Marc Andre Fleury stole the show tonight...what more can I say? It didn't matter if he was screened, interfered with or knocked around...he just went about his business and stopped 45 of 46 shots in a very hostile Wachovia Center. He was hit on more than one occasion during the game, but he took the licking and just kept on ticking. You could see from the earliest moments of the game that he was in a zone.
I really think that Fleury felt he had something to prove. He wanted to show the Flyers that Sunday was the anomaly and not the norm against him. He has played masterfully against them in the playoffs dating back to last year's Eastern Conference Final victory and the word on the street was that they might have figured him out. Fleury answered that talk very clearly tonight as he said "no" time and again.
The only puck to beat Fleury came off of a rebound, but it is worth noting that he was trying to get himself set after being knocked into by Joffrey Lupul. Brooks Orpik had hit him and he fell into Fleury, knocking him into the net. As Fleury was trying to get to his skates, as shot came from the right side of his cage. He made the save, but sent a rebound out into the slot and Dan Carcillo knocked it home.
Fleury's dominating performance has the Penguins one game away from advancing with play coming back to the Mellon Arena for game five on Thursday night.
Here are a couple of other thoughts on the night...
The Penguins nailed two of the three goals to victory that I outlined pregame. They got the strong goaltending performance that they needed, scored the first goal of the game, but didn't play all that disciplined. I know that the Flyers make it tough to stay out of the penalty box, but the Penguins are going to have to work harder to do so. They gave the Flyers 8 power plays this evening and if Fleury wasn't in a zone, it could have cost them the game. That just can't happen...
Though Fleury was the team's best penalty killer, the guys in front of him did a nice job of clearing rebounds away from the net. They did struggle with getting the puck out of the zone at times, but they were great at getting the loose bouncing pucks away from their goal. Had they faltered in that regard, the Flyers craching forwards would have knocked a handful of those into the net.
I felt that Jordan Staal's line was the Penguins best on this night. They were all over the place and they produced the game winning goal. Tyler Kennedy is really starting to look like a special player and I am very greatful that Ray Shero identified that and got him signed to an extension. I am penciling him in for a conservative 25 goals next season and hoping for a lot more. His speed gives teams fits and he has shown a nice shot.
Sidney Crosby played hard in all three zones tonight. I always respect his big game performances more in Philadelphia because it can't be easy to work in that environment. The Flyers faithful are relentless when it comes to attacking him with their words, signs and venom.
The Penguins captain scored his team's first goal of the game and did so in gritty fashion. The play started all the way back at the Penguins blue line when Kimmo Timonen lost the puck to Chris Kunitz. Kunitz got the puck up to Matt Cooke who was just coming out of the penalty box and streaking through the neutral zone. Cooke slid the puck to Kunitz as he approached the blue line and he carried into the zone. Kunitz made a nifty saucer pass over a Flyers defender to a streaking Crosby. Crosby was being defended by Simon Gagne and tried to stop his progress as he got to the net. His feet clearly slip out from under him as he dug his blades in and the puck deflected first off of his stick, then possibly off of his body and into the net. He didn't interfere with Biron...the puck was cross the line before Biron slid into position and was a mirror of a play that Crosby would later beat him with but hit the cross bar.
Rob Scuderi played a big game for the Penguins. He was a +2, 3 hits, 5 blocks and a take away. He is such an important member of this team and its blue line...it will really hurt to possibly lose him this off season.
The Penguins as a team blocked 20 shots in this game, with 14 of them coming from their blue liners. It is also worth noting that 9 of them came from Mark Eaton, Rob Scuderi and Mark Eaton. It has really been fun watching a healthy Mark Eaton.
Speaking of Mark Eaton...he took a bonehead penalty late in this game. He had a knee on knee collision with Claude Giroux. I was just glad that neither play was injured, as it could have been ugly. Eaton's knee actually buckled a bit more than Giroux's, but it was ugly all the way around. You could sort of see the regret on Eaton's face immediately.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were circling like sharks tonight but just couldn't beat Fleury. The Flyers have got to be frustrated and rightly so. Especially when you consider that they played three of the finest games I have ever seen out of them and they have lost two of them. That has got to be a tough pill to swallow.
