the Detroit Red Wings in the first two games of the Stanley Cup final.

It’s a desperate situation for the Penguins as they prepare to play Game 3 on home ice tonight. Only two teams in NHL history have rallied from an 0-3 series deficit. The Pens, who have rarely touched the puck, let alone scored in the series, can’t be counted on to become the third.

But, instead of freezing in the headlights, the Pens are flailing back. In lieu of offence, they are desperately trying to manufacture some passion, settling for cheap shots on and off the ice when they can’t create any shots on it.

“Hopefully, we’ve built a little of that anger up and we can use that to our advantage,” Pittsburgh veteran Gary Roberts said yesterday.

It was Roberts, while trying to do just that late in Game 2, who hit Detroit’s Johan Franzen in the head with a gloved left hand. Franzen had just returned from a six-game absence due to concussion symptoms. The 42-year-old Roberts later claimed it was an accidental shoulder that hit Franzen.

“Does he have shoulder pads on his hands?” wondered an incredulous Detroit coach Mike Babcock.

Roberts said Franzen, who fell to the ice and remained there for a few moments, was putting on a show with his theatrics.

“He obviously embellished it,” Roberts said. “If my glove got in his face, by no means was it a punch that should knock a guy down like that. He shouldn’t be playing if he falls that easily.”

It was a clever salvo in what could have become an escalating war of words. That’s tough to create, however, when one team won’t play along. “We have thick skin,” responded Detroit forward Kris Draper. “The bottom line is we’re trying to win hockey games.”