It’s no secret that I’m a die hard Pens fan which makes it very hard for me to analyze them from a strictly objective view, but I’m capable.
I originally picked them to win the series in 6; obviously that can’t happen. But can they rally back after being down 3 games to none to force a game 7? As a Pens fan, I say yes. As an objective hockey analyst, I say yes. And here’s why:
The first three games were odd for the Penguins, and the Flyers really. Although they are the top two offensive teams in the NHL, scoring 5+ goals wasn’t a regular thing and neither is giving up 3-0 leads. I watched probably 50 Penguins games this season, including all of the Pens-Flyers game except one. 8-4 games weren’t how they finished. 2-3, 2-4, 6-4, 2-3, 4-6, and 4-2. That’s a very different picture than the playoffs considering that in 3 of the 4 games played so far, there’s been 6+ goals scored in the FIRST PERIOD alone. So how is that relevant? Well, the Penguins gave up 6 powerplay goals on 10 attempts in the first three games and only scored three on twelve attempts. During the regular season, the Pens had the 3rd best penalty killing percentage and the 5th best power play percentage. Now, playoff hockey is very different than regular season but for the most part, a team’s identity remains the same.
The Pens aloud 2.7 goals per/game and the Flyers aloud… 2.7. The Pens scored 3.3 goals per/game and the Flyers scored… 3.2. I’m simply stating that these teams possess the ability to play D, they just haven’t, until tonight. That comes later. The Pens weren’t playing like the Penguins and even though the Flyers were winning, it wasn’t exactly their usual style either. The Flyers did score 9 goals twice early in the year but that aside, they were pretty constant not winning many games by more than 2 goals. What we saw in the first three games was odd, dirty, and over. Tonight, the Pens decided to play defense despite losing Paul Martin to injury and three key forwards to suspension. After the first period, Fleury stopped 18 straight shots and finished with 21 with a save percentage 15 points higher than his series average. The Flyers pulled their starter, Bryzgalov, after he allowed a quick second period goal after allowing 4 in the first. That may have been a strategic move by the Flyers, but it didn’t matter. Bobrovsky didn’t look any better and the Flyers failed at stopping the high powered offense of Pittsburgh.
Why I think the Pens can win in 7?
Because everything that can go wrong in this series for them has and yet, they are still playing.
One:Tonight was a turnaround and I believe a lot of things were stated. The refs played no games and threw 5 players out of the game and called numerous minor penalties early to set the tone. This isn’t going to change. After game three, refs are going to control the rest of the series. The Penguins have to stay out of the penalty box (all three of the Flyers goals came on the Power play, one was a 5-3.) and they have a legit shot in this series.
Two: Malkin is no longer goalless. He broke the ice and scored two goals this evening and in hockey, confidence means the world. The Art Ross trophy isn’t ready to be done.
Three: James Neal and Craig Adams are back. Neal, who scored 40 goals for the Pens this season and WAS their power play, will play Friday night. The Pens played great without them; add them back into the mix and this could get good.
Four: The Penguins have found their identity again. Pittsburgh played Pens hockey tonight and the result: 10-3 victory. Coaches say that the hardest win to get in a tournament is the first. The Penguins came off of a 6 game losing streak earlier in the year and went on an 8 game win streak before later winning 13 straight. They are capable of the feat. The last team to win a series after being down 3-0? The Flyers in 2010 versus the Bruins. It can be done.
Will it be?
The bottom line is this, the Penguins must stay out of the Penalty box and Fleury has to play like the 2009 Cup Champions goaltender did. I think the Pens will win game 5 in Pittsburgh. But game 6 scares me. Jagr and Hartnell are crafty veterans and know that it’s as close to must win as they’ve had. The challenge will be getting the rookies and young guys to play well.
The way I see it: Game 5- Pens win. Game 7- Pens win. Game 6- ??? The Flyers still won’t have the “lose and go home” pressure that the Pens will and I don’t believe the Flyers can win a game 7 in Pittsburgh. I can’t back out on my prediction and even though it won’t be in 6, I’m taking the Penguins.
However, I would not be surprised AT ALL if the Pens choke at home Friday night and lose the series 4-1. But I think they’re ready for 3 more games.
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Keep it real.