James Neal taught us last season that “It just takes one.” Last night, the Pens got One and that One was their life line to avoiding early dismissal. This was their ticket to Game 5 and a chance to be One in a small line of historic playoff comebacks.
The Flyers are one of the few whom have come back from and 0-3 deficit to advance safely to the next round of the playoffs. Two seasons ago, the Flyers came back and eliminated the Bruins. While much talk on Flyers blogs is about the improbability of the Pens coming back since winning four games in a row even outside of a playoff setting is difficult, it is still possible. It can happen. The Flyers may have stamped their names in history for all time comebacks, but last season, they were swept in four games in the second round of the playoffs.
The one thing that everyone has learned from the past week is that anything is possible. This has without a doubt, been the most strange, heart-wrenching, unpredictable playoff series many of us have ever witnessed in our lives as hockey fans. Forty-five total goals have been scored in the first four games of this series. As of last night the combined goals scored of all of the games played in the Eastern Conference: 46.
The Pens will bring it back to Pittsburgh tomorrow and battle to take this series to a Game 6. I don’t think a person with a crystal ball could tell you what to expect.
Based on what we have witnessed thus far, I would say this is going to be an extremely high scoring game. However, if I am a superstitious player I am not looking to score the first goal. The Pens broke out of the gate quickly for goals in Games 1-3. Last night, the Flyers quickly drew first blood. My immediate reaction was: good. let them score first. The team who has scored first has lost.
We will either see a very low scoring game or once again, very high. Even when the Pens were up 8-3 last night, I was not comfortable with the lead. This series has been too unpredictable, and with the referees calling some of the most ticky-tacky calls possible last night, who knows how that game could have ended up had the officiating been more lax in the first period, where the Flyers scored three power play goals.
The goalies, power plays, penalty kills, and defense have been the undoing of each of these teams. The Flyers may have won more games, but the goal-tending has been subpar for each team. To blame the first three losses solely on Marc-Andre Fleury is just insanity when you consider how abysmal the Pens defense was up until last night with huge help from Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen. When it comes down to it, Ilya Bryzgalov is still averaging 4.25 goals allowed per game. If the Pens defense had shown up in the first few games, this series would likely be split.
I am not saying that Fleury didn’t allow some extremely soft and must-stop goals, but he is not the only guilty party in the painfully high scores in Games 2 and 3.
The saving grace of the Flyers has been their ability to capitalize on their power play and the struggling power play of the Pens when they were using their nasty (and I don’t mean the good kind) 5-forward PP strategy.
Look at their scores from the games:
Game 1: 1 PPG, 4 Goals Total
Game 2: 2 PPG, 1 SHG, 8 Goals Total
Game 3: 4 PPG, 1 SHG, 8 Goals Total
Game 4: 3 PPG, 3 Goals Total
Game 1: 3 Goals Total
Game 2: 2 PPG, 5 Goals Total
Game 3: 1 PPG, 4 Goals Total
Game 4: 4 PPG, 10 Goals Total
The Pens are finally back to playing Penguin hockey, but will it continue? I hope so. As long as they can keep the power play strong and help their goalie, they can take back this series.
Last night, the Flyers began to dip into the same distress that the Pens experienced in Game 3 and in frustration, resorted to goony tactics to try and gain momentum. The Penguins are completely guilty themselves of committing some atrocious acts on the ice, but last night, the Flyers pulled some pretty heinous stunts themselves.
Biggest perpetrator: Zac Rinaldo…Trevor Gillies in training. Arron Asham rightfully is serving a 4 game suspension for cross checking Brayden Schenn and then punching him in the back of the head when he was down on the ice. So why did Rinaldo not receive so much as a warning call from Brendan Shanahan for this stunt:
Rinaldo served a game misconduct, a 10 minute misconduct, 2 minutes for roughing and 2 minutes for cross-checking (penalties served out by Brayden Schenn). I counted 5 total cross checks while Michalek either had his back turned to the boards or was face down on the ice. Then came the elbow to the head followed by getting punched in the face as he attempted to stand up.
Completely unprovoked. Michalek didn’t have the puck.
Fast forward to the third period…Matt Cooke gets ejected from the game for what seems like being Matt Cooke. He was called for holding a stick (which he was completely guilty of) but what happened next was unnecessary. Pushed by multiple back to the ice as he was trying to stand. Wayne Simmonds skated around and stuck his glove in everyone he could find’s face: He looked like he was trying to suffocate Eric Tangradi. Then he moved onto Joe Vitale who was being separated by the refs from Pavel Kubina, and then moved on to Matt Cooke who was having words with Schenn (but they were not touching one another). Simmonds was ejected from the game as well, but Matt Cooke? Not seeing why.
If Asham is getting suspended for “cross checking” and Shea Weber is getting fined for what he did to Henrik Zetterberg, I fail to see why this didn’t warrent at the very LEAST a warning shot from Shanahan.
Jordan Staal had a hat trick
Evgeni Malkin scored a pair of goals (Yes, I am aware that Malkin got away with a very questionable hit on Grossman and I hope the kid is okay. Video here)
Kris Letang and Matt Niskanen both had goals and both proved why they are imperative to the Pens d-corps.
Brian Strait and Simon Despres both played really good games, looked comfortable. Strait was +3 on the night.
Eric Tangradi didn’t play an awful game either. He made a few nice plays and had an assist.
Tomorrow will prove to be a game that no matter what happens, will have Pens and Flyers fans alike 1 goal away from going into cardiac arrest.
Keep your heads in it Pens. Win or lose, do it with dignity.
Let’s Go Pens!