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Posted On Sunday, 04.15.2012 / 1:29 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Laviolette holding off on Couturier comparisons

PHILADELPHIA -- After his outstanding performance in the first two games of the series -- especially his Game 2 hat trick -- Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier has become the talk of the postseason in Philadelphia.

The 19-year-old has received rave reviews for his play at both ends of the ice, including the job he's done limiting the League's leading scorer, Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, to just two assists in the first two games.

Some have compared Couturier to another tall, lanky defensive-minded center who can chip in offensively -- the Penguins' Jordan Staal. Teammate Jaromir Jagr went even further, comparing Couturier to one of his former teammates -- Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis.

"I don't know if I know any words to describe his game today. Awesome? Maybe something better than that?" Jagr said to reporters after the game. "I would say he's our best defensive forward. Age 18, 19 years old. Ron Francis was kind of like that."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who coached Francis for one season and worked with him for three seasons in Carolina, said it was a bit early to make that comparison.

"Sean is a good player, he's a young player, he's done a good job for us," Laviolette said. "It's his [third] playoff game. For the sake of Sean, let's let him develop into the player he is and maybe hold off on calling him Ron Francis, who's the … fourth-leading scorer in the game.

"[Sean is] doing a real nice job for us. Let's let him grow into his position here in Philadelphia."

Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 4:28 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Pens not looking back as Game 3 approaches

PITTSBURGH--Losing all those multiple-goal leads against the Philadelphia Flyers was bad enough for Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. Dealing with them might be just as difficult.

With Game 3 against the Flyers coming up on Sunday, Bylsma said the Penguins must shove aside the bad memories and focus on what they need to do to correct the numerous mistakes they made while losing the first two games of their Eastern-Conference Quarterfinals series.

The Flyers rolled into Pittsburgh and withstood a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime in Game 1 Wednesday. On Friday, they shook off Penguins leads of 2-0 and 3-1 to win 8-5 and take a firm grip on the series. After stealing home-ice advantage, they can now lose once in Philadelphia and still win the series.

"If you're asking does it affect the mindset? It does," said Bylsma, whose team has led the Flyers by two goals or more in five games since March 18, losing all but one. "You can say that losing 4-3 is a 4-3 loss no matter how it goes down; but in an overtime game, it's painful for anyone who is losing 4-3."

The Penguins also led 2-0 in Philadelphia on March 18, only to lose 3-2 in the final second of overtime -- thereby ending their NHL season-long 11-game winning streak. They also lost 6-4 in Pittsburgh on April 1 in a game they led 2-0.

"I think we understand we had leads, and 3-0 leads and two-goal leads, and they were able to come back," Bylsma said Saturday. "We knew they were going to be able to play and I don't think there have been a lot of surprises in that regard. I think it's difficult to deal with those losses and, at the same time, we have to put it behind us. We have to get ready for one game, which is Sunday at 3'oclock in Philly."

While the Flyers are 7-1 in Pittsburgh since the Consol Energy Center opened -- with the only loss coming in a nonessential game last weekend --the Penguins are 10-4-1 in their last 15 in Philadelphia.

"It's not what we planned to start with," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said of the 2-0 deficit. "But at the same time we can't panic right now. We have to play hard, play our best and get some wins."

Defenseman Kris Letang said, "You don't want to [be down 2-0]. Sometimes in life you're forced to go through adversity and that's what we're facing right now."
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 4:24 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Flyers trying to stay humble despite series lead

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The Philadelphia Flyers may be up 2-0 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the players and coaches know they haven't really won anything yet.
 
Falling behind by two goals in the first period of each game is enough to keep any team humbled regardless of the final result.
 
"We're OK with the eight goals," coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's the five and the first 20 minutes. … I think we look at that and try to be better at that. Certainly they're going to get chances, they're a dangerous team. They have talented players. But I think a lot of it has to do with our attitude in the first period.
 
"I think there's things we can do better."
 
Better starts have been a focal point for the last month. In nine of their last 14 games going back to the regular season, they've trailed 2-0 or worst. That they've gone 8-4-2 in those games speaks to the resiliency of the team. However, they know there's a limit to how many times you can dig into that reserve.
 
