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
The deal is supposed to help Philadelphia end a 37-year Cup
drought, one brought on largely by the lack of a superstar between
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,”
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
They’ll have to do it three more times to avoid a
disappointingly early playoff exit at the hands of their
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
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
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
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.