The Flyers definitely have their positives, but it is very hard to come back from a 3-1 deficit, especially on the road. I do expect the Flyers to come out of the gates like rabid dogs on Thursday night. They will be looking to physically punish the Penguins and it will be very important for them to draw first blood.
The Penguins will be thinking death blow...especially in their barn where they have been very tough to beat as of late. I am very much looking forward to game five, as it is bound to be the best game of this war we have been following...
More in the morning...
Penguins Ready To Right Ship In Game Four...
A war started between two formidable foes back on April 15th at the Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In the time between then and now, three battles have been fought, with the Penguins taking two of them. The Flyers regrouped and came out with all guns blazing on Sunday afternoon, and their efforts were rewarded with a 6-3 victory.
The latest battle for supremacy in the Keystone State hits the ice in just under four hours at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia. Both combatants will be looking to do what has made each successful at times during the last week. One will be battling to take a stranglehold on the war, while the other will be fighting to level the playing field. No matter what happens, it is sure to be amazing for those of us who watch with anxious anticipation.
The Penguins let themselves get goaded into playing the Flyers game on Sunday afternoon. I do not expect them to make that mistake again. They now know what to expect in the intimidating Wachovia Center. The noise will not rattle them, the hits will not raise their tempers and at the end of the game you will see that the Flyers’ efforts to unhinge the Penguins will have failed.
Now do not think that the boys in Orange and Black will not try to employ the same plan that was so successful on Sunday afternoon. The will be looking to hit the Penguins at every turn, mix it up after every whistle and take advantage of some of the tempers that they got to flare in game three.
Kris Letang is a wild card in this game. He is a guy that seems to be seated squarely in the cross hairs of the Philadelphia Flyers as a guy that they can goad into foolish penalties. His emotions have got to be kept in check, as his repeated participation in scrums and fights has thrown him far off of his game.
Marc Andre Fleury and the Penguins other defensemen will also be looking for a bounce back game as neither played particularly well on Sunday. There were more than a few uncharacteristic breakdowns in the defensive zone and that cannot happen for this team to be successful. Fleury has also got to get back to the sound positional play that was successful for him during the first two games. No chasing pucks or players out of his crease as he did on the play that opened the net wide for Claude Giroux to deposit a Danny Briere pass on Sunday.
There will not be any line-up changes…unless Dan Bylsma decides to make a last minute decision of some sort. One thing that we could see is a couple of different line combinations. They have got to find a way to jump start Petr Sykora, as well as give a boost to Evgeni Malkin. Amazing to think that he has notched 7 points in the series with such inconsistent wing play around him.
Tonight has the makings of being a National Hockey League classic and one that enhances the legacy of the Penguins/Flyers rivalry.
The Penguins are 17-23 all-time in the fourth game of a best-of-seven series, including a 10-11 mark on the road.
The Penguins are 12-14 all-time versus the Flyers in post-season contests.
Evgeni Malkin leads all scorers with seven points (4G-3A) in three post-season contests against Philadelphia this season.
Simon Gagne leads all Flyers with three goals in three games versus Pittsburgh.
Sidney Crosby has 12 points (3G-9A) in eight career playoff games against the Flyers, while Malkin has 12 points (7G-5A) in eight career games.
Marc-Andre Fleury is 6-2 with a 1.93 goals-against average in eight career post-season appearances versus the Flyers.
The Penguins have outscored the Flyers 10 to nine in three playoff games this season, and have outshot the Flyers 111 to 97 in those contests.
The Penguins and Flyers have registered at least one power-play goal in each of their three post-season contests.
The Flyers own a 7-17 record when trailing a series 2 games to 1, with two of their series victories coming against the Penguins (1989 Patrick Division Semifinal & 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinal)... The Last time the Flyers fell into a 2 games to 1 deficit and ended up winning the series came in the 2003 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Toronto, who they defeated in seven games.
The Flyers have a series record of 13-6 when the series is tied at two games apiece, however they have lost three out of their last four series when it is tied 2-2. (not sure why the Flyers posted this in their game notes, considering that they are down 2-1…)