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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 12:54 PM

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

Pens not fazed by having to play from behind in series

PITTSBURGH -- They've done it in the past, now they need to show they can do it again. The Pittsburgh Penguins understand they must prove they can play from behind.
 
It's been the playing while ahead part that’s been difficult for them.
 
Twice during their Stanley Cup run in 2009, the Penguins rebounded from 2-0 deficits to win series -- against Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals and Detroit in the Stanley Cup Final. They also bounced back from losing the first game against Ottawa in the 2010 conference quarterfinals to win in six games.
 
But the Penguins couldn't hold a 3-2 series lead against Montreal in the 2010 conference semifinals or a 3-1 series lead against Tampa Bay in the conference quarterfinals last season. And they couldn't hold a 3-0 lead in the first period during their 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series Wednesday night.
 
Detecting a theme?
 
While every team and every season is different, the core group of Penguins has remained the same since 2008-09 -- Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brooks Orpik, Pascal Dupuis, Tyler Kennedy, Kris Letang and Matt Cooke.
 
"I think experience from playing games before," Fleury said Friday of the Penguins' bounce-back tendencies. "And the best thing is to forget about it (a loss), the quicker the better. The next day's a new day and I think everybody is excited to have another shot at it."
 
Of course, in a short series, the "next days" dwindle quickly once the losses start to mount. Hence the Penguins' belief that they must play with a sense of desperation in Game 2, lest they go down 2-0 heading into Game 3 Sunday in Philadelphia.
 
"I think there's a sense of that in every game. Everyone always talks about the scenarios, the way a series works out. The reality is, everyone's desperate every game," Crosby said. "That's the way it is. There's obviously more emphasis when you've lost a game to bounce back and get the momentum. That's the case in every series. That's the case here tonight. We want to make sure we bounce back."
 
Even if those outside their room keep focusing on how the Penguins couldn't hold onto a seemingly safe lead in their own arena, Crosby said a hockey team can't do that.
 
"You lose a game, you have to bounce back. In the regular season, we've had to do that. The playoffs aren't any different," the Penguins captain said. "You have to have a short memory and forget it and move on. The way you play doesn't change. If anything, you should be even more desperate coming off a loss. I don't see that really being an issue."
 
During the Crosby-Malkin era, the Penguins are 15-8 following a loss in the playoffs.
 
In 1996, the Penguins lost the first two games at home against Washington in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals only to rebound to win the next four games, but that was long before any of these players' careers had begun.
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Posted On Friday, 04.13.2012 / 12:10 PM

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

Penguins hope room full of Cs translates into Ws

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping that a room full of Cs translates into some Ws during their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
 
The Penguins made a point of wearing specially-designed playoff T-shirts that feature a "C" on the front following their morning skate before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Friday.
 
James Neal said they did it for a reason.
 
On Jan. 13, the Penguins wore taped-on Cs on their practice jerseys during their morning skate in advance of that night's game at Florida. They did so as a sign of team unity -- and to support then-injured team captain Sidney Crosby -- following a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report that the players had discussed appointing a fill-in captain if Crosby could not return.
 
Forward Pascal Dupuis, one of the Penguins' most-tenured players, suggested the players wear the Cs.
 
The Penguins went on to secure a 4-1 victory over the Panthers that not only ended a six-game losing streak but launched them on an eight-game winning streak. From that point, they finished the season with a 30-8-2 record to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference with 108 points, only one point behind the Atlantic Division- and conference-leading New York Rangers.
 
As the Penguins attempt to bounce back from squandering a 3-0 lead during a 4-3 loss to Philadelphia in Game 1 on Wednesday, the players felt it was the right time to wear the T-shirts, which they have shown off several times since they were released two weeks ago.
 
"When we were going through a little slump there and when we had a controversy with Sid and that little stuff kind of brought our team back together," Neal said. "We turned a little losing streak around into a winning streak and it kind of brought back some good memories. It's something we pride ourselves in."
 
Coach Dan Bylsma wasn't aware of any team-unity display by his players.
 
