- The only reason the Pittsburgh Penguins
aren't perfect in these Stanley Cup Playoffs is because they failed to close out the New York Rangers
in Game 4 at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago.
Ironically, that 3-0 loss now serves as motivation for the Penguins to finish off the Philadelphia Flyers
in Game 4 at the Wachovia Center Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio), which would clinch them their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 16 years.
No let-up is the message they're delivering. No reason to give the Flyers life the way they did the Rangers, albeit for only another couple of days before wiping them out with an overtime victory in Game 5 back home at Mellon Arena.
"We've learned here in the last couple series, especially the last one, that the last game is always the toughest one to win," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby
said. "I don't think we can afford to look ahead. We need to keep doing the things we're doing and hopefully we're rewarded for that."
The Penguins vision is just as blinded when it comes to their remarkable 11-1 postseason record.
"I don't know if we look at it as an accomplishment," Crosby said. "We're being consistent right now. We have a great attitude, but I guess that's the reward you get for making sure that you take each game seriously and that you're consistent."
The Penguins' approach was just about perfect in Game 3 when they skated to a 4-1 victory by playing perhaps their most sound defensive game in the Crosby Era, which dates back three years.
They held the Flyers to 18 shots, very few second-chance opportunities, and took advantage by scoring on four of their 25 shots. The performance will likely force Flyers coach John Stevens
to juggle his lines and put Mike Richards
together with Danny Briere
for the first time in the playoffs.
The Flyers practiced that way Wednesday in Voorhees, N.J.
"Richie and Danny have had an awful lot of success together this year, mind you mostly on the power play, but they're two of the best offensive players on our team and in the League," Stevens said. "So, we thought we'd give it a look and there's a good chance you'll see it (Thursday)."
No matter what the Flyers lines look like, you don't have to tell the Penguins if they bottle Tuesday's performance and use it again Thursday they'll waltz into the Stanley Cup Final. But they also played a strong Game 3 against the Rangers, winning 5-3, but couldn't put the hammer down in Game 4 due in large part to a brilliant performance by New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist
, who made 29 saves that night.
Lesson learned, the Penguins say.
"I never want to get ahead of myself," Penguins winger Petr Sykora
said. "Even if we win (Thursday) I'm not going to celebrate anything because when I look back I lost twice in the Stanley Cup Final (2001 with New Jersey, 2003 with Anaheim) and nobody cared that we went to the Final. I learned my lesson. There were a couple of series that we were up 3-2 or 3-1 and I thought it was over, but it never is. It's always going to bite you back."
The Penguins probably can't play any better on the defensive end than they are right now. They're allowing only 1.83 goals per game, which is lowest among all playoff teams. Their penalty kill has achieved a nearly 90-percent success rate.
Against Philadelphia the Penguins have been especially consistent with their aggressive forecheck, which is basically a smothering 1-2-2 trap orchestrated by a daunting group of speedy and committed forwards as well as some physical blue-liners.
The Flyers haven't had an answer, especially in Game 3 when they were suffocated before they even reached the red line.
"From the outside looking in we have all these stars up front and we're looked at as this entertaining team that scores a lot of goals," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. "We know in the playoffs if you commit defensively with the talent we have, we're going to get our goals eventually. It's been a collective defensive effort and our goalie has been huge all playoffs for us."
Orpik, though, empathizes with the Flyers, who are trying to bust the Penguins trap without their best puck-moving defenseman, Kimmo Timonen
. Braydon Coburn
also sat out Game 3 with an eye injury that could keep him out for Game 4 as well.
"They're not going to make any excuses, but a guy like Timonen would help," Orpik said. "But, yeah, everyone is doing a good job playing our system. I know as defensemen even when their forwards do get the puck in they don't have a lot of speed."
The evidence is everywhere.
The Flyers have only scored five goals in the three games so far. They have yet to score a third-period goal. The Penguins have four.
Of the Flyers most talented players, only Richards and Jeff Carter
have made noticeable differences. Richards has three goals on 10 shots. Carter has a goal and 17 shots. If it weren't for an unbelievable defensive play by Sergei Gonchar
on Tuesday, Richards may have scored a shorthanded breakaway goal that would have tied the game in the second period.
Meanwhile, Briere and Vaclav Prospal
each have only one assist apiece. Briere is a minus-3. Prospal is a minus-2. Neither registered a shot in Game 3.
, who had eight goals in five games against Montreal, scored his first against the Penguins on Tuesday. He has only two shots on goal in the series.
And, goalie Marty Biron has allowed 10 goals against 82 shots after surrendering 14 on 177 shots against Montreal.
"This is a young team playing a mature game," Penguins coach Michel Therrien
said. "They're all committed defensively. When you're committed defensively you give yourself a chance to win. Our focus is there, and I like our chance right now."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.