Penguins Show Some Life with Big Victory After Flyers’ Total Collapse

The NHL Guide and Record Book welcomed Ilya Bryzgalov, Marc-Andre Fleury, Brent Johnson and Sergei Bobrovsky into its pages Wednesday night, as the NHL goalies who have now allowed the most goals through the first four games of a playoff series (45) since records have been kept.

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The 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers-Chicago Blackhawks’ Campbell Conference record of 44 seemed right up there with other notable sports records — especially in this NHL age of austerity on the score sheets.

Move over Murray Bannerman, Warren Skorodenski, Grant Fuhr and Andy Moog. They can no longer lay claim as the four biggest sieves through the first four in postseason history. Breezer, The Flower, Johnny and The Bob are now in the books.

In a game that could have been titled “How Not to Close Out a Playoff Series”, the Flyers checked their brains somewhere in that small space between Pat’s and Geno’s Steaks, losing a 10-3 — TEN to three — in Game 4 of the Eastern quarterfinals at Wells Fargo Center.

A three games to one lead. Another game, assured, in their own building. A 293-4 historical record on their side among pro teams who have had a 3-0 lead in a best-of-seven series. All of these facts are no doubt insufficient succor for Flyer fans after this outright debacle.

If pucks weren’t going through Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky like green corn goes through the new maid, their teammates were probably falling time and again for the league’s seeming “You guys so much as look at the other guys in a cross way, you’re going to the box” pre-game dictum after Sunday’s Hulkamania at the Wells.

How many dumb penalties did the Flyers take in Game 4 — a team that was supposed to have been in the profitable “I don’t you are, but what am I?” stage of this series against a frustrated Pens squad? Enough for a Johnny Carson punch line, as if 64 penalty minutes weren’t enough of a joke.

Philly took four straight minor penalties in the first 11 minutes of the second period, all of them sloppy, lazy infractions that seemed to give the jittery Penguins a “Hey, these guys giving us a chance here, boys” mentality. Pittsburgh scored on the first three, on goals by Kris Letang (wicked wrister, top cookies behind the laterally laggardly Bryzgalov), Jordan Staal (wicked one-timer from between the circles on Bobrovsky in relief) and Steve Sullivan (big slapper from just inside the blue line).

It was 7-3 by then, the exact moment when sports writers covering this series began scouring the web for cheap flights back to Pittsburgh.

Those 11 minutes were the game.

“It was a crazy game in a lot of ways. But we got a lot of key saves at big times, and we were able to turn it the other way,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters.

Translation: “Phew, thank God their goalies were even more brutal than ours this time, for the duration.”

Fleury looked like a beaten-one-too-many-times man after Jakub Voracek’s one-timer made it 3-2 late in the first period. For The Flower, it was his eighth goal allowed in fewer than three periods played in two games. You got the sense that just one more goal by the Flyers in any of the next few minutes would finish off the Penguins for good in this series. They never did get it. All the Flyers put on the scoreboard from there were lots of penalty minutes, inexplicably putting a down-and-almost-out team on the man-advantage far too often for one that still had names such as “Crosby” and “Malkin” on the ice.

It all made for a meek shuffle to the exit for Flyer fans, some of whom came sporting T-shirts belittling Crosby that said: “Guess what? We don’t like YOU either!

Count on a suspension for Flyers goon Zac Rinaldo, after his raffish cross-check to the face of the Penguins’ Zbynek Michalek in the second period. It was the same old garbage from a player like Rinaldo, errantly trying to “get his team going” with some incendiary move. The pitiable thing for players like Rinaldo: they always seem convinced in the originality of their provocation in moments like that, but all he got for it was a quick exit in front of not-too-easily-embarrassed Flyer fans.

The easy thing for Flyers coach Peter Laviolette entering Game 5 is whom to name as his starting goalie. After the horrendous relief work of Bobrovsky, Laviolette at least doesn’t have to face the usual fan pressure of always wanting the backup to get a chance. Bobrovsky will have his padded backside firmly planted on the visitors bench, where it belongs, for Friday’s game at the Consol Energy Center. Bryzgalov will be given another chance to prove that nine-year contract for him last summer was worth it. If he gets a shutout or anything close? All will be forgiven for at least a few days from the orange-and-black faithful, who all paid a dollar or two more last summer in ticket prices to bring in a goalie who was supposed to be money in the playoffs. So far, Breezer has been money only to his accountant.

“We’re going to find out what kind of team we are, how we are built,” said the always admirable Flyers forward Jaromir Jagr around reporters. “If we are the team like we think we are, we’re going to have to respond the next game.”

But it surely won’t be easy for these Flyers. The T-shirts and newspaper headlines figure to be a whole heap friendlier to Crosby this time. And there is always that nervous feeling among the Flyer faithful this time of year about the man between the pipes. As NBC analyst Mike Milbury put it afterward, the Flyers look suddenly like a “3-1 team in trouble.”

Yet, we’ll stick with history for this one still. Four wins, 293 losses, for teams that were 0-3 down in a series. You can’t beat Crosby and Malkin four straight in a series. This was bound to happen tonight, maybe not in this manner, but you knew the Penguins would win at least one. So it’s all good for Philly entering Game 5, up 3-1 and three more chances to close it out if need be.

This is reason for optimism Philly fans, right?


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