Well, then. Maybe this is happening a little earlier than we thought, given how the first three games of the series went, but it was going to happen sometime this spring, and now it has. We have arrived at the point in the proceedings where the coach earns his money.
The Flyers’ Peter Laviolette has an exciting, young group in his dressing room -- many of them new to the team and many of them involved in their first playoff experience -- and that young group has just been knocked off of the wave it was riding and made to swallow a bucketload of seawater besides.
Penguins 10, Flyers 3.
And now we will find out some things.
The care and feeding of the ego of starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is one bit of business for the coach in the next daty. Laviolette yanked Bryz at 3:07 of the second period, after Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang ripped a shot past him on the power play that gave the Penguins a 5-3 lead. Whatever the message being sent -- Bryzgalov was bad but not godawful, which admittedly might be a difference without a distinction -- is known only to the coach. As it turned out, backup Sergei Bobrovsky was even worse.
But smoothing over things in goal isn’t the half of Laviolette’s task. They all can mouth the words that this was just one game, and that we still have a three-games-to-one lead in the series, and that the pressure is still on the Penguins, and blah blah blah. Saying it is one thing, though. Believing it is another.
Laviolette needs to make them believe it.
A lot of these guys do not have a road map. This is a new group, with new leaders and lots of new followers, and Wednesday night really was a horror show. The goaltending was bad, yes, but the Penguins fell behind, got ahead, fell behind again after a bunch of penalties left them shorthanded seemingly forever, and then pulled ahead again. There was enough fight in that group to assure an interesting Game 5 on Friday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
But that was only part of it -- because the Flyers completely turtled beneath the avalanche. There is no pretending. They weren’t going to win the game, but they were the ones who stopped skating. They were the ones who took the dumb, undisciplined penalties. “Unglued” might be too strong a word but “overwhelmed” would not be.
Ten is a very big number. It has resuscitated the Penguins, and nobody can argue that it has not. That said, the Flyers still have the home-ice advantage. They still need only one more and the Penguins still need three. This is still supposed to be their series, even after everything. And there is no question that all of the right things will be said in the coming hours and days.
But, in the end, they will just be words.