Saturday, April 21, 2018

Penguins must find way to finish off Flyers

By Kevin Gorman
April 20, 2018

Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers makes a save against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG PAINTS Arena on April 20, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

Philadelphia left the Flyers for dead, what with the Wells Fargo Center crowd booing them off the ice at the end of the second period in Game 4.
With a 3-1 series lead, all the Penguins had to do was put the finishing touches on this Stanley Cup playoffs first-round matchup by burying their cross-state nemesis.
We got the dirt.
The shovel?
The Penguins handed that to the Flyers, allowing them to dig their way out with 4-2 victory in Game 5 Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.
“It's tough,” Penguins goalie Matt Murray said. “The elimination game is probably the hardest game of them all.”
Need evidence? Mike Sullivan has led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, but they are 8-7 in elimination games.
On the brink of elimination, the Flyers brought buckets of desperation.
“I think it's simpler than everybody would think: You're fighting to stay alive,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “Our team has done a lot of really good things this year: We've gone through some tough stretches, but we found a way to gain 98 points through the regular season and we had to battle really hard to do it.
“We continue to grow. Tonight wasn't about growing. Tonight was about getting this thing to Game 6.”
The Flyers did everything they could to extend a series where they had been overmatched and outscored 17-1 in three lopsided losses.
What's crazy about this series is that the Penguins and Flyers have each won a pair of games on the road. Outside of Game 1, home ice has meant next to nothing.
“We didn't play well at home,” Hakstol said. “It's hard, when you have two games back-to-back like that in your building — not just end results on your scoreboard.
“We didn't feel like we played well. I think we needed the 24 hours in between, just to clear our heads and get our focus back on this one. We wanted to make sure it was a real hard game for them. I think we had our minds set on bringing this series back home, and our players went out and played that way.”
Hakstol didn't just switch goalies but got better play from Michal Neuvirth than he had from Brian Elliott. And Neuvirth hadn't played a full game since late February.
The Flyers didn't just overcome five minor penalties by killing the Penguins' power play, but Valtteri Filppula even scored a series-changing, short-handed goal to tie the score 2-2.
The Flyers didn't just turn to an injured player for a boost, but Sean Couturier returned after an accidental collision with teammate Radko Gudas in Tuesday's practice to score the winner with 1 minute, 15 seconds left.
And the Penguins had no one to blame but themselves — for giving up the first goal to Claude Giroux, for blowing a 2-1 lead with a costly turnover and for allowing the Flyers to steal a game and extend the series.
“We've just got to put it behind us and go play another game,” Sullivan said. “We've got to win a game. From our standpoint, nothing's changed. We've got to win a game. We're disappointed we didn't get it done.”
That the Penguins didn't get it done on a power play that went from superb (4 for 11 in Games 3 and 4) to stagnant (0 for 5 in Game 5) is a troubling sign.
When the Penguins' man advantage is on, the Flyers have no answer for their star power. When the power play goes oh-fer, the Flyers have a fighting chance.
Worse yet, Phil Kessel compounded the power-play troubles by making a major mistake with a turnover at the blue line.
Don't think for a second that Filppula, who previously played for the Detroit Red Wings, doesn't remember how Jordan Staal's shorty in Game 4 of the 2009 Cup Final swung momentum in the Penguins' favor that series.
The Penguins could have bought themselves a break, with the Columbus-Washington series tied at 2-2 and going at least two more games.
They could have given Patric Hornqvist more time to recover from the upper-body injury that has kept him out of the past two games. They could have allowed Evgeni Malkin a rest after the scary scene where his left ankle buckled in the first period.
Instead, the Flyers got it to Game 6. Now, the Penguins have to win a game and get this series over with.
Nothing's changed.
Everything's changed.
Where the Flyers are fighting to stay alive, the Penguins have to find a way to finish them off.
All of a sudden, that doesn't sound as simple as everybody would think.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Flyers, inspired by Sean Couturier, come of age in Game 5 win over Penguins

April 20, 2018

Scott Laughton #21 of the Philadelphia Flyers celebrates the game winning goal by Sean Couturier #14 of the Philadelphia Flyers (not pictured) against Matt Murray #30 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on April 20, 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

PITTSBURGH — They scored first. They scored shorthanded. The captain scored.

