Just three days after the hockey world left them for dead, the Penguins are turning doubters into believers.
Pittsburgh has cut a 3-0 series deficit to 3-2 following a lopsided 10-3 victory in Philadelphia in Game 4 and hard-fought 3-2 triumph in Pittsburgh in Game 5 Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
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Catch up on the stories from the Penguins 2012 playoffs.
A series that many thought would end in a sweep now shifts back to Philadelphia for Game 6 Sunday at noon. And even though the Penguins are still the ones facing elimination, the momentum is surely behind them.
Regardless of the recent turn in fortune, the Penguins remain focused on their one-game-at-a-time approach.
“It’s still do-or-die for us,” said Jordan Staal
, who leads all NHL players with six goals this postseason. “It’s our mentality of playing it one game at a time, just five minutes at a time and keep chipping away. We’re hoping to go into Philly and do the same thing we did (in Game 5) and get the win.”
The Penguins made a number of uncharacteristic mistakes in the first three contests that led to them being outscored 20-12 and falling into a 3-0 hole. The Penguins left Philadelphia after Game 3 knowing they hadn’t played their best hockey. But Pittsburgh returned to the City of Brotherly Love for Game 4 with a new focus and determination.
“We were really bad for three games and were down 3-0. It was what you expect,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
said. “On the flip side of that, because we hadn’t played well for three games that gave us a reason to be optimistic going into Game 4 and saying if we could play halfway decent we’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”
Pittsburgh was more than halfway decent in Game 4. They were dominant. It was a statement game that the Penguins wouldn’t go quietly. But their Game 5 performance may have been even more impressive.
In what has been a completely unpredictable series, Friday’s contest was played much closer to the script of a playoff game: tight-checking; solid defense; outstanding goaltending; and opportunistic scoring.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury
reclaimed his spot as the team’s backbone with a game-changing (maybe series changing?) effort. Fleury made 24 saves, but 14 came in the third period on high-quality scoring chances to preserve the one-goal lead.
But what was most impressive about Game 5 was the way the Penguins won battles. Staal outmuscling a Flyer to get to a loose puck in the defensive zone, chipping it up the boards and then bracing for a big hit. Sidney Crosby
jumping over the boards as the Flyers charged with an odd-man rush, tracking the trailer and stick checking to negate a scoring chance. Matt Niskanen
hustling from the offensive zone the length of the ice to pick up Jaromir Jagr and preventing him from getting off a clean shot from the slot.
Even the team's fans stepped up their game when the Penguins needed them most. The faithful filled the sidewalks and closed down streets to watch the Big Screen, many with signs reading "Pens In 7" or simply "Believe."
The record crowd of 18,628 at CONSOL Energy Center backed their club from the opening puck drop until the final nerve-racking second clicked off the clock. During a television timeout following Tyler Kennedy
’s goal to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead in the second period, the crowd stood on its feet, waved towels and met a deafening and record decibel level for the new barn.
This morning head coach Dan Bylsma said, “The building needs to be at its best; the fans need to be at their best; the people outside watching need to be at their best. We have to have everybody at their best.”
Most importantly, the Penguins were at their best. They executed the plays that make the difference in a hockey game and a playoff series.
The Penguins still have no room for error. They’ll have to bring the same type of execution and intensity into Game 6. They’ll have to once again lay it all on the line.
The Penguins live to fight another day. And that day will come Sunday.