There are some really swell things about winning the first three games in a best-of-seven series. The best is that a team can have as many as four -- count 'em, four -- chances to earn the fourth victory it needs to advance to the next round. A close second is that two of those opportunities, if needed, are guaranteed to be on home ice. Which, in the case of the Penguins -- who will face Philadelphia in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final at 3:08 p.m. tomorrow at Mellon Arena -- is of no small significance. They have won their past 15 games at home, including seven in the playoffs. Makes it easy to understand why they weren't particularly deflated after losing Game 4, 4-2, in Philadelphia Thursday, in their first kick at claiming a spot in the Stanley Cup final.
"We've got a great opportunity here," center Sidney Crosby said.
There is, of course, no assurance that a 15-game winning streak will stretch to 16, but it's only natural that the Penguins would like their chances of keeping it alive tomorrow.
"We're a tough team to play against at home," coach Michel Therrien said. "We've proven it in the past, and we'll be a tough team to play on Sunday."
- When: 3:08 p.m. Sunday
- Where: Mellon Arena
- TV: WPXI
Of course, the Flyers proved Thursday that they can be one, too. Especially when they are as aggressive offensively as they were in the first period, as they built a 3-0 lead largely by putting pucks on goal and going after them. Hard.
"They threw a lot of pucks on net," Penguins center Jordan Staal said. "I think we had a tough time containing them in front. They're strong players. We knew coming into [Game 4] that we had to do a better job in front, and, hopefully, we'll do that next game."
Philadelphia's early surge put the Penguins in the rare, though not unprecedented, position of having to wipe out a multiple-goal deficit. They have had a lead much of the time in the first two-plus rounds -- a major factor in their 11-2 record -- but the dynamics change when they're compelled to play from behind.
"You look at the way Pittsburgh played the first three games," Flyers goalie Martin Biron said. "They got the lead, and they were able to play their style of hockey, and kind of shut things down.
"[In Game 4], we got the lead. We were able to shut things down a little bit more. I think that has been the key so far in this series. Get off to the lead, and then you get a couple of power plays to get your momentum [going] your way."
No question about that, although Biron acknowledged that it might be difficult for the Flyers to replicate that start in Game 5.
"It's a lot easier to respond when you're at home with your fans and the energy in the building," he said.
This is the second series in a row in which the Penguins won the first three games, then lost Game 4 to set up a potential series-clincher on home ice. In Round 2, they defeated the New York Rangers, 3-2, in overtime on a Marian Hossa goal.
Given the way that series turned out, it's no surprise the Penguins are quick to draw a parallel between that and what's happening in Round 3.
"We're in the same situation as against the Rangers," Therrien said. "Another quality team that was playing really well defensively."
One important distinction between their 3-0 loss at Madison Square Garden and what happened at the Wachovia Center Thursday: The Penguins were sloppy and uninspired for most of the game against the Rangers, but bounced back from a poor start in Philadelphia and controlled play for much of the final half of the game.
"The second and third periods, we played great," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Played the way we're supposed to."
Because of that, the Penguins might enter Game 5 with more momentum than a losing team usually enjoys.
"Especially the way we played in the third period, I believe so," Therrien said. "I thought we played very well. We started skating. We started to play the way we're supposed to play, and that would give confidence to the players."
Returning to Mellon Arena should do the same. Because for all that has happened to the Penguins since Feb. 24, losing a home game is nowhere on the list.
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published May 17, 2008 4:00 AM