The comeback kid scored, the winner, from 50 feet away, against Matt Murray, the best playoff goalie of the last two years.

The Flyers discovered something about themselves in their Game 5 win over the Penguins. The score was 4-2, but the effect was palpable.

They discovered their heart.

It was framed by a resurrection. Another resurrection, that is; this one, by Sean Couturier.

Back in 2011, star defenseman Chris Pronger, the heart and soul of those Flyers teams, had missed 21 games with a broken hand. The Flyers faced elimination in Game 6 of the first round, at Buffalo, and Pronger’s return was not imminent — until it was. When the players awoke at 3:30 from their game-day naps, Pronger told them he would play.

Pronger contributed 4 minutes, 33 seconds of power-play time.

Couturier was more significant.

A Selke Award finalist and the Flyers’ best two-way forward since Mike Richards, Couturier was injured in a collision with teammate Radko Gudas in practice between Games 3 and 4, and missed Game 4 with a leg injury. He practiced the last two days and worked out hard at the optional game-day skate Friday, then played coy with the press afterward.

“Still hoping,” he said.

Not really.

Giroux told Couturier the Pronger story before the morning skate. Afterward, Couturier texted Giroux:

“Yeah. I’m pulling a Prongs.”

Giroux, the captain, smiled as he told the tales.

“He’s a huge piece of our team,” he said.

So was Michal Neuvirth, who played heroically two years ago against the Capitals, and did so again Friday night, his first postseason start of his injury-plagued season. He had 30 saves, none bigger than the one that denied Sidney Crosby with 50.3 seconds to play, preserved the win, and set up Game 6 in Philadelphia at 3 p.m. Sunday.

They welcomed back Couturier, who killed penalties and potted the difference-maker with 1:15 to play.

They took the the best the Penguins could offer, in their building, in front of a bloodthirsty crowd eager to get on with the rest of the playoffs and maybe a third consecutive Stanley Cup.

For a change, the Flyers were their match.

“I thought this was our best game, for sure,” Giroux said.

Oh, they turned the puck over — three times, one trip — and they got lucky, a lot. The Penguins couldn’t have missed more nets or whiffed on more bunnies if they’d  played the game with swizzle sticks.

What matters, though, is that they showed starch. That includes their walkover win in Game 2, which was little more than a gift from their far superior western neighbor, which had beaten them in seven of their previous eight games this season.

There’s no shame in acknowledging that. The Flyers are, after all, rebuilding. Seven players saw their first NHL playoff action in this first-round series. They get to see at least one more game.

It was obvious, from the start: they would fight on this night. They dumped Evgeni Malkin three times in the first 25 minutes. The third time, Malkin retaliated, which sent both him and his aggressor, Brandon Manning, to the penalty box for roughing. Ivan Provarov dropped Jake Guentzel during a power play. The Flyers outhit the Penguins by  2-1.

It was that kind of party.

“It was playing smarter,” Giroux said. “We didn’t go out there to kill guys, or lay them out.”

As usual, when the Penguins asserted themselves, they dominated play. Giroux scored his first playoff goal in 12 games near the end of the first period, which woke the dozing Penguins for the rest of the evening. They outshot the Flyers, 14-8, in the second period, then 13-8 in the third. It seemed like more.

Neuwirth gave up a soft wraparound goal and a five-hole softie in the second period, but be was peppered and pressured and he did not crack. Those two second-period Pens goals were blood squeezed from stones, and they were nearly exasperated. This wasn’t coming as easily as it came in Games 1, 3 and 4, won by an aggregate score of 17-1.

Couturier returned and replaced Jordan Weal, but that switch was inevitable. Others weren’t. Second-year defenseman Robert Hagg got his first taste of the playoffs, in place of rookie Travis Sandheim, who played the first four games in the series and scored a goal in Game 3. Veteran wing Dale Weise replaced rookie Oskar Lindblom.

