PITTSBURGH – The Flyers thought they had figured out how to play Pittsburgh after that 3-1 nationally televised victory here a few Sunday afternoons ago. Get your sticks busy, play positional, patient hockey, and wait for the Penguins to become needy.
Pittsburgh played along that day, trying to be too pretty, making one pass too many. Tonight, not so much. Save a small second period window when the Flyers actually outchanced them, this was as dominating a victory as 4-1 can be.
It bore little resemblance to the game played March 22.
It looked a whole lot more like the 6-0 Game 5 dud here last May, when the Flyers, ragged and undermanned after two tough playoff rounds, simply could not put up much of a fight.
From the start, Pittsburgh’s speed seemed to startle the Flyers. Which is strange, given this was the 21st meeting between the two teams over the last two seasons. That speed led to three first period power plays and truth be told, could have led to more if either referee had seen Matt Carle’s stick open a cut in the mouth of Matt Cooke.
The chippiness started early, the offshoot of the Penguins getting some early licks on Marty Biron and the Flyers later snowing Marc-Andre Fleury. That the Flyers were only down one goal after one period was a testament to both their penalty killing and Pittsburgh’s quest for that perfect play.
The Flyers were guilty of this at times, too. During their only power play, Jeff Carter held the puck so long down in one corner that he knocked it off his own stick, resulting in a clear. Late in the third, on a tight 2-on-1, Mike Richards tried to slide a pass across the slot rather than shooting it, and the puck was smothered by a Pens defenseman.
Moments later, Scott Hartnell ran Fleury, extending his arms, pushing the net off its moorings, and assuring the Penguins third power play of the period.
Hartnell missed a lot of ice time after that but returned early in the final period and picked up another penalty, this time for tripping Kristopher Letang.
Are the Flyers this bad? That tired? Or is this matchup, in a playoff setting, as ill-fated as Frazier-Foreman?
We’ll know more Thursday. But they gave you little to base hope on tonight.