"That's a playoff T-shirt they made and there's more than one or two themes on the shirt," Bylsma said.
 
But it's the black "C" on the right shoulder of the gray T-shirt that stands out most.
 
"That's why we're wearing them today," Neal said.
 
There's also this: The Penguins first wore the Cs on a Friday the 13th in Florida. The day of Game 2 against the Flyers also is a Friday the 13th. So maybe the Penguins are more than a little bit superstitious.
 
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 3:24 PM

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

Flyers know they need better starts

PITTSBURGH -- Although they've made a habit of getting down early in games and coming back, the Flyers understand it's not exactly the greatest formula for success in the playoffs, especially against a team with as much firepower as the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So what do they have to do to combat what has been a problem for a large portion of the season but has seemed to swell in the last month?

Well, it's simple really.

"We have to find a way to be ready from the get-go," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "That hasn't been the case the last few weeks. Games are getting tighter and tighter and we have to find a way to get better starts. That's why I say we got lucky [Wednesday], because against a really good team, down 3-0, you don't usually get back into the game."

For the third time in the last month the Flyers came back to beat the Penguins after falling into an early hole. This time it was 3-0. The last two times it was 2-0.

Philadelphia, though, now has won four games this season after trailing by at least three goals and has come back to win 10 games when trailing by at least two.

"It says a lot about the youth and firepower on our team that we can score goals and never be out of a game," Scott Hartnell said. "But I've said it once and I'll say it a hundred times, we can't be down 2-0 or 3-0 and expect to win."

The Flyers fell behind 3-0 in Game 1 because the Penguins took it to them with their speed. Granted, the Flyers had six rookies in the lineup and maybe that was a reason why they seemed to have that deer-in-the-headlights look in the first, but Timonen said that argument isn't valid because everybody had that look.

"Everybody was standing still," he said. "We were looking around and waiting to see what is going to happen. That's not a way to start the game. We need to come at these guys and make sure we're the ones to dictate the pace. [Friday] we have to be totally different from the first period on."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 3:20 PM

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

Penguins hope changes energize power play

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins player agree that their power play needs some work. So it's not surprising that barely 12 hours after they surrendered a three-goal lead and Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Flyers, the Penguins concentrated on their power play at practice Thursday.
 
Almost every player worked on it, too. Coach Dan Bylsma tried a variety of combinations and alignments in an effort to kick-start a unit that was 0-for-3 against the Flyers in that 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday.
 
In the Penguins’ last two playoff series dating to last season, the power play is 1-for-38 (2.6 percent) – and 0 for 28 at Consol Energy Center. By comparison, the Penguins were much better with a man advantage during the regular season, finishing tied for fifth -- with Philadelphia -- at a 19.7-percent conversion rate.
 
That might explain why forward Steve Sullivan, a power-play fixture until Bylsma began experimenting late in the season, was back on the point during the practice Thursday.
 
"Obviously, the power play needs to do a better job,” said defenseman Kris Letang, another point man on the power play. “That’s the reason we practiced it this morning. We could have put the game away with a power-play goal [while leading 3-0 in the second period]. We have to work on it and learn from it and make sure we do the right things.”
 
Bylsma explained the multiple combinations as simply making sure multiple players know how to play the same position. That became a concern when most of the players on the top power-play unit had just been out for a shift and substitutions had to be made on the fly during one of the three failed power plays in Game 1.
 
“We’re struggling a little bit with the units we do have so we’re trying to mix and match a little bit to make sure everyone’s comfortable at everyone’s position,” Sullivan said.
 
Bylsma also worked with multiple combinations, rather than keeping the top unit led Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out for most of a power play.
 
“We want to try to use two units, two sets of players that can play a minute and get us going and get us a goal,” Letang said.
 
Bylsma began tinkering with the power play after Crosby returned in mid-March, with the most radical change being an all-forwards unit. However, the Penguins had four different games down the stretch in which they went 0-for-4 on the power play.
 
Letang went back to the point late in the season, and now it appears Sullivan will return there, too, which allows Malkin and Crosby to try to find openings down low.
 