When it all shook out, Couturier played on the third line, at about 80 percent, while Val Filppula jumped up to the first, with Jake Voracek and Giroux. Oh yes; it was Filppula’s tenacity and grit that gained the Flyers their first goal. Amid that grit, he twice failed to connect on shots, but there’s a reason he’s usually on the third line.

He won’t be Sunday. Not after a goal and two assists.

Filppula picked off a pass and streaked down the ice and dropped it for Jori Lehtera, whose shot rebounded softly at Murray’s feet. Filppula elbowed Kris Letang out of the way and poked the puck  past Murray to knot the score at 2-2 with 1:45 to play in the second period.

And that’s how they all played, for all 60 minutes.

They killed a four-on-three penalty late in the second period, made possible by Andrew MacDonald’s brain-dead relatiation and, shortly thereafter, Crosby’s thespian skills (he dived). They killed all five penalties, in fact, after giving up goals on five of the previous 19.

They played ragged at times, and sometimes they played dumb, but they played with heart and with guts and with fire.

They played like a team that had found its hero and come of age.

One more thing: The Flyers won that Game 7 in 2011.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Claude Giroux says Flyers will be back for Game 6

April 19, 2018

Patric Hornqvist #72 and Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skate against Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the first period in Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 15, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Though they have been outplayed, outhustled, and outscored by an embarrassing 17-1 in their three playoff losses, the Flyers tried to put a happy spin on their predicament as they prepared for Game 5 on Friday in Pittsburgh.

Trailing three games to one in an Eastern Conference quarterfinal that has lacked intensity and drama and has felt like anythingbut a playoff series, the Flyers need to win to stave off elimination.

The Flyers have been badly beaten to loose pucks, lost a majority of board battles, and been outscored 5-0 in special teams in their three losses. In addition, the Flyers’ star players have been mostly invisible, and Penguins goalie Matt Murray (1.27 GAA, .948 save percentage in the series) has outplayed gallant Brian Elliott (4.74 GAA, .856), who has tried to return from core-muscle surgery.

So you can understand why the words coming from captain Claude Giroux (one assist, minus-7 in the series) seemed sincere but, at the same time, hollow.

“We’re not ready for our season to be over,” Giroux said after practice Thursday in Voorhees. He said Pittsburgh was a “tough building to play in, but we know we can win there. We know if we play our game, we can win. So we’re going to go out there, play our game, and be back for Game 6.”

The Penguins finished just two points ahead of the Flyers in the regular season, but they have been miles better than coach Dave Hakstol’s unassertive team in the series. Pittsburgh has been more focused, more relentless, more opportunistic.

Giroux said the Flyers have been pressing.

“I think our compete level is pretty good,” he said. “I know it’s tough to see. I think the guys are working a little too hard; we’re not playing smart enough, gripping our sticks a little too much, I think we need to take a breather and play some hockey.”

After Thursday’s practice, Giroux gathered the team together on the ice and spoke to the players about the situation.

Giroux’s message: “I think it’s believing in ourselves. All year we’ve done that. I know we’ve talked about it before, but you lose 10 in a row and you find a way to win and get in the playoffs. Not a lot of teams can do that. Just the fight in this team” was outstanding in the regular season.

The Flyers can be proud of the last four months of the regular season, when they overcame the odds and earned a playoff spot.

But they have not showed that same swagger in the postseason and have seemed overwhelmed by the spotlight. Getting outscored 17-1 equals their largest margin in the first three losses in any playoff series in franchise history. (It matches their 1979 series against the Rangers.)

Friday is “going to be a big game for us,” Giroux said. “If we go down,  we’re going to go down swinging.”

“We can play better. The good news is there’s a lot more ability there that can shine through,” general manager Ron Hextall said about the Flyers’ dismal showing so far. “… It’s an elimination game for us, and we need to match their hunger and be ready to go right from the start.”

In the series, the Flyers have been outscored, 6-1, in the first period.

Giroux carried the Flyers to a playoff berth by scoring 19 goals in the last 29 games of the regular season and finishing with a career-high 102 points. But the MVP candidate has struggled mightily in the playoffs and conceded he was frustrated.

