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.
STARTS AND STOPS
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?
CONNECTING THE DOTS
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.