Wells Fargo Center is an intimidating playoff venue for an opposing team. The crowd is loud. The music is loud. The sheer volume of orange in the seats makes it clear you’re facing not only the Flyers, but the entire city of Philadelphia – or, at minimum, 19,955 of its most passionate fans.
“It’s always intense,” said captain Sidney Crosby. “It’s a tough environment to come into, so I think we all prepare knowing that.”
On the ice, too, the Penguins endured an orange storm for most of the first period. The Flyers drove possession through the first 20 minutes, leading 20-9 in shot attempts, 12-3 in scoring chances and 7-1 in high-danger chances at even strength.
But Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who wasn’t at his best in their 5-1, Game 2 loss, entered the game with an 8-1 record and 1.57 goals-against average after a playoff defeat. And the two-time Stanley Cup winner was ready to put that resilience on display.
“[That’s] just his makeup,” said head coach Mike Sullivan. “He’s such a battle-tested guy. He has a real quiet confidence about him; he knows he’s good. And, if a game doesn’t go the way he wants it to go, he always responds the right way. It’s such a great attribute to have as a young athlete, especially as a goaltender.”
Murray led the Penguins through the lopsided first period, stopping the Flyers on chance after chance. Like a breakaway from rookie Nolan Patrick, just a minute into the contest.
“I just try to stop each shot,” Murray said. “One at a time.”
“They came hard; we expected that,” Crosby said. “He had to make some big saves, [like] the breakaway early. That was a great job by him allowing us to settle in. He definitely helped set the tone for us.”
With Murray’s strong work, and 11 blocked shots in the first period alone, the Penguins put themselves in position to take advantage of an opportunity midway through the frame.
Defenseman Brian Dumoulin pressured Flyers winger Michael Raffl into coughing up the puck along the boards. Patric Hornqvist seized on the turnover and got the puck to Crosby, who slid the puck from his skate to his stick for a highlight-reel, wraparound goal.
That took some of the energy out of the Flyers’ strong start, not to mention their fanbase. After a dominant 20 minutes, Philadelphia went into the first intermission on the wrong side of a 1-0 score.
After that, the scales started to tip in the Penguins’ favor. Their league-best power play, held 0-for-4 in Game 2, gave up the fancy passing in favor of crisp puck movement and quick shots. It worked, with Kris Letang and Phil Kessel setting up Derick Brassard for his first postseason goal as a Penguin just 2:48 into the second.
“Just a matter of time for our power play to connect,” Brassard said. “I’ve only been here for a month, but they’ve been No. 1 in the league the entire season. There’s no panic on our side. Just establish shots on the power play and, after that, those seams are going to open.”
“It’s more about smart shots, and making sure we shoot the puck from the right areas of the rink at the right time,” Sullivan said. “If it doesn’t go in, then maybe it creates a rebound opportunity for us. Nothing breaks coverage down better than a shot on goal, because it forces decisions on both sides. I thought the power play made good decisions with their selection of when they were going to shoot.”
A few minutes later, the Penguins converted again on the power play with an Evgeni Malkin shot from the right circle. That was followed just five seconds later by a goal from Dumoulin, tying a postseason record that’s been standing since 1965, when Norm Ullman scored twice in five seconds for the Detroit Red Wings against the Chicago Blackhawks on April 11, 1965.
The 2-0 contest had become 4-0 in a hurry, and the Penguins were well on their way to taking a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Flyers’ Travis Sandheim scored later in the second period to break Murray’s shutout bid, with help from captain Claude Giroux, who skated across the crease to take away the goalie’s sightlines. But Philly couldn’t get any sustained momentum, as the Penguins limited them to four scoring chances in the final two periods combined.
The Flyers had power-play opportunities – six in all – but the Penguins’ penalty kill shut them down. That started in the faceoff dot, where Pittsburgh went 10-2 while on the PK, including 6-2 for center Riley Sheahan.
“They did an awesome job tonight,” Murray said. “We were killing quite a bit, it felt like, but we got the job done and didn’t give them a whole lot.”
The Flyers also allowed the Penguins seven chances with the man-advantage, and Pittsburgh capitalized on three of them. That included a blast from the point from defenseman Justin Schultz to make it a 5-1 final – the sixth time in seven games this season that the Penguins have put up five goals or more against the Flyers.
“Our forwards do a good job of getting there around the net,” Schultz said. “So, as much as we can try to get the puck down there for them to get those rebounds, we’re going to try to do that, especially on the power play. Good to get a couple and get some confidence there.”
Also getting some confidence was Crosby, who had four points (1G, 3A) on the day after missing some grade-A chances in Game 2.
“You have to move on when you get a couple looks and they don’t go in,” Crosby said. “Nice to get one early; that always makes a big difference as far as being able to forget about it.”
It probably doesn’t hurt that hostile territory only seems to bring out the best in Crosby.
“I just think it’s an indication of how competitive he is,” Sullivan said. “When the stakes are high, if we’re in an away building and they’re important games, Sid tends to play his best. He’s done that time and time again.
“You’ve got to give the Flyers a lot of credit; they had a really strong start. And I thought Sid was a big reason our team settled down. That first goal he got, for example – he just has an ability to stay in the moment. He doesn’t get rattled; he doesn’t get phased by anything a high-stakes environment might present to other players. He just thrives on it, and that’s why he’s as accomplished as he is.”
The teams get two days to rest and regroup before Game 4 Wednesday.