“He's played there all year and shown he's pretty comfortable there,” Crosby said of Sullivan. “He can make plays and he's a smart player. He distributes the puck well so he brings all of that to the power play. He's pretty familiar with that area.”
 
Sullivan often was used during the season to carry the puck out of the defensive zone and establish the power play. In Game 1, the Flyers were successful in disrupting that flow, one reason the Penguins' extra-man units sometimes looked ragged.
 
“It felt like we'd take a shot and they'd clear it,” Crosby said. “We didn't really get set up and really try to expose anything there. We were trying to get shots, which is always a good mentality to have on any power play, but sometimes I think we could have been a bit more patient to try to set something up.”
 
Pittsburgh also didn’t have much success during the season against the Flyers’ penalty kill, going 3-for-22 (13.6 percent).
 
“They’re a very pressure-first mentality of a penalty kill over there, and they’re not giving us much time,” Sullivan said. “So we’ve got to make sure we execute the passes we make, that we’ve got some support and we’ve got some clean entries so we have as much zone time as we can.”
 
The Flyers had only one power play and took advantage of it, with Brayden Schenn’s goal at 12:23 of the third tying the game. Philadelphia has scored a power-play goal in all seven games against the Penguins this season, counting Game 1, and is 7-for-30 overall against Pittsburgh (23.3 percent) despite going 1-for-6 in three different games.
 
“We let the special teams get away from us,” Chris Kunitz said.
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 3:00 PM

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

Kubina could return to Flyers' lineup for Game 2

PITTSBURGH -- Flyers rookie defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon did not practice Thursday because of an the upper-body injury he sustained in Game 1 of the team's first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Peguins. While Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette would not comment on injuries or his lineup, it's possible veteran blueliner Pavel Kubina -- a healthy scratch in Game 1 -- could return to the lineup for Game 2 Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

Laviolette said he would have no problem inserting Kubina into the lineup despite the fact that his struggles since coming to the Flyers from Tampa Bay in February likely were among the reasons why he was a healthy scratch Wednesday.

Kubina has four assists and a minus-3 rating in 17 games.

"Well, he is effective," Laviolette said. "Pavel has done a terrific job since he's been here, a welcome addition. Because he didn't play last night is not a reflection of him."

Kubina, who also would not reveal if he is going to play Friday, said while it was tough, he enjoyed watching the Flyers come back from a 3-0 deficit to win Game 1.

"It was an unbelievable effort in the second half and it was fun to watch that," Kubina said. "When you see the guys do so well and battling like that, it's fun to watch that even when you're not in."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Thursday, 04.12.2012 / 12:36 AM

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

Laviolette focused on Friday

PITTSBURGH -- After winning a thriller Wednesday that probably caused a few too many strands of his hair to turn from brown to gray, a calm and composed Peter Laviolette sat at the podium and confidently talked about tomorrow being bigger, better -- and more important.

"I definitely think we can move forward now," Laviolette said. "We had a lot of first-time experiences today and that's over with and we persevered, so that's a good thing."

Laviolette isn't a believer in momentum in the playoffs because, in his own words, "the playoffs is like a loaf of bread; it's slice-by-slice. Some slices you really like, and some are really moldy."

What he means is Game 2 on Friday will be different than Game 1 was Wednesday, and the Flyers have to make significant changes, especially at the start of the game, if they want to leave Pittsburgh with a 2-0 lead in the series.

"Every day you have to go out and work for your win," Laviolette said. "Whether you win or lose you have to move on to the next game. That'll be the focus, what can we do to be better. It's just one win and now we have to focus on the second game and making sure we're better in a lot of different areas."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 2:32 PM

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

Flyers expect rookies to do their jobs

PITTSBURGH -- Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette offered a hint Wednesday morning, albeit in a round-about way, that he already has spoken to the six rookies expected to be in his Game 1 lineup about playing in the playoff pressure-cooker for the first time.

"We didn't go, 'Oh my god it's your first playoff series,'" Laviolette said with a laugh. "I don't think that would have helped them."

No, probably not. But, the message seems pretty clear.