“Anytime the team is doing bad, everyone puts a little pressure on themselves,” he said. “In the past, I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. I try not to, but you get frustrated, you try a little harder; you get down further, you try a little harder and nothing is working for you. You got to  keep going. At the end of the day you got to keep going and good things are going to happen.”

Hextall said it was the Flyers’ execution, not their compete level, that has caused them to fall into a 3-1 hole.

Giroux agreed.

“I think guys are working their asses off,” he said. “The execution just is not there. We know that. You know, we need to relax and play some hockey here.’’

After  practice Thursday, Hakstol was asked about the team’s mind-set.

“There’s a little bit of tension there,” he said. “We didn’t do a whole lot of talking. The guys talked a little bit on their own. Today was a day to just go out and work for 30 or 35 minutes, clear the mind a little bit, get the bodies going.”

Unless they get a much better effort Friday, those bodies could be going to the golf course.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Sidney Crosby passes Mario Lemieux atop Penguins' all-time playoff scoring list

By Jonathan Bombulie
April 18, 2018

Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — When Sidney Crosby broke Mario Lemieux's franchise record for most playoff points in a career Wednesday night, there was no announcement made over the public address system to commemorate the occasion.
That was probably a good idea.
A partisan crowd at Wells Fargo Center wasn't in much of a mood to help Crosby celebrate.
Crosby broke the record as he ruined yet another night for the Philadelphia faithful, recording a goal and an assist in a 5-0 Penguins victory in Game 4 of a first-round playoff series.
Crosby has 173 career playoff points on 62 goals and 111 assists in 152 games. Lemieux had 76 goals and 96 assists for 172 points in 107 playoff games.
"A lot of his records aren't going to be touched,' Crosby said. "The fact that I can be close to him and around that one, I've been fortunate enough to play in a number of playoff games, which helps a lot, but yeah, it's nice to be a part of that."
Crosby tied the record with a first-period assist. He made a cross-crease pass to set up Evgeni Malkin for a power-play goal that gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at the 4:33 mark.
"You want to have a good start here, especially on the road. Build off the game before," Crosby said. "We knew special teams are important and we got a big power-play goal there to start and give us some momentum. I thought the first in general, even without the power play, we were on our toes there for the first 10 minutes and generated a lot of chances."
Crosby broke the record with a second-period goal that made it 4-0.
He collected a puck from defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on the forecheck in the right-wing corner and shuffled it to Jake Guentzel behind the net. Guentzel passed back to Crosby, who tucked a puck inside the right post before goalie Michal Neuvirth could react.
"I was lucky that the puck just kind of laid there on the other side of the net," Crosby said. "Most of the guys thought it had gone the other way. It was a fortunate bounce, but we'll take it. It was good to get that one."
The Flyers have used three goalies in the first four games of the series. Crosby has scored on all three.
He has five goals and four assists in the series, which has moved him into a tie with Boston's David Pastrnak for the league playoff scoring lead as well as breaking Lemieux's team record.
"I think he's in elite company," coach Mike Sullivan said. "Mario is one of the greatest players of all time. I think the fact that Sid has accomplished that at this point puts him in very elite company with Mario.
"I think that's a testament to Sid's talent level, but also his work ethic. He's played in a lot of playoff games. He's led this team to a lot of playoff success. That's the player and the person that I've really grown to respect. The fact that he's been able to accomplish that and be in the same company with Mario just speaks volumes of how good a player he is and how competitive a player he is."

Penguins vs. Flyers turning into men against boys

By Tom Moore
April 18, 2018
Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins gets his shot past Brian Elliott #37 of the Philadelphia Flyers in the first period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

