Penguins' big picture still the same: Only focus on Game 6
April 22, 2012 7:00 PM
Sidney Crosby practices Saturday with the Penguins at Consol Energy Center.
Marc-Andre Fleury's performance in the third period Friday is the biggest reason the teams are going back to Philadelphia today.
By Dave Molinari Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA -- You might think that, after winning a couple of games, the Penguins would be tempted to reflect a bit on what they have achieved the past few days.
On how they have upgraded a challenge that virtually was impossible -- winning a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games -- into one that is downright conceivable.
OK, they reclaimed some dignity with a 10-3 victory in Philadelphia Wednesday and established themselves as a viable threat to win their Round 1 playoff series against the Flyers a couple of nights later.
Matchup: Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 12:08 p.m. today, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Ilya Bryzgalov for Flyers.
Penguins: Are 6-5 in Game 6 when trailing, 3-2. ... Jordan Staal has a point in every game of series (6 goals, 3 assists). ... Fleury is 6-4 in games facing elimination.
Flyers: Are outscoring Penguins, 9-2, in third period and OT. ... Have just three even-strength goals over past three games. ... Claude Giroux has 16 postseason points vs. Penguins, the most of any active player.
Hidden stat: The team that scores the first goal has lost in all five games.
None of that, however, has changed an unwavering reality that has faced them for a week: They are one loss removed from the end of their season.
They dodged it in Game 4, and again in Game 5.
But the Penguins know it could happen in Game 6 today at the Wells Fargo Center, which is why there is no point in pondering what might be possible if they extend the series to a Game 7 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
"The big picture is the next game," defenseman Deryk Engelland said Saturday. "That's it. If we don't come out and execute and win a game, it's over."
The Penguins had to survive a third-period surge by the Flyers in Game 5 to get this far and are braced for Philadelphia to start Game 6 with a similar high-energy burst of offense.
"They're going to be desperate," defenseman Kris Letang said. "As much as we are."
Philadelphia had 14 shots in the final period Friday, with seven coming while Penguins right winger Tyler Kennedy was serving a slashing minor. Although the Flyers didn't score on that the man-advantage, they used it as the foundation of an assault on goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury that did not end until the game did.
"We played really well the first part of that period," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "We were playing in their end, not giving them a lot. And then, once they got that power play, that seemed to give them a lot of momentum and then they really came after us after that."
Philadelphia does not have an even-strength goal in the past two games, but has scored on 11 of 20 power plays in the series. The Flyers have enough speed and skill that avoiding penalties altogether probably is not a realistic objective, but the Penguins will emphasize staying away from unnecessary ones.
They picked up at least three of those in Game 5. Kennedy was sent off for slashing winger Scott Hartnell after Hartnell drove him into the boards with a hit, and Evgeni Malkin was penalized twice earlier for reacting to things that had been done to him.
"It's hard to control emotions because every whistle, it's two [defensemen] coming to you and start shoving you," Malkin said. "Of course it's hard, but I need to control it."
During the regular season and earlier in the playoffs, the Flyers had been able to draw the Penguins into costly skirmishes during stoppages. In Game 5, the Penguins' problem was mostly lapses in discipline and judgment while play was ongoing.
"We've talked about being emotionally in control in this series, whistle to whistle, and, after the whistle, not being involved in that situation," coach Dan Bylsma said. "[Friday], it was between the whistles that we were on the wrong side of that and put our team in tough situations."
"Playing our game and playing our best is our focus, and not being caught up in that other stuff. Because one time -- one time -- could be the difference in these games right now."
Game 5 was the closest thing to a classic playoff performance -- tight and low-scoring -- that the teams have produced so far.
And even though the Flyers swarmed in the Penguins' end for a significant part of the third period, forcing Fleury to make several exceptional stops to preserve his team's lead, several players said that was primarily a case of putting an emphasis on preventing a goal rather than producing another one.
"We kind of went into a little bit more of a defensive mode," winger Steve Sullivan said. "We really paid attention to making sure we had numbers back."
They'll probably want to do that in Game 6, as well. Especially if the Flyers try to take control early.
"We need to approach the next game like we have the last two, and worry about the first five minutes of that game," left winger Matt Cooke said.
"They're at home, and they've got their fans behind them. It's a loud building. Obviously, they're going to be pumped up and they're going to come out hard."
Which is why the Penguins dare not look beyond the next game. The next period. The next shift.