Everyone knows how important special teams are in a playoff series. More often than not, they can be the deciding factor in whether or not a team advances to the next round.
And on Wednesday, Pittsburgh’s power play played a pivotal role in keeping the Penguins’ postseason hopes alive.
The Penguins exploded for four goals on the man-advantage in Pittsburgh’s 10-3 victory over the Flyers in Game 4 at Wells Fargo Center, tying a franchise record for most power-play tallies in a game that had been set twice previously – April 30, 2010 vs. Montreal and April 29, 1992 vs. Washington.
“Our power play was huge,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “We had numerous opportunities and our power play came up big with all five guys contributing there and the second unit getting a power-play goal as well.”
“The power play was fun to watch, that’s for sure,” defenseman Brooks Orpik
grinned. “I think we were up 9-3 after the second (period) and we came in (the locker room) and the power-play guys were still talking about plays they could have done better. That’s obviously a good sign. I think in the first three games we lost the special teams every game. Usually this time of the year, it’s going to cost you games.”
Veteran Steve Sullivan
led the way with a goal and two assists on the power play. Matt Niskanen
, Kris Letang
and Jordan Staal
had the other tallies, while Sidney Crosby
earned a pair of primary assists and Tyler Kennedy
, Matt Cooke
and Marc-Andre Fleury
also got credited with helpers.
After going 0-for-3 on the man-advantage in Game 1, the Penguins went 3-for-9 in Games 2 and 3. That’s a decent success rate, but the three shorthanded goals they’d surrendered to the Flyers essentially cancelled it out.
Philadelphia had done a solid job during those games of keeping Pittsburgh in check with their aggressive shorthanded work, but on Wednesday the Penguins were all business – and that kept the Flyers on their heels.
The Penguins moved the puck with a purpose, propelled by the efforts and vision of Sullivan and Crosby. Every player on both units filled their respective roles the way the Penguins drew it out, and it paid dividends.
“I think it was just a good job of moving around,” Crosby said. “We executed pretty well. I think moving the puck around quick, we had guys moving. At the end of the day, you’ve got to bury the chances you get and guys did a good job doing that.”
Credit also must be given to the Penguins for recovering from early penalty trouble, where the Flyers went 3-for-5 on the man-advantage and seemed poised to steal the momentum of this game based on their power play.
The referees set the tone from the start, wanting to call a tight game after some of the situations that unfolded in Sunday’s Game 3. Once the Penguins realized that, they stayed disciplined, kept their composure and got some of the calls to go their way.
“It was a tough start. A lot of penalties right away,” Staal said. “They called it really well, really tight. It was tough to get those kills right off the bat, but we found a way to win.”
“It was something we had to adjust, and I think we did a good job of adjusting to that after the first period,” Orpik said. “I think when we went down 3-2 after those power-play goals, it was just the way we responded to that. There was no panic. We just believed if we kept playing and playing, hopefully we’d have a good chance to win there.”
To win the special teams battle against a Flyers team that has been performing so brilliantly in those areas is certainly a step in the right direction, and something to build on for Game 5.
“Special teams are always big in the playoffs,” Crosby said. “They’ve proven to be here in this series.”