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Malkin in the middle a big problem at both ends for Flyers

Wednesday, 08.06.2014 / 4:52 AM

Associated Press

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Malkin in the middle a big problem at both ends for Flyers
Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Putting two goals into the Flyers' net in less than five minutes was hardly exceptional for Evgeni Malkin. When he put them on their backsides, well, that was embarrassing for a team with a reputation for being bullies.

The Flyers are learning there are two sides to these fast-flying Penguins, either of which can take an opponent out of a game - something Pittsburgh has done consistently while winning nine of its first 10 games in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

There's the breathtaking offense, in which elite scorers Malkin and Sidney Crosby can turn a mistake into a goal in a millisecond. Then there's the young-but-nasty shutdown defense of the Penguins, who are three wins from the Cup finals going into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night.

Perhaps the most surprising statistic in these playoffs is that the Penguins own the lowest goals-against average (1.90) besides being second only to Detroit in scoring (3.50).

"You know what? People probably won't pay attention to our defensive game because of the weapons we have offensively," coach Michel Therrien said Saturday. "I believe that's normal. ... But they know (how to play defense), and they know they want to be successful."

That Malkin led the playoffs with 17 points before Saturday night's Stars-Red Wings Western Conference game is no surprise, given how he has perhaps been the NHL's best player since January.

The 21-year-old Malkin scored the final two goals as Pittsburgh broke out of a 2-all tie in Game 1 on Friday night, his seventh and eighth of the postseason. It was his willingness to mix it up physically that was the element the Flyers don't always see. Malkin laid out Braydon Coburn with a check and drew a roughing penalty late in the game.

"He's made big-time progress in his all-around game," Therrien said of Malkin, whose plus-6 rating leads Pittsburgh's forwards. "Right now his confidence goes with his work ethic. He's trying so hard."

Being bullied by the Penguins, especially Malkin? Don't expect that to last for the Flyers, who lost Game 1 in each of their first two series only to win Game 2 each time.

"The first game always seems to be the toughest for us," Daniel Briere said. "We've been in this situation before. Hopefully, we can find a way to come back."

Look for the Flyers to be more in-their-face in Game 2, in an effort to prevent Malkin, Crosby, Marian Hossa and Petr Sykora from having less time to show off their exceptional stickwork. Also, the Flyers know they must draw more penalties after getting only three power plays Friday.

The Flyers also need to shorten the ice and take away the breakouts the Penguins frequently created, including Malkin's breakaway goal that made it 4-2 early in the second period.

"Now that we know he's going to hang back there ... I think we out to make him pay the next time," said Mike Richards, who scored both Philadelphia goals.

Still, there were troubling signs for the Flyers, who have lost four in a row in Pittsburgh since February and are having trouble controlling the Penguins' speed. The Penguins have won 14 in a row at home, and they won Game 2 there in each of their first two series.

"I'm sure there's a lot of optimism here," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "Why wouldn't there be? They're 9-1 in the playoffs and they're rolling along pretty good. So it's up to us to create the adversity for them."

If the Flyers are more physical, they risk getting exposed again by the Penguins' superior skill. There were shifts in Game 1 when Malkin was on the ice for more than a minute, yet looked fresher than Flyers players who came on 30 seconds after he did.

"When you have a guy like Geno that is a skilled player and is out there battling like that, it's hard for everyone not to do that," Crosby said.

It was hard sell initially for Therrien to install a defense after he took over a last-place team in December 2005, but the Penguins finally began looking comfortable in his system last season.

"Even if they're gifted, they're not going to cheat," Therrien said. "They're going to play by the book, they're going to go with the percentage play, and that's the only reason why right now we are having success."

Neither the Senators nor the Rangers controlled that two-way talent in the opening two rounds, and the Flyers will find themselves in a big hole against a very confident team if they lose Sunday.

Scottie Hartnell hinted Saturday at the motivational ploy the Flyers will use Sunday, saying no one outside Philadelphia is giving them a chance.

"We're going to come out with our best effort in the playoffs on Sunday," goalie Martin Biron said.

series schedule/results
DateScoreW. Goal
May 18 '08 PHI 0 at PIT 6 R. Malone
May 15 '08 PIT 2 at PHI 4 J. Carter
May 13 '08 PIT 4 at PHI 1 M. Hossa
May 11 '08 PHI 2 at PIT 4 M. Talbot
May 09 '08 PHI 2 at PIT 4 E. Malkin