In an attempt to re-establish some physicality and, perhaps, a little more puck possession, don't be surprised if Philadelphia Flyers
coach John Stevens
inserts rookie grinder Steve Downie
into the lineup for tonight's critical Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh.
"He brings good things to our team," Stevens said. "He's got a heavy stick, wins a lot of puck battles and is a guy that's come in and played well whenever his number was called. I think our fourth line has done a good job and Steve's been a part of that mix there and has had the ability to come in and be a big player. The bigger the game, the better he plays and that's the reason he's going to get some consideration (in Game 2)."
Downie, who played in Game 7 against Washington in the opening round and then three games against Montreal in the conference semifinals, has had some success alongside Jim Dowd and Patrick Thoresen over the course of the season.
"I think they're looking at a must-win game because they realize we do not want to go down 2-0 in this series," Flyers center Mike Richards said. "I think Steve stepped in really well in Game 7 in Washington in bringing a physical presence. He's actually a skilled player but, I mean, he just has that presence on the ice where everyone has to know where he is because he does have that physical side to him."
Richards, who scored both goals in a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh in Game 1 on Friday, realizes the importance of playing physical and slowing the pace down against the offensively-gifted Penguins.
"I thought (Friday) night was a physical game but, like I've said before, once we start playing more our style of game by staying closer together and supporting more, we're going to be able to get in on the forecheck a lot better," Richards said. "That way, we'll create more hits. On Friday, I thought we ran out of position for hits a little bit too many times and that opened up plays for them, and their skill players took advantage of it."
Malkin gets physical -- In addition to making life miserable for the Flyers defense with a goal and two assists in Game 1, Pittsburgh scoring leader Evgeni Malkin (17 points and 10 goals in 10 games) had no qualms using his 6-foot-3, 195-pound frame to his advantage along the boards.
"He made some big-time progress during the year," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "When Sid (Crosby) got hurt, Evgeni picked up his game, and he's been a true leader and leaders have to lead by example. That was the challenge I presented Evgeni; playing both sides of the ice and being physical when he had to be physical.
"Those young kids got a lot of grit," he continued. "They're not going to back down and not going to disappear on physical play. He's a guy that, when the emotion is there, he's capable of evaluating his game. So he deserves a lot of credit right now because he's playing really well."
Malkin finished second on the team with five hits in Game 1 and also led the team with a plus-3 rating and three points.
"He's scoring a lot of goals and can do it in so many way," Flyers goalie Martin Biron said. "He comes on the wing and down the middle on shorthanded and power-play situations. He's good at any situation. You see when he has the puck and he gets going, it fuels their team. So for us, it's a big challenge to stop a guy like him and take some momentum away from their team."
Best defense is better offense -- Sure, we're all aware of the offensive weaponry throughout Pittsburgh's lineup, but the Penguins are also the best defensive team currently playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In 10 playoff games, the Penguins have yielded a League-low 1.90 goals-against average. Detroit is second this postseason with a 1.92 GAA in 12 contests.
"I think since the beginning of the year, the team just kept improving on our defensive game," Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. "I think you can tell now that the defense is doing a great job on getting to rebounds and carrying it away. And the forwards always come back hard and try to help in our zone."
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby agrees.
"We realize if we don't play well defensively, we're not going to win a lot of games," Crosby admitted. "We do have a lot of offensive players, but realize if we take care of things in our end, it gives us a better opportunity to have the puck and not be chasing as much all game. I think we realize we have to make sure we're coming back hard. Obviously, when Marc (Andre-Fleury) is playing well, it's hard to score goals against us."
Opening game blues -- The Flyers have lost the opening game of each round this playoff season. There was a difference between their losses to Washington and Montreal in the opening two rounds and Friday's 4-2 setback to the Penguins, however, and that concerned coach John Stevens.
"'We're going to have to play a lot harder than we did on Friday," Stevens said. "We're not going to beat Pittsburgh or anybody else if you don't play your best. I don't think you can even play at 85 percent and expect to win. If we played our best and lost, then you move on and get ready for the next one, but I don't believe we did on Friday. We've got to get reorganized and that was the reason we practiced (Saturday). We've been taking games off between practice and practicing game day. But we haven't had a lot of practice time."
Flyers goalie Martin Biron knows his team must also be mentally sharp.
"I think Pittsburgh is a little like Washington in the sense that they don't shoot a lot," Biron said. "They don't shoot unnecessary pucks to the net. Whenever they get a chance, it's a good chance, a scoring chance. So I think that you don't get to feel the puck and feel your angles and, because of that, you've got to be extra focused and mentally ready."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.