The Flyers aren’t a team that takes the easy road, and game four of their Eastern Conference Quarter-Final match-up versus the visiting Penguins was no exception. They could have swept their reeling inter-state rivals, and moved on to the second round, but instead the home-team gave up 10-goals, including four while a man down, and took 16-penalties totaling 64-minutes, on their way to a 10-3 route.
Game four marked the first of the series to see the Flyers score the opening goal. Only 0:17 into the opening period, Pens forward Steve Sullivan took a high-sticking minor the Flyers converted into another power play goal on the series. In the first three games, the Flyers had gone a convincing 6-for-10 with the man-advantage.
Things continued in the Flyers’ favor, when Art Ross Trophy incumbent Evgeni Malkin took an untimely hooking minor at 1:29 of the first stanza. The Flyers failed to convert on their second early power play opportunity, and upon leaving the box, the star center received the puck in the middle of the ice to score his first goal of the series.
After being shutdown brilliantly in the previous three games by rookie centerman Sean Couturier, Malkin seemed to hit his stride on his way to a 3-point night, with 2-goals and a plus-4.
The first period saw a total of four lead changes, along with five minors handed out to the Pens and three to the Flyers. The refs made their presence known by cracking down on any infractions. The crackdown was in response to the out of hand play of game three, in which 156 total penalty minutes were handed out along with three Penguin suspensions.
After the first period, the Pens were up 4-3, but the Flyers who’d overcome deficits such as this all season, were still within striking distance. After holding a 3-goal lead in game one, the Pens failed to hold on and lost the match 4-3 in overtime. This time, the first period saw the end of the Flyers scoring.
Just 3:07 into the second period, with Claude Giroux in the box for high-sticking, Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov gave up his fifth goal of the night on only 18-shots. He’d been looking shaky in net since game three, and the fifth goal was his final shot taken of the night. Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette saw a need for change, and sent backup Sergei Bobrovsky in for Bryzgalov.
“Our team needs to be better,” Laviolette said politically, when asked if he has been satisfied with his goaltending. “That is, everybody’s performance has to be better than what we do. It was an off game for us. We were not as sharp as we need to be and that was obvious.
“I said it before about Bryz. The first few games in Pittsburgh, he made spectacular saves. But when you put it cumulative together and tie everything together, it makes it a little more difficult to answer [if I’m satisfied with goaltending] with a yes or a no.”
Nothing would change after the goalie switch, and a cold Bobrovsky would allow 5-goals on 18-shots, before the night was over.
Even though the goaltending wasn’t great, the troubles couldn’t be lumped onto the netminders alone. The Flyers defense, much like the Pens defense a game ago was in shambles. They let the Pens run all over the offensive zone, and did little with their own transitions. The Pens shut things down with their own defense, and didn’t allow many chances for the Orange and Black.
“At that point, Bryz needed to come out,” Laviolette said. “Generally speaking, we all need to be better at what we do. But he needed to come out of that situation. So, I changed it up, tried to shake the tree a little bit.”
On top of it all, Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury appeared to be getting his confidence back, and made several astonishing saves in close. After giving up three power play goals on 11-shots in the first, he was perfect stopping all 14-shots he faced in the final two periods.
One of the big issues when facing the Pens is their centermen. Most teams can stop one, maybe even two, but the Pens bring three centers–Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal, who can each bring offense when needed. In the first three games of the series, the Pens trifecta at center were held to a combined 4-goals, 9-assists, for 13-points, with Malkin held to only 4-assists.
The latest match was completely different. The Pen’s centermen combined for 6-goals, 3-assists, for 9-points. None of them were kept off the board, and 6’4” shutdown specialist Staal led the way with a hat-trick.
Although the wheels came off the bus early for the Flyers, and it seemed nothing went right, the problems came on special teams. All three of the Flyers goals were scored while on the red-hot man-advantage, which went 3-for-5 on the night. But the Flyers gave up 9-power plays, and the Pens capitalized on four. Previously, the Flyers penalty kill was outstanding, killing 9-of-12, and scoring 3-short-handed goals. The kill was at times dominant, and the short-handed goals were deflating to the Pens.
Wednesday’s affair was the complete opposite, seeing the Flyers running around without discipline, giving up juicy rebounds, and time and space to their opposition. They looked like a team that didn’t come ready to complete a sweep.
Now they’ll have to go back to Pittsburgh for game-5, and fourth-line middle-weight Zac Rinaldo will likely be a casualty of a Brendan Shanahan suspension due to a late head-shot he threw at a kneeling Zbynek Michalek in the second period. The Flyers do have options though. Power winger James van Riemsdyk, after recovering from a broken foot, has been skating with the team, along with tough-guy Tom Sestito.
The Flyers are still in the driver’s seat, and can finish things off at the Consol Energy Center this Friday, where they have a record of 7-1 this season, but they’ll need to sure up their defense, and get better goaltending from Bryzgalov.
“We’re going to find out what kind of team we are, how we are built,” Flyers’ forward Jaromir Jagr said. “If we are the team like we think we are, we’re going to have to respond the next game.”
It is a scary thought that Malkin, Crosby, Staal and Fleury seemed to have gotten their games together, and no one should rule the Pens out. Many predicted them to win this series, and shouldn’t be counted out. The Flyers will need to shake off this miserable loss, and move on.