"It's not easy to come back," Claude Giroux said. "All year we've been doing it, being able to come back every game. Guys don't quit [but] we've got to find a way to put ourselves in a better situation because at the end of the day we won't be able to come back against this team too many times. We have to make sure we do better."
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 3:00 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Past, present residents of Chez Briere excelling

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Last season, Flyers center Claude Giroux moved into the house teammate Danny Briere shares with his three sons. This season, Giroux moved into his own home and rookie forward Sean Couturier has moved in.
 
That trio has accounted for eight of the Flyers' 12 goals in the first two games of the series.
 
So is there something in the water at the Briere home?
 
"I don't know," Couturier, who at age 19 years, 128 days old became the youngest player since 1945 to have a hat trick when he scored three in Game 2, said with a laugh. "It's not the food, for sure. We don't eat."
 
Giroux also had a hat trick in Game 2, after Briere scored twice in Game 1.
 
"I don't know how to explain it," Briere told NHL.com. "It's pretty cool. It's cool to see both Claude and Sean take over the game [Friday]. You put a special touch on it."
 
There's been no word on any team-wide sleepover parties at the Briere home.
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:30 PM

By Adam Kimelman -  NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

van Riemsdyk practices, not quite ready for return

VOORHEES, N.J. -- James van Riemsdyk was on the ice early for extra skating and for all of practice Saturday in his recovery from a broken left foot, but the Flyers' forward said it was highly unlikely he would return in time for Game 3 of the team's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC, TSN).
 
"I don't think I'm going to do that," van Riemsdyk said after the workout at Virtua Flyers Skate Zone. "We're taking it day by day and we'll go from there."
 
Van Riemsdyk last played March 1, and has been skating for about a week. He said watching games -- especially games as exciting as the first two in this series -- has been difficult, but he's trying to be patient and let things heal.
 
"It's pretty brutal when you're sitting at home by yourself without the guys, and they're on the road, they're playing in these exciting games, and big games, and you want to do anything to be out there with them," he said. "It's a good step in the right direction, being on the ice with the guys today. Have to keep building off that and go from there."
 
Contact Adam Kimelman at akimelman@nhl.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK






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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 2:19 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Penguins Niskanen Could Return Sunday

PITTSBURGH--Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, out for four games with an upper-body injury, could return for Game 3 against Philadelphia on Sunday.
 
Niskanen, who had been skating on his own, returned to practice Saturday at the team's suburban ice rink.
 
"Everybody plays through pain," he said. "That's not going to be an issue. It's going to be a functional thing, if I can play the way I need to play without anything holding me back."
 
Niskanen hasn't played since apparently injuring a shoulder on a hit by Daniel Paille of Boston on April 3. He sat out the Flyers' 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 and 8-5 decision in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
 
"It's just killing me being in the press box. It really hurts to watch," Niskanen said. "But I've got to get back when I can, and I have confidence in the guys that we're going to turn it around."
 
Niskanen is coming off a strong season in which he was a plus-9 in 75 games, with four goals and 17 assists.
 
Coach Dan Bylsma said the defensive pairings will be a game-time decision. Niskanen's status will be determined by whether he has enough strength in the affected area to play effectively.
 
If Niskanen returns, Ben Lovejoy probably would be scratched. Lovejoy returned for the series only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery.
 
Lovejoy made an ill-advised pass early in the third period of Game 3, mere seconds after Tyler Kennedy's go-ahead goal, that resulted in a steal and a pivotal goal by Flyers rookie Sean Couturier.
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Posted On Saturday, 04.14.2012 / 1:40 PM

By Alan Robinson -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Five reasons the Penguins are in trouble

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins can only hope they have five more games remaining to get this right.
 
The Penguins, a popular pick to raise the Stanley Cup only a few days ago, suddenly find themselves in a two-game hole after being swept at home by the Philadelphia Flyers to begin their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series.
 
What's remarkable is how they're losing: By opening up substantial early leads in both Game 1 and Game 2, only to have the Flyers dominate play the rest of the way. Pittsburgh owns a 6-1 scoring advantage in the first period; Philadelphia has an 11-2 edge in the second and third periods and overtime.
 
