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Pens practice what Therrien preaches

by Dan Rosen

PHILADELPHIA – Michel Therrien preached defense the day he arrived in Pittsburgh, Dec. 15, 2005. When the Penguins weren't playing up to his expectations a month into his tenure, he tore into them like a bunch of school kids who cut class.

Two and a half years later, the Penguins haven't just bought into what their coach was screaming about, they seem to truly believe in all the forechecking and backchecking that has helped put them on the brink of the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals is Thursday at the Wachovia Center (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio). The Penguins lead the best-of-seven series against the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-0.

"We know if we take care of our own end, hopefully our skill will take care of itself, but you have to believe in it," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. "You have to believe in what you do will work, and we do. We have that belief and that's the most important thing. We really believe that we're going to have success in what we do."

The Penguins hold the League's best goals-against average (1.83) in the playoffs, and were at their very best Tuesday in limiting the Flyers to just 18 shots on goal with sparse second chances or even good chances.

"Even at this time of the year when the guys on the bench see one of the guys on the ice not doing the job, they know right away," Therrien said. "And the players let the players know that you're not doing the right thing. Usually you're going to see that with veteran players, but you hear the comments of guys that are 20-years-old, 21-years-old saying, 'You shouldn't have been there, you didn't do the right thing there.' That is leadership as far as I'm concerned."

Sykora just fine -- Petr Sykora didn't know what hit him.

He had just fed a pass to linemate Ryan Malone and watched him score with a backhanded shot from just above the Martin Biron's crease halfway through the third period. But a moment later, Sykora was buried to the ice by Flyers wing Steve Downie, and he was struggling to breathe since he got the wind knocked out of him.

"Seriously, I made a pass, saw my teammate Bugsy (Malone) score, and then I got hit. So you tell me what happened," Sykora said. "I didn't see the replay. I don't like to watch those replays because I don't want to go into the game tomorrow worrying about it."

No explanations needed -- Marian Hossa couldn't offer any particular reason as to why the pucks are going into the net for him now as opposed to early in the playoffs.

"I just try do my stuff, what I always do and so far everything is clicking and things are happening for me and the team," said Hossa, who leads the Penguins with eight playoff goals, including five in the last four games. "I just try to play the same hockey. I'm communicating with my linemates, (Crosby and Pascal Dupuis), and we keep working on what we have to do better. So far it's working for us."

Hossa's heroics have canned any criticism of him not being a strong playoff performer. In his previous 55 playoff games, he had only 35 points on 13 goals and 22 assists. In 12 games this season he has 15 points, including seven assists.

"You know, a guy like Hossa always has been a little bit criticized about his playoff performance in the past," Therrien said. "Right now he's playing his best hockey in his career in the playoffs.

"Sometimes it can be a fit," the coach continued. "A player will fit well on a team how they play. I really believe this is the right fit for him. It's the right fit to play with Crosby. He's having a great time right now. You can tell. He comes to the rink and he's got such a great attitude."

He'll take it – No, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is not complaining at all. He doesn't mind it when he faces only 18 shots, including just eight in the first 40 minutes like he did Tuesday night, and his team wins 4-1.

"It shows how much the guys are working," Fleury said. "It's a good stat to show other people."

Any goalie would want that kind of evening, but Fleury said it's not always easy when the action is constantly on the other end.

"It's always a little tougher when you don't have many shots, but I try to stretch and focus on the game," Fleury said. "It's an important time of the year so I have to stay focused for when I get some shots."

He better, because if the Penguins and Red Wings do make up the participants in this year's Cup Final, Fleury's days of stretching while the puck is live will come to an end. The Red Wings are just as fancy with their passing and puck-possession game.

"I like when guys are tight and it's usually do or die," Fleury answered when asked if he feels he can thrive under duress as well. "We have a good team right now, so I'm not scared of that situation."

Sid not surprised –
The last time both Stanley Cup participants swept their way through the Conference Final was in 1992 when the Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks did it before Mario Lemeiux and Co. dispatched the Blackhawks in four games.

That there is a chance it could happen this year is not surprising at all to Crosby, who said it really comes down to who makes that one critical mistake and through six games it hasn't been either the Penguins or the Red Wings.

"To be honest, it could be 2-1 or completely different the other way. It's one goal here and there, one mistake," Crosby said. "I don't think it's always relevant with how teams are playing. It's who makes that one mistake. As players we don't pay attention to that (3-0 in each series) too much because of the small margin for error."

Quotable – The always affable Maxime Talbot had this little nugget to offer when a reporter asked him if a player ever dreams of being one win away from getting to the Stanley Cup Final.

"I was actually talking to (Marc-Andre) Fleury about that last night on the bus," Talbot began. "You dream about holding the Stanley Cup, but when you get closer and closer you realize, 'OK, I got a chance.' Yes you dream, but you don't think it's going to happen. We're so close now that we're starting to believe it."

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