PHILADELPHIA — The Penguins made it get late early for the Flyers on Wednesday night. That shouldn’t be a surprise for anybody who’s watched the teams’ playoff series.
Pittsburgh again proved to be faster, more talented, deeper and with better goaltending in Wednesday night’s 5-0 Game 4 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
It’s essentially men against boys. Perhaps that explains why the Flyers appeared so listless and were booed at home in a game they had to win to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins can close out the best-of-seven series with a victory Friday evening in Pittsburgh.
To think the Flyers are capable of winning three in a row, two of which would be at PPG Paints Arena, against the Pens would be taking optimism to a whole other level based on the last two games.
“It’s not where we wanted to be,” Flyers goalie Brian Elliott said. “It’s not where we went to bed thinking how this game would end up. You just have to regroup.”
“It’s disappointing,” rookie center Nolan Patrick said. “We know the position we’re in and we’re going try to bounce back.”
Philly nemesis Sidney Crosby, who surpassed Mario Lemieux’s franchise record for postseason points with a goal and an assist to reach 173, started the night with a beautiful feed to Evgeni Malkin for a power-play goal 4 minutes, 33 seconds into the game. The second straight rout in South Philly had begun.
“Game 4 is usually a tough game to win, but we have experience and confidence,” said Malkin, who added an assist on the Phil Kessel’s goal to make it 2-0.
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol pulled starting goalie Elliott after allowing three goals on 17 shots, but Michael Neuvirth didn’t react to Crosby sneaking in with a wraparound from behind the net until it was too late less than three minutes later. It didn’t matter who Hakstol put in the net because none of the Flyers can compare to Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murray, who permitted one goal in the three Pens wins.
That the Flyers were without top-line center Sean Couturier, who sat out with a lower-body injury that occurred from a collision with teammate Radko Gudas during Tuesday’s practice at the Skate Zone, didn’t help their chances against high-powered Pittsburgh.
With one goal and two assists in a 5-1 Game 2 victory, Couturier is the only Flyers forward with a multi-point game in the series (defenseman Ivan Provorov had two assists in the same game).
The Penguins didn’t have winger/power Patric Hornqvist (upper-body injury). While Hornqvist is an important part of the Pittsburgh power play, the Flyers lost out in that trade-off because Couturier is a key element on the penalty-kill, even-strength and power-play units, with the Pens boasting more high-level forwards than Philadelphia.
The Flyers are just 2 of 16 on the power play in the series, which is one of numerous telling stats.
Patrick took Couturier’s place on the top line between captain Claude Giroux and winger Jake Voracek (no goals, two assists in the series). None had any success, with Giroux still stuck at one point (an assist) in the four games after finishing with 102 in the regular season.
“We’ve all got to be better,” Giroux said. “We know that. Somehow we have to get our confidence back.”
As for his individual struggles, Giroux said, “You want to help the team any way you can. I’m frustrated and a lot of guys are frustrated.”
By comparison, Crosby has accumulated five goals and four assists in the four games. All of the Flyers’ forwards have a total of three goals.
“We’re working as a group out there,” Crosby said. “They’re good players. They’re going to get their chances. You’re trying to limit them, clear rebounds and play in their end.”
It’s working out extremely well for the Pens.
Pittsburgh has scored at least five goals in seven of its eight meetings with the Flyers in 2017-18, counting the regular season. The Penguins won all four at the Wells Fargo Center by a combined 20-4, including 10-1 in Games 3 and 4.
“We’re one game away from the season being over,” Giroux said. “We’re going to fight until the end.”
There’s no reason to think the Game 5 will be any different than the last two outings.
Tom Moore is a columnist for the Bucks County Courier Times. You can reach him at;@TomMoorePhilly

