Penguins optimistic as series returns home

Sidney Crosby keeps waiting for the madness to stop. Keeps

expecting the law of averages to kick in. Keeps wondering when the

series between the Flyers and the Penguins will start to resemble

something close to playoff hockey.

And the games pass, and the goals and the fights and the

penalties and the suspensions pile up, and the series continues to

look like something played with joysticks, not hockey sticks.

”I think it’s all kind of crossed our mind and probably a lot

of other people’s too,” Crosby said. ”You see that happen maybe

once and you kind of think `Oh, that’s a weird game’ and then in

four games it’s surprising but we’ve got to find ways to adjust and

ways to win.”

The Penguins finally found a way in Game 4, staving off

elimination with a resounding 10-3 victory that silenced – at least

for a night – critics who wondered if Pittsburgh was going to even

bother showing up.

Yet for all the frustration released in 60 minutes of largely

brilliant hockey, the Penguins are well aware it will mean little

if they can’t build on it in Game 5 on Friday night.

”The way we looked at it, it didn’t matter if it was 2-1 or

10-3,” defenseman Brooks Orpik said. ”It’s still only one win.

You don’t get any extra points for beating them by seven goals.

We’ve dug ourselves a big hole and we just have to chip away at it,

little by little here.”

It’s the only choice at Pittsburgh’s disposal after squandering

early leads in each of the first three games of the series. They

believe they restored some sense of order during the final two

periods Wednesday, holding the Flyers scoreless while padding their

lead with six goals.

”We just kept it simple,” Crosby said.

It’s all that was required after watching Philadelphia implode.

Starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was pulled after surrendering

five goals on just 18 shots. Backup Sergei Bobrovsky fared no

better, letting in five of his own as the Flyers absorbed their

worst playoff loss in more than a decade.

Though Bryzgalov will get the start again on Friday,

Philadelphia recalled Michael Leighton from the minors this week

perhaps as insurance. Leighton led the Flyers to the Stanley Cup

finals in 2010 before injuries derailed his career and opened the

door for Bryzgalov to sign a $51 million contract with Philadelphia

last summer.

The deal is supposed to help Philadelphia end a 37-year Cup

drought, one brought on largely by the lack of a superstar between

the pipes.

Bryzgalov has hardly looked capable of leading a team to a

title. His goals against average looks more like a mediocre

baseball pitcher’s ERA (4.95) and his save percentage (.844) so far

is a career postseason low.

Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette remains firmly behind

Bryzgalov and is quick to point out the Flyers still have a

commanding 3-1 series lead.

”I’ve said it before about Bryz, those first two games in

Pittsburgh I thought he was – he made spectacular saves,”

Laviolette said.

Bryzgalov will need to do it again on Friday if the Flyers want

to end the series. Pittsburgh tied a franchise record for goals in

a playoff game without winger James Neal, who sat out while serving

a one-game suspension for charging at Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux

in Game 3.

Neal watched Game 4 from the press box but sensed his teammates

were on the verge of a breakout.

”There was confidence in the (dressing) room,” Neal said.

”Our backs were against the wall and we knew what we had to

do.”

They’ll have to do it three more times to avoid a

disappointingly early playoff exit at the hands of their

archrivals.

The resounding nature of Pittsburgh’s win on Wednesday, however,

seemed to hint at a significant shift in momentum. The aura of

inevitability that cloaked the Flyers after three decisive

victories evaporated under an avalanche of Penguins goals.

”We’re going to find out what kind of team we are, how we are

built,” Philadelphia forward Jaromir Jagr said. ”If we are the

team like we think we are, we’re going to have to respond the next

game.”

The Flyers know what it’s like to be down 3-0 in a series to

win. They did it two years ago in the Eastern Conference semifinals

against Boston. It’s why they remain wary, though maybe they

shouldn’t be.

Philadelphia has owned the Penguins at Consol Energy Center

since it opened two years ago, including a pair of comebacks in

Games 1 and 2 last week. The Flyers were the NHL’s best road team

during the regular season and could get a boost from the possible

return of James van Riemsdyk, who hasn’t played since March 1 due

to a broken foot.

Van Riemsdyk practiced on Thursday and could be available on

Friday. Philadelphia may need his steadying presence after

defenseman Nicklas Grossman went down with an upper-body injury in

Game 4 and is day-to-day.

Either way, the Flyers understand they can’t afford to play as

loose defensively as they have throughout the series. Philadelphia

didn’t score for the last 44 minutes on Wednesday, the longest

drought between goals by either team during four logic-defying

games.

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma believes a sense of normalcy will

return even though ”it hasn’t gotten there yet.”

Maybe it won’t.

””I think this series will be remembered for decades for

sure,” Bryzgalov said.

Though only fondly by the winners.