PITTSBURGH -- For the Pittsburgh Penguins, it's almost always about the stars, the big stars.
Sidney Crosby is arguably the biggest name in hockey. Evgeni Malkin is the Art Ross Trophy winner and one of the favorites to win the Hart Trophy as MVP. Almost every other team in the NHL would feel fortunate to possess either one; the Penguins pencil both of them into the lineup every night.
But in an elimination game -- and, no doubt, their biggest game of the season so far -- Pittsburgh's stars didn't carry the Penguins. Not even close. Instead, a must-win 3-2 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Friday was driven not by Malkin and Crosby, but by Jordan Staal and Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Kennedy and Steve Sullivan, Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik.
PENGUINS VS. FLYERS
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If the Flyers are going to finally close out the Penguins in Game 6, Scott Hartnell said they're going to have to feel some pain.
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Yes, the "other" Penguins.
Rarely do the Penguins win an important game without either Crosby or Malkin finding the scoresheet. This was the exception. Now the Penguins find themselves down 3-2 heading into a Game 6 that, when the Flyers led 3-0, appeared to have little chance of being played.
"We need to win one game," forward Matt Cooke said. "We need to win Game 6 to get back here for Game 7. It's a race to four – they're at three, we're at two, but we need to win again."
It's also a race the Penguins probably wouldn't have expected to win beforehand if they had known Crosby and Malkin wouldn't get a point between them.
It wasn't that Crosby played a bad game; to the contrary, he didn't, winning 16 of 22 faceoffs while constantly pressuring in the offensive zone, although he was credited with only two shots.
Malkin had a much more uneven game, taking two penalties – including one that resulted in a power-play goal – and giving the puck away five times. No player on either team had more than two giveaways.
Malkin took a roughing penalty in the first that led to Scott Hartnell's goal at 17:35 and a 2-1 Flyers lead. He also went off for interference late in the second, but Pittsburgh killed off that one.
Malkin was coming off a two-goal game as Pittsburgh won 10-3 in Game 4, but he was visible for all the wrong reasons in this game.
"There was certainly some emotion involved in the penalties he took," coach Dan Bylsma said. "Tonight the emotions got the best of him in some of the situations and took those two penalties … but we won this game."
The Penguins won because Fleury was exceptional while turning aside 14 shots in the third period – seven on a single Flyers power play – Staal scored his fourth goal in two games and Kennedy won it with a slap-shot goal in the second, his third goal of the series.
"Flower made some unbelievable saves," Crosby said.
And for all the Flyers' focus on controlling Crosby (three goals in the series) and Malkin (two goals), it is the Penguins' third center who is carrying their offense. Staal is best known for being a shutdown defender who can neutralize the most gifted of players, yet he already has six goals.
All of a sudden, Philadelphia's problem is shutting down the shutdown defender.
"He's more than capable of doing that," Crosby said. "He's showing offensively how gifted he is."
Kennedy, who often plays on Staal's line, said it's more of what he sees all the time during the season. Staal had 25 goals and 25 assists despite missing one-quarter of the season to injury.
"He can put the puck in the net whenever he wants," Kennedy said. "It's great to see that he's trying to take over games here and I've got a lot of faith in him."
But to win Game 6 on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center (12 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC), the Penguins understand it will take more than the support cast to accomplish it. They need Crosby and Malkin to be … well, Crosby and Malkin if they are to send the series to a decisive Game 7.
"We need Geno at his best," Bylsma said. "we need everybody at his best in Game 6."