Battle of Pennsylvania not much of a fight as Penguins win again

By Don Brennan
April 18, 2018
Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his first period power-play goal against Brian Elliott #37 of the Philadelphia Flyers with Sidney Crosby #87, Kris Letang #58, and Jake Guentzel #59 in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images
Before these NHL playoffs began, if somebody had offered you a free pass to any first-round matchup, the Battle of Pennsylvania would’ve had plenty of appeal.
It seemed to have the makings of an intense, hard-fought, interesting series to watch.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were kicking off their quest to three-peat against the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished two points behind them in the regular-season standings. The same state rivals meeting in the playoffs for the first time in six years. Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who finished second in scoring with the first 100-point season of his career, versus Sidney Crosby, who has won the Conn Smyth Trophy the last two springs.
In the opening round of the 2012 post-season tournament, when the Flyers won the first three games before finally dismissing the Penguins in six, Giroux had six goals and eight assists. Crosby had three goals and five assists. The two dropped the gloves and fought in Game 3. 
But so far, this Penguins-Flyers series has been a major disappointment.
There is no nastiness, no apparent anger. And the four games to date have been no contest. 
The Penguins took a 3-1 stranglehold on the set with a 5-0 victory Wednesday. They won Game 1 by a 7-0 score and were 5-1 victors in Game 3. Somehow, the Flyers were 5-1 winners of Game 2.
And the battle of the captains has been just as lopsided.
Crosby’s most recent one goal, one assist performance gives him five and four, respectively, in the series. The nine points has moved him ahead of Mario Lemieux as the all-time playoff scoring leader in Penguins history.
Giroux has just one assist in the four games.
It’s not just him.
The Flyers best players have not been good at all. And the Penguins best, led by Crosby, are revving up for what looks like will be another long playoff run.
If you’re of a particular vintage, you’ll remember how the Flyers rarely lost when they had Kate Smith sing God Bless America before playoff games. The late Kate was great. So great, in fact, that the Flyers still go to her now and then (usually when they need a victory as badly as they did in Game 4) by putting her on the video board in a powerful duet with Lauren Hart, who is standing on the ice below. The magic is no longer there, however, and it just might have something to do with Brian Elliott being no Bernie Parent  … There were two really weak calls against the Flyers in the opening period. First, Matt Read gets whistled for holding Brian Dumoulin’s stick (barely) in the neutral zone. Shortly thereafter, Phil Kessel-to-Sidney Crosby-to-Evgeni Malkin puts the Penguins in front on the power play. The other one was in the last minute, nullifying a Flyers power play, and it again involved Dumoulin’s stick.  From here it looked like Dumoulin threw it to the ice, when it was lightly tapped by Wayne Simmonds, not that it was broken or knocked out of his hands … The only Radko Gudas hit I’ve noticed this series was on video from Tuesday’s practice. Accidentally bumping into Sean Couturier kept the Flyers best player in this series out of Game 4 … The Penguins fared better than we thought they would without the injured Patric Hornqvist, who was a going concern in the first three games.
Trailing 1-0, the Flyers put together back-to-back dominant shifts in the first. They had stolen momentum. The crowd was getting into it. Finally, the Penguins managed to get out of their zone. Malkin made a nice pass to Kessel, who shot the puck right at Elliott. It was a terrible goal and it zapped the life out of the home team and the building … Still in it, down by two late in the second, the Flyers had a great chance to close the gap when Travis Konecny stepped out of the box and into a clear breakaway. He was stopped by Matt Murray, and they could have sent everybody home right there and then … The Philly boo birds came out during what would be a shot-less Flyers power play in the second period. Wonder what took them so long?
Elliott was finally replaced by Michal Neuvirth after giving up three goals on 17 shots. The third, like the first, wasn’t on him. The Kris Letang shot went off a stick and then the post before entering the net. Elliott didn’t look very happy with the hook on the way to the bench, but something had to be done … In getting pulled during the second periods of Games 1 and 4, Elliott has given up a total of eight goals on 36 shots … Neuvirth was looking over his right shoulder for the Crosby shot that slipped in by his left skate. That’s not great.
Nolan Patrick is going to be a very good one. Still just 19, he was promoted to first-line centre, between Giroux and Jacob Voracek, and he didn’t look out of place at all. I liked how, after losing the opening draw to Crosby, he nailed him into the boards, in front of the Flyers bench, seconds later. By the end of the game, Patrick led all players from both teams in shots, with six … How is it possible that linesman Brian Mach was working his first playoff game when he has more than 1,800 under his belt during the regular season? It can’t be that he’s never trusted at this time of year — if such was the case he wouldn’t have lasted more than 21 seasons. Maybe he’s just been busy. 

Undermanned and underwhelming, Flyers go quietly in the night

April 18, 2018

Michal Neuvirth #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers greets Brian Elliott #37 as he enters the game after Elliott surrendered 3 goals on 17 shots by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Four of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

For the Flyers to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in their first-round playoff series, they needed everything to go right.