The only time in franchise history the Penguins dropped the first two games at home and recovered to win a series was against Washington in the conference quarterfinals in 1996, even though Boston pulled off just such a comeback last year against Montreal and went on to lift the Stanley Cup. And at least there's this: The Penguins have been swept in a four-game playoff series only once, by Boston in 1979.
 
But as they try to figure out how to extend this series for five more games, here are five reasons why the Penguins are in trouble:
 
1) THEIR STARS AREN'T STARRING. Unlike last season's first-round ouster by Tampa Bay, the Penguins appear to be relatively healthy, with both Sidney Crosby and NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Only they're not being stars. Malkin looks frustrated as the Flyers keep targeting him for contact on almost every shift. Crosby scored early goals in each of the first two games, but couldn't find the net when the games were being decided. The Penguins are built to have No. 87 and No. 71 win games for them, especially in the playoffs, but, so far, it's not happening; Malkin is a minus-5. And James Neal, who is coming off a 40-goal season? He has one goal in nine career playoff games. Malkin's other linemate, Chris Kunitz, scored two goals in Game 2 yet, remarkably, was a minus-5.
 
2) THEY'RE OUT OF THEIR LEAD. The Penguins led 3-0 in the first period of Game 1, 3-1 in the first period of Game 2. And they lost both times. An anomaly? Hardly. Four times since March 18, the Penguins have built multi-goal leads against the Flyers, and they've lost each time. The Flyers keep rallying by staying patient and waiting for the free-wheeling Penguins to start making mistakes -- risky cross-ice passes, questionable decisions while in defensive zone coverage, a stubborn refusal to avoid  carrying the puck into traffic in the neutral zone (Malkin is a prime offender). The Flyers simply aren't worried when the Penguins get ahead, and it shows. And here's another worry for Pittsburgh: Philadelphia is 17-0 when it leads 2-0 in a series.
 
"We've got to find a way to do better with a lead, no doubt," Crosby said. "We know they're going to keep going. We know that."
 
3) THEY'RE NOT GETTING SEPARATION. Even while owning the final line change at home, the Penguins are constantly contending with Malkin's line being shadowed by Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier -- a younger version of the Penguins' own Jordan Staal. The 19-year-old Couturier not only is controlling Malkin, he is only the second teenager in Stanley Cup history to score three goals in a game. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma must be more creative to find ways to get Malkin on the ice when Couturier isn't.
 
"I don't know if I know any words to describe his game," 40-year-old Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr said of Couturier, who is less than half his age. "Awesome, maybe -- something like that?"
 
4) THERE'S NO DEFENSE FOR WHAT'S HAPPENING. For most of the season, the Penguins were a solid, stay-within-the-Bylsma system team defensively -- a prime reason why they accumulated 108 points despite not having Crosby for three-quarters of the season. During their 11-game winning streak from Feb. 21-March 17, they allowed only 17 goals. Over their last 11, they've given up 48. With opponents getting so many scoring chances, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury simply has had no chance at times, and he appears to be losing confidence. If the Penguins don't start playing with some pride and a purpose on defense, it won't matter how many goals Crosby and Malkin score.
 
"We've got to tighten up and try to play in their end," center Jordan Staal said.
 
5) THEIR SPECIAL TEAMS ARE ESPECIALLY BAD. As Bylsma desperately tries to find a workable power-play unit -- Crosby began the first couple of Game 2 power plays on the bench -- the Flyers keep turning games around with their special teams play. They scored on their first two power plays of the series, including Brayden Schenn's all-important tying goal in the third period of Game 2. And they struck for shorthanded goals by Maxime Talbot and Claude Giroux in Game 2. Whether it's personnel, or mindset or coaching, the Flyers are dominating the game-within-a-game special teams contest -- and, while they're doing it, the series, too.
 

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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 2:06 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Bourdon not part of Flyers' morning skate

PITTSBURGH -- Flyers rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon did not take part in the morning skate Friday at Consol Energy Center, an indication that the upper-body injury he sustained in Game 1 will keep him out of the lineup for Game 2.

Pavel Kubina, a healthy scratch in Game 1, will draw into the lineup if Bourdon indeed can't play. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette does not update his lineup or talk about injuries.

