PHILADELPHIA - Players always say they don't read newspapers but yet the Philadelphia Flyers admit they were more than a little perturbed at all the talk of a Pittsburgh-Detroit Stanley Cup final.
It may still happen, but it's going to have to wait. "It is frustrating to hear Pittsburgh this and Pittsburgh that," said Flyers captain Mike Richards. "We have a good team in here and we wanted to come out and prove it tonight."
Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere and Joffrey Lupul scored first-period goals and the Flyers refused to die in front of their home fans, hanging on for a 4-2 win Thursday night and forcing a fifth game in the Eastern Conference final.
"It's pretty simple, win or go home," said Lupul. "We didn't have to do that much thinking before the game."
The Flyers received even more good news after the game. Top defenceman Kimmo Timonen, who was expected to miss the remainder of the post-season with a blood clot in his left ankle, said he will skate Friday in an attempt to return for Sunday's fifth game.
Jordan Staal had two third-period goals as the Penguins made things interesting but still lost for only the second time in the playoffs.
"We really believed we'd come back here tonight," said Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who was held pointless. "We came up a little short. But you never want to put yourself behind the eight ball like that.
"I think we all believe in ourselves if we play the right way for 60 minutes no matter how it starts off that we give ourselves a chance to win."
The Flyers got in Marc-Andre Fleury's face for the first time in the series on a consistent basis, making his job a little more difficult by crashing the crease, screening the goalie and fighting for rebounds around him.
"They threw a lot of pucks on net," agreed Staal. "I think we had a tough time containing them in front. They're strong players."
Away from the net, the Flyers made the Penguins pay for the puck, delivering their most physical game of the series with timely hits.
"We had some success on our forecheck and stayed on top of them," said Richards.
Lupul also added an empty netter while Martin Biron was solid for the Flyers with a 36-save effort. The teams engaged in several late-game tussles, highlighted by Crosby mixing it up with Richards with 13 seconds left and the game well in hand.
"Sid is a competitive player and so am I," said Richards, downplaying it. "I think he thought I tried to slash him and didn't like it. And he was probably angry at losing the game."
It was a rare moment of outward anger from Crosby, who has kept his cool throughout the playoffs despite the usual taunting from the opposition. Did the Flyers get under his skin a little?
"It looked like maybe we did," said Flyers defenceman Derian Hatcher. "It's definitely what we want do to."
Crosby shrugged it off.
"I think they're looking more for those little scrums more so than we are," said the Penguins captain. "You know, we'll play to our strengths and that's our skating and our speed and our skill, and being physical in a disciplined way."
The Penguins left their 'A' game at the hotel in the opening 30 minutes. They were beaten to loose pucks, made too many poor decisions with passes and played what was arguably their worst game of the post-season. Then again, they've only lost two of them.
"It's tough to win in Philly," said Penguins tough guy Georges Laraque. "We got a split. There's no panic here. We know we can beat them. It's not going to be easy but it will be nice to be at home."
They'll have yet another crack at clinching their first Cup berth in 16 years Sunday afternoon (3 p.m. ET) in the friendly confines of Mellon Arena, where the Penguins are a perfect 7-0 in the playoffs.
The Flyers must have got tired of reading all those Pittsburgh-Detroit Stanley Cup final preview stories. They came out with rocket fuel in their skating game, delivering by far their best period of the Eastern Conference final. They rifled 17 shots on the Pittsburgh net in the opening 20 minutes after mustering 18 in all of Game 3.
Richards - who again was a force - had the best chance to open the scoring but missed wide on a short-handed breakaway early on, aiming for the same top corner on the glove side where he beat Fleury in Game 1.
Lupul gave the Flyers their first 1-0 lead in the series at 8:27, his slap shot deflected by the stick blade of Penguins defenceman Hal Gill - a Don Cherry no-no. That got the crowd in the game. A boisterous Wachovia Center gathering was in no mood to see the Penguins clinch a Stanley Cup final berth on their own home ice.
Briere doubled the lead to 2-0 at 11:48, sliding home a rebound on a nice second effort in traffic on a power play.
The state and divisional rivals don't like each other and emotions boiled over, star Pittsburgh blue-liner Sergei Gonchar and Richards igniting a player melee behind the Penguins net.
The period didn't end before the Flyers tacked on another goal for a 3-0 lead, Carter flipping a backhand rebound over a sprawled Fleury on another power play with 1:10 left in the opening period.
The Penguins were better in the second period, but Biron shut the door, the sellout crowd of 19,972 chanting "Marty, Marty," after a series of saves midway through the period.
The third period was dominated by the Penguins, desperate to get some goals.
"After the second period, I thought we bring our game to the level that I was looking for," said Pens head coach Michel Therrien. "And we've got to make sure we play that same level at home Sunday."
Staal jammed a one-handed rebound past Biron 3:16 into the third period and for the first time in the night, the Penguins bench was on its feet. They kept pressing shift after shift and it wasn't surprising when Staal score again to make it 3-2 with 5:49 to go, his one-timer from the slot beating Biron stick side.
With Fleury on the bench for an extra attacker, the Penguins fell short of tying it. Sunday hockey it is.
Notes: Gary Roberts missed his second game in a row with what Therrien called a "mild case" of pneumonia. He's day to day. Adam Hall once again took his spot in the lineup ... Flyers blue-liner Braydon Coburn was out again, his left eye still too swollen to play. Rookie Ryan Parent was again in for him. Forward Steve Downie was a healthy scratch, Patrick Thoresen taking his spot in the Flyers lineup ... The Flyers have won the three previous playoff series against the Penguins (2000, 1997, 1989) ... The Flyers are attempting to be the first NHL team since the 1975 New York Islanders to rally from a 3-0 series deficit.