The Pittsburgh Penguins
have been down this road before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this spring. Once.
For only the second time in 13 games, the Penguins lost a playoff game. As was the case the first time, however, the Pens still have a 3-1 series lead. This time, the Philadelphia Flyers earned their first win of this Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night with a 4-2 victory before 19,972 orange-clad fans at the Wachovia Center.
The Penguins are in the same situation they faced a couple of weeks ago, when they held a 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven with the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semifinal round before losing for the first time in these playoffs — a 3-0 setback at Madison Square Garden in New York on May 1. In that contest, Pittsburgh was whistled for 30 minutes in penalties in the third period, including 10-minute misconducts to Evgeni Malkin and Jarkko Ruutu.
How did they team respond in Game 5? In a word, decisively. The Penguins weren’t the least bit skittish — they outshot the Rangers 40-22 and outhit them 41-22 in a 3-2 overtime victory at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh. The triumph closed the book on the Rangers and enabled the Penguins to advance to the conference finals for the first time in seven years.
“We were sloppy in Game 4 against the Rangers, and were sloppy (Thursday) night against the Flyers,” Ruutu said. “We took stupid penalties and that cost us both games.
Whatever happened in the past doesn’t really matter. We just have to be smarter. We didn’t deserve to win this game because we weren’t focused enough and they used the power play to an advantage. That’s what desperate teams do, so now we’ll just have to correct our mistakes.”
The Penguins need to build on a solid last 40 minutes in Game 4 when they host the Flyers on Sunday afternoon at Mellon Arena, where they are a perfect 7-0 this spring and have outscored their opponents 27-13. The Flyers are 4-5 on the road this postseason, including a pair of 4-2 setbacks at Mellon Arena in Games 1 and 2.
Center Maxime Talbot feels the Penguins returned to their game in the third period, when they got two goals from Jordan Staal to pull within 3-2. After Joffrey Lupul’s empty-netter clinched the win for the Flyers, the in-state rivals piled up some penalty minutes as players on each side unleashed their frustrations.
“We don’t want to get into the scrums that occurred at the end of the game,” Talbot said. “That’s not how we won hockey games. We have to get away from that, and we were called for some penalties that we should not have taken. The end of the game got a little rough and intense, and that’s not our type of game. We need to look away from that, play the whistles and get some goals. We’re disciplined and know what it takes. We’ve done it before.”
The Penguins are hoping not to relive the horrors of 1975, when they became only the second team in NHL history to lose a seven-game series after jumping out to a 3-0 lead by losing four in a row to the New York Islanders. The Toronto Maple Leafs also rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in 1942.
Flyers winger Scottie Upshall felt the Penguins became a bit unraveled in Game 4.
“We finished our checks and I thought we got in (Sergei) Gonchar’s face really well,” Upshall said. “If you can get under his skin, he’s a guy who will take some penalties out there.” Gonchar received a pair of minors in the opening period, when the Flyers went 2-for-3 with the man advantage.
Penguins forward Georges Laraque is glad his team is heading home for Game 5.
“It’s tough to win in Philly, but we got a split and we’re happy with that,” Laraque said. “Now we’re headed back home and we’re hoping to finish it up. It’s not desperation time since we’re up 3-1, but we know we have to remain disciplined. I don’t think the end of the third period was nasty because no one was hurt. It’s nothing like it was in the regular season, let’s put it that way.”
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org