The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have a problem.
They can't beat the Norfolk Admirals.
Although they played admirably in spurts Sunday, the Penguins lost a game to Norfolk they felt they needed to win.
Remember how the Admirals ended Wilkes-Barre's/Scranton's winningest season way too early with a three-goal flurry that floored the Penguins in the second round of last year's playoffs?
Then Norfolk came back and pushed the Penguins around on their home ice this season, winning all five games the two played at Mohegan Sun Arena.
And in a game the Penguins felt they needed to win Sunday, not only to save face but to move into first place, it was Norfolk finding a way to win it.
"We wanted to win that one bad," Penguins defenseman Alexandre Picard said.
That seems like a bad omen for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Because even if the Penguins rally from four points back to take the East Division from Norfolk over the final stretch of the season, the Admirals will most certainly be waiting for them somewhere in the postseason.
"We'd love it," WBS Penguins coach John Hynes shot back.
Brave words or false bravado?
Hey, it's not as if the Penguins will pack it in at the mere sight of blue and orange Norfolk jerseys.
They grabbed, pulled and tugged at Norfolk's East Division lead throughout Sunday, starting with Joey Mormina's hammering hit that knocked Eric Neilson into the boards and knocked the Norfolk winger's helmet off.
Hat's off to the Admirals, though.
They got the game-winner they needed when Carter Ashton rolled a goal off the back of Penguins netminder Patrick Killeen with 2:04 left. Killeen was playing well in his first AHL start. Ashton was playing his last game for Norfolk, since he was traded to Toronto hours later.
But once again, the Penguins appeared to be playing with fire when they got burned by Norfolk.
"I don't think they saw our best game all year, though," Penguins center Ben Street said. "We've played well for a period. Take 10 minutes off, and they score.
"It's got to be a 60-minute effort."
That's the difference between the Penguins and Norfolk.
The Admirals can get by with less than their best and still win. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton can't.
"We hope we play them in the playoffs," Picard said. "They've won here. But we've won there, too. I don't feel like they have our number."
Numbers don't deceive anyone.
The Penguins have played Norfolk eight games this season and won just two of them, and not one of those victories came in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton's home building. That's a trend unlikely to change.
The Penguins will eventually have Brad Thiessen back in goal, after he was promoted to Pittsburgh as a backup last week and earned his first NHL victory Sunday. But not much else is likely to change for the Penguins, who made no moves before Monday's trade deadline passed.
It appears what you see is what you are going to get when these teams match up.
"This seems to be one of the rivalries that's really picked up," Street said. "This is one of the better rivalries we have."
It's not really a rivalry when one team makes it so one-sided.