PITTSBURGH -- As it turns out, desperation wears many faces: Evgeni Malkin, searching and destroying and the consequences be damned; Kris Letang, breaking out the deep-passing game, stretching the Flyers again and again; Marc-Andre Fleury, still imperfect in goal but gradually continuing to get his feet under him; the crowd at the Consol Energy Center, stirred to a full-throated roar, chanting at one point, “BE-LIEVE...BE-LIEVE...BE-LIEVE...”
And now the Flyers hang on desperately.
What once was a 3-0 lead in the series for the Flyers is now 3-2. In what was the first normal game in an otherwise ridiculous series, the Penguins held on against a pretty relentless Flyers attack in the third period Friday night and won Game 5 by the score of 3-2.
Game 6 is Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. It is hard to imagine what the atmosphere might be like: fear combined with bloodlust, amplified and lubricated. Because we are not entering the point in the proceedings where the Flyers would not be human if they were not at least a little bit shaken.
They still have the lead. They still are the team that needs only one more win. But the Penguins appear as if they are growing more energized with each shift and each save by Fleury. The Flyers will have to match that energy on Sunday. And they will need to find some comfort in the fact that they really did carry both the first and third periods of Game 5, on the road, in a very hostile environment.
There is no need for them to panic. Then again, we are now in a place where that will be easier said than done.
You cannot pin this one on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. When a player the caliber of Jordan Staal, the recipient of one of those long stretch passes, has a chance to rip and fire from the circle, it is not the goaltender’s fault that his glove was not quick enough. When Tyler Kennedy is given enough time to count the nicks in the puck and the scratches on the ice and still fire from the circle -- and through a screen, no less -- it is not the goaltender’s fault.
Those were the second-period goals that turned a 2-1 Flyers lead into a 3-2 Penguins lead. Overall, Bryzgalov looked much better than he did in Game 4, when he was chased from the premises after allowing five goals in about 23 minutes.
A day that began with denials of reports that Bryzgalov had suffered some kind of hip injury, and a morning skate that featured appearances by the troika of Bryzgalov, Sergei Bobrovsky and Michael Leighton, gradually evolved into a normal game for a goaltender and a goaltending situation that craves some normalcy. The Flyers can build on that.
The problem is, at the other end of the ice, Fleury has gotten better and better since his meltdown in Game 3. On a Flyers power play in the middle of the third period Friday night, and in the minutes thereafter, he made a half-dozen of the kinds of saves that goaltenders who have won a Stanley Cup, and who have designs on winning another Stanley Cup, need to make.
They yelled his name, repeatedly, and it was deserved.
Then there is Malkin, who was pretty much sound asleep for the first few games of the series and has now emerged as a force -- a force who, you have to believe, is very close to receiving a phone call from NHL dean of discipline Brendan Shanahan. It would seem about time for a warning, if nothing else.
In Game 4, Malkin could be seen giving Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann a really sneaky elbow that very possibly is responsible for the concussion that Grossmann apparently suffered. (He didn’t make the trip here for Game 5.)
Then, last night, Malkin received a roughing in the first period that helped cost his team a goal, a really unnecessary late hit on Brayden Schenn. Later, in the second period, he received an interference penalty when he ran over Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier, his nemesis all series. It was close to being an elbow, but maybe not. It was close to being a head shot, but maybe he could argue it was a shoulder.
Regardless, two points: Courterier has been getting a really rough ride since scoring a hat trick in Game 2, and Malkin is now just unleashed -- and without a conscience.
So much has changed. So much.