Wednesday, April 18, 2012

No defense: Flyers flounder, fail to send Penguins packing

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Just when you think things couldn't get weirder, on a night where the Philadelphia Flyers were supposed to close the books on their most bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins finally played like their season depended on it.

It did, and they live to fight another day, thanks to Jordan Staal's hat trick which fueled a 10-3 decision that simply defied description on Wednesday night in Philadelphia -- one aided by the home team's total lack of commitment to defense.

While the Orange and Black pumped home 20 goals over the first three games in this best-of-seven set and rolled up an iron-clad 3-0 series advantage, Game 4 developed like they wanted to see how many they could score after giving up 20.

They found out half an answer.

"It's 10-3 and it is in your building, so it's embarrassing," said Kimmo Timonen. "But there's a lesson to be learned: every game matters. Maybe we thought it was going to be easy."

Pittsburgh scored eight straight times after facing a 3-2 deficit late in the first period, including all five in the second period. All this without 40-goal scorer James Neal, who was serving a one-game suspension, two other forwards serving bans, and defenseman Paul Martin.

"I think the Penguins offense speaks for itself. They do an awful lot of things to generate goals," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "The little 5-on-5 there was they seemed to have a lot more jump than we did. They came out, played desperate and showed that they didn't want to go home."

In a testament to depth, nine players including Staal recorded multi-point games and 14 players picked up at least one point. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Steve Sullivan also posted three points apiece, while Pascal Dupuis and Kris Letang lit the lamp once each.

Marc-Andre Fleury shook off another awful period in the opening 20 minutes, snagging the win with 22 saves.

"I thought we got some big saves at key times from him, both in the second and third period, so we survive to play another game in this series," Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma said of his embattled starter. "There were a handful of times, though they eventually did score (in the first period), where he stood out, he was sharp and aggressive."

Claude Giroux, Kimmo Timonen and Jakub Voracek tallied in the first period, but Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky each allowed five goals.

So we wait and we wonder, with Game 5 ahead in the Steel City on Friday.

"We are going to find out what this team is really made of, how we're really built," said Jaromir Jagr. "If we are who we think we are, then we're going to have to respond the way we know in the next game."

With so much on the line, it was stultifying to see the hosts down 4-3 after one period despite going 3-for-5 on the power play. But Matt Carle took a foolish interference call at the buzzer, Giroux followed with a high-sticking call, and the Pens made them pay.

Letang provided a two-goal edge at 3:07, and Bryzgalov was finally free of the gallows in favor of Bobrovsky.

"Generally speaking, we all had to be better at what we did. Bryz had to come out. I had to shake the tree a little bit," Laviolette admitted.

The Flyers didn't learn, and on a successive short-handed situation, Carle then made an ill-advised clearing attempt up the middle and Staal eventually finished off the play to make it 6-3 at 7:21.

Sullivan blasted another one home over Bobrovsky's glove just 15 seconds after Matt Read was sent off for roughing, and it was a four-goal margin.

It continued to get worse, as Dupuis and Staal scored within a span of 64 seconds, and the latter finishing off his hat trick with just under four minutes remaining in the second for a 9-3 score.

"I just wanted to keep all this going," Staal said. "We got big games from a lot of guys in this room tonight."

Malkin ripped one home from between the circle just over four minutes into the third to put the Pens into double digits, and the game slowly descended into score settling.

By the end of the night, Zac Rinaldo, Matt Cooke, Joe Vitale, Pavel Kubina and Wayne Simmonds hit the showers as a deterrent to the madness that defined Sunday's Game 3. Rinaldo will certainly face a hearing about his antics with 3:17 remaining that netted him 24 penalty minutes.

"Our focus is only on one game," Byslma intoned, keeping with the script established on Sunday. "Anything beyond that focus right now is...not good."

The helter-skelter first periods in this series continued, with Giroux lighting a fire under the home crowd when he slipped a shot through Fleury's pads just 74 seconds after the opening faceoff.

Malkin responded on a backhander at 3:37, and then Niskanen ripped his first career playoff goal home, a one-timer off a Crosby dish, to put the visitors up at 8:05.

But the Flyers revved the engines again, tying the game on a Timonen slapper at 15:06 then forging ahead 46 seconds later when Voracek pounced on a Simmonds rebound and roofed one past a diving Fleury.

Only this time, the Penguins did not fold. Crosby managed to get his stick on a Niskanen right-point drive for a 3-3 game at 16:19, and Staal was alone in the slot to flip home a shot to make it 4-3 at 17:29.

"I thought the response from Evgeni was a great individual effort," added Bylsma. "Jordan was great, he stepped up at the end of the first period with a great shift, picks up a rebound and scores and it turned out to be the game winner."

Notes: The Flyers fell to 3-7 all-time when holding a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series...The 45 combined goals set a new NHL record for total scores in the first four games of a playoff series, eclipsing the 44 that the Oilers and Blackhawks registered in the 1985 Campbell Conference Finals...The last time Philly allowed an opponent to score eight unanswered goals was in an 8-0 loss at Buffalo in Game 6 of an Eastern Conference Quarterfinal on April 21, 2001...This marked only the second time in club history they have surrendered 10-or-more goals in a postseason game, with the first being a 10-7 loss at Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the 1989 Patrick Division Finals...Briere and Schenn were a game-worst minus-four while Malkin turned in a game-best plus-four...Nicklas Grossmann suffered an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day...According to Elias, Pittsburgh is the first team to score at least 10 since Los Angeles pulled off a 12-4 win over Calgary in Game 4 of a Smythe Division Semifinal on April 10, 1990.
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