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|Pittsburgh's deadline acquistion of Marian Hossa was questioned by some, but the Penguins have been repaid with 19 points in 14 postseason contests from the right wing, including a goal and three assists in a 6-0 win to close out the Eastern Conference Finals against Philadelphia.
The door might have been left ajar after the previous game, but the Pittsburgh Penguins made sure it was slammed shut on Sunday.
After falling behind early and failing to close out the Philadelphia Flyers three days earlier, the Penguins emphatically sent their Pennsylvania rivals packing with a 6-0 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Mellon Arena.
Ryan Malone scored twice and added an assist, Marian Hossa finished with four points and Marc-Andre Fleury notched his third shutout of the postseason with 21 saves, putting Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992, when the team repeated as champions.
The Penguins’ opponent has yet to be determined – Detroit gets its third crack at wrapping up the Western Conference Finals when the puck drops on Game 6 in Dallas on Monday night – but they figure to match up well regardless of the opponent.
Pittsburgh improved to 12-2 in these Stanley Cup Playoffs, losing only in Game 4 against the Rangers and the Flyers.
It was a disappointing end to a surprising postseason run for Philadelphia, which finished with the League’s worst record just a season ago. The Flyers were heartened Sunday by the return of top defenseman Kimmo Timonen, but ultimately could not follow up on a seven-game series victory over Washington and a five-game elimination of Montreal, the East’s top team during the regular season.
Here are five talking points from Game 5 to ponder as we await the start of Game 6 between the Red Wings and Stars:
1. Starting Strong
The Penguins played 40 minutes of solid hockey in Game 4 at Philadelphia – the problem was they managed to dig themselves a 3-0 hole in the opening period and were unable to climb out of it.
Returning home Sunday, the coaching staff and players understood the importance of whipping the fans into an early frenzy and establishing momentum right off the bat.
Michel Therrien couldn’t have scripted a better start, as the Penguins drew the game’s first penalty at 2:18 and Malone needed all of 12 seconds to redirect a Sidney Crosby feed past Martin Biron for a 1-0 lead. They outshot the Flyers 10-5 in the first period and added a goal by Evgeni Malkin in the opening 20 minutes.
Forced to play from behind, the Flyers never came up with the big play that might have gotten them back in the contest. The Penguins got the all-important third goal, off the stick of Hossa, and cruised to victory from there.
2. Deadline Deal Paying Off
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero paid a heavy price at the trade deadline to pry Hossa away from the Atlanta Thrashers. There were questions about his past playoff performance – only 13 goals and 35 points in 55 career games with the Thrashers and Senators – but Hossa has spent the first three rounds erasing those memories.
Two weeks earlier, he ended the Rangers’ season with a goal in sudden-death overtime to send the Penguins into the conference final. In Game 5 against the Flyers, Hossa had a hand in four goals. His offensive output gave him 19 points in the playoffs, production that falls second only to team captain Crosby.
Hossa’s addition has been key to Pittsburgh’s offense because it gives Crosby a bona-fide sniper on his line while allowing Therrien to play Malkin on a separate unit and leave him there. Both lines provide matchup nightmares for opposing coaches, and the Flyers simply didn’t have enough checking to stop them.
3. Too Many Mistakes
One reason why it’s so difficult to come from 0-3 down in a best-of-seven series is there’s no margin for error. The Flyers came out on fire in Game 4 and played well enough to extend their season with a 4-2 victory, but were still faced with the prospect of having to replicate that effort three more times.
The Flyers’ first misstep in Game 5 was a hooking penalty to Mike Knuble that led to Malone’s goal. Biron lost his stick and was slow getting back to cover the post on Malkin’s tally. In the second period, the Flyers were awarded a power play and promptly gave it back six seconds later when Jordan Staal was tripped off a faceoff by Timonen.
Even when Philadelphia thought it had scored a goal, it didn’t count. Late in the second, with Pittsburgh ahead 4-0, Jim Dowd threw the puck into the slot where it caromed in past Fleury. But the officials ruled Patrick Thoresen, who was crashing the net, impeded Fleury’s ability to make a play and wiped the goal out. It was that kind of day for the Flyers.
4. Heroic Effort Not Enough
The Flyers got bad news before the series even began when Timonen was ruled out with a blood clot in his ankle. At the time, it was thought the talented defenseman’s season might be over.
But there was Timonen on the ice Sunday, back after having missed only four games. His return was particularly important because while he was out the Flyers also lost the services of young blueliner Braydon Coburn, after a puck deflected into his face early in Game 2.
Timonen wasn’t just back to make a token appearance in the hopes of lifting his team’s spirits – he carried his normal workload, compiling 21 minutes, 43 seconds of ice time over 29 shifts. Unfortunately for the Flyers, his gutsy comeback wouldn’t extend to a Game 6 back in Philadelphia.
5. Four Wins Away
When last we saw Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals, the superstars up front were named Mario and Jaromir, instead of Sidney and Evgeni. Lemieux and Jagr, along with Tom Barrasso in goal, helped the Penguins beat the Minnesota North Stars in six games in 1991 and sweep the Chicago Blackhawks in 1992 for the franchise’s only titles.
Now that they’re back, the Penguins certainly look capable of beating whichever team the West offers up. In all three playoff rounds, they’ve jumped out to 3-0 leads and never had to face anything remotely resembling pressure. Not a bad way to go about pursuing a title.
The Penguins didn’t play the Red Wings during the regular season – Atlantic Division teams didn’t face Central Division teams in 2007-08 – but if the Stars are able to finish their comeback, the Pens do have some recent history against them. Pittsburgh was a 4-1 winner back on Nov. 30 behind a pair of goals by Crosby and 22 saves from Fleury.
Author: Brian Hunter | NHL.com Staff Writer