Penguins understand Flyers aren't done yet

NHL Playoffs '09

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Philadelphia launched 46 shots at Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury Tuesday night.

Fired 13 more that missed the net, and 20 others that got blocked on the way.

Take those totals, factor in the 24 hits with which the Flyers were credited, and it doesn't require a frame-by-frame analysis of the game tape to figure out that Philadelphia was pretty serious about trying to win Game 4 at the Wachovia Center.

"They gave us a good battle," Penguins left winger Ruslan Fedotenko said yesterday.

Good enough that the Flyers could have ended up with, say, a 6-2 victory instead of a 3-1 defeat, if Fleury hadn't picked that particular evening to trot out a pretty convincing Patrick Roy impersonation.

Nonetheless, that game gave the Penguins a pretty good feel for what the Flyers are capable of when they are focused and efficient.


Scouting report
  • Matchup: Philadelphia Flyers at Penguins, 7:08 p.m. today, Mellon Arena.
  • TV/Radio: FSN Pittsburgh; WXDX-FM (105.9).
  • Series: Penguins, 3-1.
  • Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Martin Biron for Flyers.
  • Penguins: Are 11-2 in past 13 playoff games on home ice. ... C Sidney Crosby has at least one point in eight consecutive playoff games, longest active streak in league. ... Have won Game 5 in each of past three series.
  • Flyers: Have lost five consecutive playoff games at Mellon Arena. ... Five players have recorded their first career postseason points in this series. ... Have scored two or fewer goals in seven of past nine playoff games, all against Penguins.
  • Hidden stat: Hidden stat: Flyers are 0-13 in series in which they face a 3-1 deficit.

And tonight, when the Penguins try to clinch a spot in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by beating the Flyers in Game 5 at Mellon Arena, they expect to find out what the Flyers can do when driven by the raw desperation born of being just one loss removed from the offseason.

"A team doesn't get any more desperate than in a situation like that," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said.

Most of the time, anyway. The Penguins, up 3-1 in this series, had a similar lead on Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference final last spring, and the Flyers entered Mellon Arena for Game 5 intent on nothing more hostile than signing the papers on an unconditional surrender.

The Penguins closed out that series with a 6-0 victory that had all the suspense of a North Korean election, and that could happen again tonight, of course. But no one who has watched the series to this point -- especially the Penguins -- expects it to.

"They have a better team than last year," center Max Talbot said.

The Flyers also have a better chance of getting back into the series than they did in 2008, particularly if they can find a way to ratchet their game up to the level it reached for most of Game 4.

Philadelphia kept the play in the Penguins' end for extended stretches and capitalized on the inevitable lapses and breakdowns to generate a number of quality scoring chances. Some of that could be traced to flawed execution by the Penguins, but most was rooted in the Flyers' performance.

"There are things we can do better, but you have to give them credit for the way they played," interim coach Dan Bylsma said. "Pretty much every man on their roster came at us pretty hard. That's a credit to the way they played."

Game 4, the Penguins figure, provided a blueprint Philadelphia will try to follow tonight. They're prepared for the Flyers to forecheck ferociously, finish every check and sacrifice themselves to block shots and break up plays.

"We know what kind of game Philadelphia is going to bring because they're desperate," right winger Bill Guerin said. "They're in a must-win situation, but we are as well."

Well, not mathematically. Holding a 3-1 lead in a best-of-seven comes with a built-in margin for error, although it's not one teams are eager to use.

After all, the momentum in a series can shift severely and suddenly.

Consequently, the Penguins have to approach Game 5 as if anything, up to and including anesthetic-free oral surgery, would be preferable to returning to the Wachovia Center for Game 6 Saturday.

If the Flyers have a pulse when they return home after the game tonight, the Penguins will be faced with the prospect of either winning another game in one of hockey's most hostile venues or having their season reduced to a 60-minute crapshoot at Mellon Arena Monday.

The Penguins are justifiably optimistic -- "It's a tight series, but we're pretty confident right now," left winger Pascal Dupuis said -- but also aware that they won one game in overtime and another by virtue of Fleury's brilliance. Had a few breaks or bounces gone the other way, the Penguins might have been scrapping to stay alive, not advance, tonight.

None of those hypotheticals will matter tonight, though. The stakes for both teams are clear. So are the challenges.

"They're going to come at us and try to win a hockey game," Talbot said. "They know it's not over. And we know it, too."


Dave Molinari can be reached at dmolinari@post-gazette.com


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