Kubina had four assists and was a minus-3 in 17 games with Philadelphia after coming in a trade from Tampa Bay on Feb. 18. He missed seven games with an injury in March.

"It's always tough when you get traded and obviously it takes a little time to get used to everything, the new system, the new teammates and everything else," Kubina said. "I've been here two months now so I should be used to everything now."

Kubina, who won a Stanley Cup with the Lightning in 2004, said he was disappointed that he was a healthy scratch in Game 1, but he is not holding any type of grudge.

"It's always hard when you're not playing and obviously everybody wants to play, but I do understand it," he said. "Hopefully I can help the team in the future."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl



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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 2:00 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Projected lineup as Flyers go for 2-0 stranglehold

PITTSBURGH -- The Flyers have jumped out to a 2-0 lead in a seven-game series 17 times in their history. They have gone on to win the series every single time.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have been tied 1-1 in a series 32 times. They are under .500 in those series with a record of 15-17.

Those are two interesting little stats heading into Game 2 Friday, when the Flyers will be looking to take a 2-0 series lead back to Philadelphia. But they're also two meaningless stats to the orange and black.

"Game 1 is done and now it's another game. It's about playing Game 2," Flyers forward Maxime Talbot said. "The stats and all these things that happened, I don't really believe in that. Every year is a chance to make a new story, and tonight is one game and we'll treat it like that."

The stat that does matter to the Flyers is the amount of times they have fallen behind in games recently. They have been down by at least two goals in nine of their last 13 games.

Sure, they've come back to win three of them, including Game 1 on Wednesday, but it's not exactly a trend they want to keep going with.

"Not that we're afraid (of any deficit), but we'd rather not put ourselves in that position," Danny Briere said. "Obviously we go down and we have that belief we can come back, but at the same time we realize in the playoffs you're not going to make that happen as often in the regular season. You have to find a way to be better at the start, compete and weather the storm."

Here is the expected lineup that will be given the task of avoiding yet another slow start:

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Eric Wellwood - Matt Read - Jakub Voracek
Maxime Talbot - Sean Couturier - Zac Rinaldo

Kimmo Timonen - Matt Carle
Braydon Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Pavel Kubina - Andreas Lilja

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 1:42 PM

By Dan Rosen -  NHL.com Senior Writer /NHL.com - Penguins vs. Flyers series blog

Penalty killers have been game changers for Flyers

PITTSBURGH -- Their No. 1 goal is to stay out of the penalty box Friday in Game 2, but should the Flyers find that task to be impossible, they have complete confidence in a penalty kill that looked downright dominant in Game 1 against the Penguins.

While the talk in the Penguins dressing room since late Wednesday night has been about making adjustments on the power play, the talk in the Flyers room Friday was about staying consistent with what obviously worked so well.

After falling into a 3-0 hole early in Game 1, Philadelphia stole momentum with a PK that was perfect on three opportunities and gave up only five shots on goal. The Flyers killed off two penalties in the second period, including one when the score was still 3-0, and another early in the third when the deficit stood at 3-1.

Philadelphia was 17th in the League on the PK in the regular season (81.8 percent), but 19-for-22 in six games (86.4 percent) against the Penguins.

"Specialty teams always factors into a game, so if you look at it in that sense it definitely factored," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I thought at the end of the second we got better and in the third I really liked our period. I'm not sure if that was a direct result of the penalty kills, but if you think about it the penalty kills, if they let one through, that lead maybe becomes too big. It was big enough as it was."

The Flyers were successful on the PK in Game 1 because they did not give the Penguins' power play much room to operate. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov was also good when called upon, but it was the time and space the Flyers took away from guys like Kris Letang, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and James Neal that led to their success and to the Penguins' lack of pressure in the attacking zone.

"We have a PK system and we try to do the same thing," Flyers forward Maxime Talbot said. "We know whatever element they put on the ice we have to try to contain him and do the best we can to try to kill the penalty. Yes we have to know who is there, who is left-handed and right-handed, who is a passer and shooter, but we have a way of killing and we have to do it right."

Talbot said the system does not change against the Penguins even though their attack includes superstars like Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Neal.

"You know they're dangerous weapons and instead of trying to fly at them you might contain him more, but in general it doesn't change that much," Talbot said.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl


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