Not for everything to go wrong.

They needed Brian Elliott to play as he had in December, or at least how he played before suffering that core muscle injury. Not be taken out prematurely in two of the four games played thus far.

They needed Claude Giroux to carry his Hart Trophy worthy season into the postseason. They needed Wayne Simmonds to relocate the speed, strength and balance that made him such a force last season and at the start of this one. They needed Radko Gudas to cease with his hot potato act every time the puck is on their sticks, as if seeking to avoid blame by pushing it to his partner – often in an impossible to play position.

They needed Sean Couturier, the Selke Trophy finalist who was averaging 24:35 of playing time over the first three games of this series, playing against Pittsburgh’s top lines, on the penalty kill and the power play to… play.

Hurt in a collision with Gudas during Tuesday’s practice, Couturier’s absence sent a team already in search of answers in search of miracles. The Flyers countered Pittsburgh’s holy trinity of centers – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Derick Brassard  with rookie Nolan Patrick, 34-year-old Valtteri Filppula and Scott Laughton.

With Wednesday’s 5-0 Game 4 victory over the Flyers, the former have combined for nine goals thus far in this series.

Patrick has the lone goal of the latter triumvirate.

In the three games they have lost to the Penguins so far, the Flyers have scored one goal.

One goal.

Which would imply that it’s not just the goalie. Or goalies.

“We lost to a better team,’’ Michal Neuvirth said plainly after replacing Elliott after the score grew to 4-0 in the second period.

Yeah, it hasn’t been much of a fight. And while that’s not earth-shattering news, Patrick’s lone goal among the team’s centers underlines an underreported aspect of this series – and, really, their season.

It’s not the kids who make you grind your teeth watching this team. Patrick, Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, even Travis Sanheim of late: You feel generally good when the puck’s on their sticks.

And as ineffectual as Giroux has been in this series – and really Couturier before his injury – that seems to be a byproduct of the abyss in talent between the teams. Giroux and Couturier – and last night Giroux and Patrick – spend too many of their shifts trying to alter momentum, not continue it.

There are spots when they do generate momentum. For nearly 3 ½ minutes of the first period Wednesday night, down by just a goal, the Flyers pinned the Penguins in their own zone, rolling all of their lines in the process. Giroux’s slapshot was stopped by Murray. His tip-in try went wide. Andrew MacDonald’s slapshot was turned away, Provorov wristed one wide, Voracek got off a snap shot from 31 feet and Konecny missed wide with a wrist shot.

Finally, Laughton coughed up a puck in Pittsburgh’s zone. Six seconds later Phil Kessel took a pass from Evgeni Malkin on a 2-on-1 and fired it past Elliott for a deflating second goal.

“We had some good spurts,’’ said Patrick. “And then we’d make a mistake and it would end up in our net.’’

Too much talent. Too much firepower. Too much experience in these kind of games.

The Flyers lineup for Game 4 of their postseason contained three players who spent chunks of their season in the AHL – Matt Read, Oskar Lindblom and Travis Sanheim — and two players, Jordan Weal and Jori Lehtera, who have scored 11 goals between them.

All this could be salvaged perhaps if the one position General Manager Ron Hextall tried to cover with the low-budget signing of Michal Neuvirth amid last season and the equally cost-conscious free-agent signing of Brian Elliott had played out in any way, shape or form the way he professed it would last summer. Two guys sharing the load. Not one guy used in back-to-backs, ridden from the depths of the division to, for a brief time, the top of it, before his 32-year-old body broke down.

If this sounds like an epitaph one game too soon, well, you’re right. The Penguins finished last game the way they had in their two other wins, with all the intensity of a Friday afternoon pickup game – and all the resistance of one too. The few Flyers who showed up in their dressing room afterwards seemed worn down by their previous no-quit proclamations.

And as it ended, as the remaining fans exhausted of their Eagles cheers and Crosby jeers, a chant grew among the few who remained.

“Fire Hakstol,’’ it sounded to some in the press box.

“Fire Hextall,’’ it sounded to others.

Who knows? Maybe the chant contained both.