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.

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