Laviolette said he expects forwards Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, Eric Wellwood, Sean Couturier and Zac Rinaldo, and defenseman , Marc-Andre Bourdon, to be themselves and to play their roles, just as they have all season long.

"Our younger players have been utilized in every situation imaginable to this point," he said. "They got the opportunity to be part of HBO, part of the Winter Classic, and never once has there been any lack of confidence from the organization, our staff and their teammates for that matter. They are contributing factors.

"For me this is not a roll the dice and hope they make it through. This is, 'We need you to do your job, the job you've done all year.' And, they've done it well. This is their first opportunity in the playoffs, but they give us no reason to believe life will be any different than it was yesterday. We count on them for our success."

While the Penguins likely will try to find a way to exploit the rookies, Philadelphia veteran center Danny Briere said he thinks they will give the Flyers an energy boost.

"I know people are probably thinking there are a lot of rookies on this team and you don't know how they're going to answer, but I think these guys will be excited to prove themselves just like they did at the beginning of the year [when they had] to prove they had a place on this team," Briere said. "I think our youth is going to give us energy and take us a long way."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:48 PM

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

Bylsma respects Laviolette despite recent remarks

PITTSBURGH -- Penguins coach Dan Bylsma’s ears perked up the other night while he was watching a scouting tape in advance of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
An announcer was discussing the most successful U.S.-born coaches in the NHL, and he mentioned Peter Laviolette of the Philadelphia Flyers and John Tortorella of the New York Rangers. Both coached teams that won the Stanley Cup -- Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lighting in 2004 and Laviolette two years later with the Carolina Hurricanes.
 
Left out of the discussion? Bylsma, who didn’t take over until midseason in 2008-09 yet coached the Penguins to a seven-game Stanley Cup Final series win against the Detroit Red Wings.
 
An unintended slight? Perhaps. A bit of a motivator for Bylsma? Perhaps that, too.
 
"I was disappointed not being mentioned in the commentator's comments about American coaches," Bylsma said. "But that's part of the game."
 
And a Bylsma vs. Laviolette coaching matchup in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals is bound to contain some coaching gamesmanship, too.
 
Bylsma said Laviolette deserves all the praise he has gotten during a season in which the Flyers withstood the offseason departures of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and the influx of a half-dozen rookies to finish with 103 points, the sixth-most in the League.
 
"They play a consistent game," said Bylsma, whose team won 51 games -- the second-most in Penguins history. "I think their team has a real identity, which isn't the old Flyers identity, but a real good identity. This team in particular, they talk about (Claude) Giroux and (Jaromir) Jagr. Their power play has been a factor, but this is a team that does it throughout their lineup. They keep coming at you and they play well throughout their lineup. They’ve dealt with injuries."
 
Bylsma added, "He (Laviolette) is going to have matchups that he goes after and these things are important for his team. You'll see their team go after those. He's also a coach that does a good job of adjusting his team and their mindset. I have a lot of respect for Peter as a coach for what he’s done -- regardless of the name calling."
 
Bylsma was referring to Laviolette's comment after an April 1 game against the Pens that Bylsma was "gutless" for putting out his toughest players against the Flyers' Danny Briere line late in Philadelphia's 6-4 victory in Pittsburgh. During that shift, Penguins center Joe Vitale put a clean but hard hit on Briere, who went on to miss the final three regular season games with a back contusion that caused back spasms.
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 1:21 PM

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

Flyers to have Briere, Grossmann for Game 1

PITTSBURGH -- Danny Briere and Nicklas Grossman both played coy Wednesday morning and said their status would not be decided until game time. The Flyers didn't want to wait that long to make it official, so shortly after the media session with the players was over, the team revealed on its Twitter page that Briere and Grossmann will play in Game 1 against the Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN).

The news is not surprising since both players have been practicing this week and they came off the ice with the rest of the regulars after Wednesday's pregame skate.

They each missed the last three regular-season games after being injured in the teams' game April 1, both on plays involving Penguins center Joe Vitale. Grossmann was left with a lower-body injury after colliding with Vitale in the first period. In the game's final moments, Vitale's hard shoulder check on Briere left the Philadelphia center with a back contusion that caused back spasms.

