Flyers: Shocked, and still with no answers
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers are stunned.
After beating the Penguins five times out of eight -- and four of four at home -- in the regular season, after getting past scoring machine Alex Ovechkin and Washington in the first round, after knocking off top-seeded Montreal in the second round, they have no answers against the Penguins.
At least that seemed to be the prevailing emotion after Philadelphia dug a hole that precedent suggests it will have a difficult time climbing out of.
"I don't know if I completely have an explanation right now," winger Joffrey Lupul said after the Penguins trapped, clogged the neutral zone and stifled the Flyers, 4-1.
"We didn't get many chances, and when we did, we missed the net or they blocked shots. We're working. We're in there. We're skating. But they're just doing a good job defensively."
And getting enough offense to go along with all that backchecking and strong defensive play to hold a commanding 3-0 lead going into Game 4 tomorrow night.
Eyes stared blankly or darted left and right in the home locker room after a loss that left the Flyers reeling.
Coming home to the boisterous Wachovia Center was supposed to give Philadelphia more of a lift.
"In your own building, you can't get outworked," winger Scottie Upshall said. "You've got to be playing your 'A' game."
The Flyers weren't, and the Penguins were about an A-plus.
"They executed very well," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "They pounce on turnovers. They're very committed to the checking game right now. They're creating all their offense from the checking side of the puck, and they're doing it very well."
To bring the series back to Mellon Arena for Game 5 Sunday, Philadelphia will have to recover quickly and find some answers.
"We're frustrated a little bit, and that's normal in a situation that is not a good one," said goaltender Martin Biron, who finished with 21 saves.
"We're going to have to come up with better games because this way is not working. We're going to have to find something that works."
Only three teams in North American sports -- two in hockey -- have come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series.
The Penguins already this spring have closed out Ottawa (four games) and the New York Rangers (five games) after taking a 3-0 lead.
It's more likely that history will repeat in the other direction. The last time both teams recorded sweeps in the conference finals was 1992, when the Penguins beat Boston in four games and Chicago did the same against Edmonton. Detroit leads Dallas, 3-0, in the Western Conference.
The Penguins swept the Blackhawks in 1992 to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup.
If the Penguins complete this one in a sweep, it will have been made possible partly because Biron allowed two soft-looking goals -- by Ryan Whitney on a power play and Marian Hossa -- in a span of 2:38 of the first period.
"It's tough in our own building, with the fans going crazy, to get down two goals," winger Scottie Upshall said.
That seemed to spark inspired defensive play by the Flyers, and it didn't hurt that R.J. Umberger cut the lead in half, 2-1, when he slid the puck under Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury at 10:59 of the first period.
In the second period in particular, the Flyers got drawn into the Penguins' type of game -- a lot of skating and a lot of play in front of Biron -- but Philadelphia backchecked with fury to keep the deficit from growing.
The trouble was, that left precious little room or time for the Flyers to create offense.
The Flyers fell into a two-goal hole at 9:58 of the third period when Ryan Malone beat Biron with a backhander.
The play was set up in the other end when Penguins center Evgeni Malkin picked off a cross-ice pass by Steve Downie.
It was Downie who in Game 2 failed to clear the puck in the third period and Max Talbot made him pay by scoring the winning goal.
But it was a collective letdown that led to the tough spot Philadelphia is in.
"We're not going to stop showing up," Biron said.
The Flyers in all likelihood will have to do a lot more than that.
First Published May 14, 2008 12:41 am