Now with Briere and Grossmann set to go, the Flyers will have their full lineup. Defenseman Pavel Kubina, who played the last 10 games of the regular season, and forward Jody Shelley will be healthy scratches.

Briere is one point shy of being a point-per-game player in his playoff career (96 points in 97 games). He'll center the second line, between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds.

"In the playoffs he's been pretty good and we hope he plays the way he can," Claude Giroux said of Briere. "I have no doubt for him. The last few practices he's been flying out there. He just finds a way to get it done."

Grossmann has been a key addition to the Flyers' lineup since arriving in trade just before the trade deadline. He has been using his 6-foot-4, 230-pound body to clear space in front of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who was the NHL's Player of the Month in March.

Grossmann recognizes how important his job will be against the high-powered Penguins.

"They've got a lot of skill up front, obviously. They have two, I think, real high-skilled lines that can score a lot of goals," Grossmann said. "If everyone is on the same page and doing the right things it's going to make us successful in helping Bryz out."

Here is the Flyers' likely lineup for Game 1:

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

Kimmo Timonen - Matt Carle
Brayden Coburn - Nicklas Grossmann
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Andreas Lilja

Ilya Bryzgalov
Sergei Bobrovsky

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.11.2012 / 12:13 PM

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

Cooke wary of Flyers' skill more than braun

PITTSBURGH — Matt Cooke wants to make something clear now that the long-awaited Flyers-Penguins playoff series is finally here.
 
The Penguins are not – with the emphasis on "not" – playing the Broad Street Bullies in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
The Flyers-Penguins regular season game April 1 was intense and physical and wound down with two coaches screaming at each other as all 10 skaters on the ice skirmished briefly. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was incensed by a clean but hard hit by center Joe Vitale on Flyers forward Danny Briere and was highly critical of the Penguins and coach Dan Bylsma.
 
After the teams met again this past Sunday in a far-less-emotional game, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said he expected this series to be a "bloodbath."
 
However, the Penguins believe the Flyers teams they defeated in the 2008 and 2009 playoffs better fit the Broad Street Bullies stereotype. To them, these Flyers are built around elements other than tough guys and a push-it-to-the-limits mentality.
 
"I mean they're not a bruiser team. They don't physically punish you, I wouldn't say, any more than the way we want to play,” Cooke said following the morning skate at Consol Energy Center. "They have that persona from the 1970s and that’s what the Philadelphia Flyers are about. They have a lot of skill over there. They play a skill game and they look for turnovers. Those are the things that are going to win them games, not physical play."
 
Not that the Flyers don’t have agitator-type players that try to disrupt and distract a team. After that April 1 game, Penguins star Sidney Crosby acknowledged he gave more retaliatory hits than in any recent game he can remember.
 
The Flyers also are expected to try to provoke Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin into taking a retaliatory penalty – he can be prone to doing that – that not only puts Philadelphia on the power play but takes one of the NHL’s most creative offensive players off the ice. Malkin had 70 penalty minutes this season – 26 more than long-reputed agitator Cooke, for example.
 
“They’ve got certain players that are willing to irritate guys," Cooke said. "I think that's a situation where playing three games against them late in the season are fresh in our memories and make us understand and realize how we have to defend against that."
 
While the Flyers may not try to beat up an opponent at the same time it is trying to defeat it, Bylsma said the Penguins must be prepared for the offensive pace Philadelphia will attempt to mount with all four lines.
 
“This is a team that keeps coming at you," Bylsma said.
 
Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy is expected to play only two weeks after having arthroscopic knee surgery; he was expected to be out for three-to-four weeks. Defenseman Matt Niskanen didn’t take part in the morning skate and is all but certain to miss a third consecutive game.
 
One change: Deryk Engelland, usually on the right side when he is paired with Niskanen, will be on the left side with Lovejoy playing the right side.
 
The only other defenseman in uniform is rookie Brian Strait, who was a minus-two in the final two regular season games.
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