With apologies to Harold Hill from The Music Man fame, the Flyers are in trouble, trouble, trouble … TROUBLE.
That starts with T, that rhymes with P, that stands for Penguins.
Make that the relentless Penguins.
The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions put the Flyers on the brink of elimination Wednesday night as they coasted to a 5-0 win before a restless sellout crowd at the Wells Fargo Center.
Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel each had a goal and an assist for the Penguins, who lead the series, three games to one, and can advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals with a win Friday in Pittsburgh.
Matt Murray made 26 saves and collected his second shutout in the series.
“We lost to a better team tonight,” said goalie Michal Neuvirth, who relieved Brian Elliott midway through the second period. “Right now we have to forget about this game and try to refocus … and try to get a game in Pittsburgh and bring it back here. We have to stick together and believe in ourselves.”
The Flyers are 1-16 in series when they trail, three games to one. They are 14-8 in series when they are deadlocked at two games apiece.
And, so, yes, it was a pretty important game. And yet …
The Flyers displayed much less energy than their cross-state opponents, lost most puck battles, and were missing the urgency needed from a team in a virtual must-win situation. They had no shots on a second-period power play, and it took them 9:21 to get their first shot in that stanza.
By then, Pittsburgh had a 3-0 lead and Elliott, who again allowed a leaky goal, had been replaced by Neuvirth. Elliott surrendered three goals on 17 shots and was removed after defenseman Kris Letang scored from the high slot — the shot nicked the stick of Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald — with 11:56 to go in the second.
“Obviously it’s disappointing, but nobody’s quitting in this room and feeling sorry for ourselves,” said rookie center Nolan Patrick, who, with Sean Couturier injured, centered the top line for the first time this season, had a team-high six shots, and won six of eight faceoffs but was minus-3 on the night.
From behind the goal line, Crosby spun away from Shayne Gostisbehere (minus-7 in the series) and beat the slow-to-react Neuvirth to make it 4-0 with 9:04 remaining in the second.
In the series, Crosby has nine points (five goals, four assists), while Claude Giroux, a 102-point scorer and MVP candidate in the regular season, has one point, an assist, and is minus-7.
Pittsburgh has outscored the Flyers, 10-1 in the two playoff games at the Wells Fargo Center. Including the two regular-season games, the Penguins have outscored the Flyers on their own ice, 20-4.
Trouble, trouble, trouble … TROUBLE.
Both teams were missing star forwards — Couturier and the Penguins’ Patric Hornqvist — because of injuries. The Penguins adjusted to their new lines; the Flyers didn’t.
“It wasn’t a great start,” MacDonald said. “They came out hard and we kind of looked a little bit flustered. I don’t know if it was attributed to the lines or what, but it certainly wasn’t a great start for us.”
The Penguins, who had just two more points than the Flyers in the regular season, capitalized on a pair of Scott Laughton miscues to take a 2-0 lead in the first period, getting goals from Malkin (power play) and Kessel.
“I don’t think we did a very good job of getting through the neutral zone or establishing any kind of forecheck,” MacDonald said. “They seemed to be smarter than us there, breaking up a lot of plays and preventing us from getting in. It’s hard to generate a lot when you’re not getting in the offensive zone much.”
With Matt Read in the penalty box for holding, Malkin scored on a one-timer from point-blank range, converting a feed from Crosby. Earlier in the sequence, Malkin flubbed the puck but Laughton failed to clear it down the ice. It was Crosby’s 172nd career playoff point, tying Mario Lemieux, his old landlord, for the most in Pittsburgh history. (He later surpassed Lemieux.)
The Flyers had consecutive dominating shifts later in the period, swarming the net, keeping the puck in the Pittsburgh end, and firing shots at Murray.
But Laughton, in the Penguins’ defensive end, threw an ill-advised diagonal pass that Kessel intercepted and tipped to Malkin. Malkin fed Kessel, whose right-circle drive hit off Elliott’s pads, caromed off the right post, and bounced into the net with 5:23 left in the first.
It was a bad goal, and it gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead. The Flyers had a chance to cut the deficit in half as Travis Konecny came out of the penalty box, took a pass from Giroux and went in on a breakaway.
Murray made the save, however, with 42 seconds left in the period.
That’s been a theme in the series: The Penguins get a big save down one end, the Flyers don’t get one down the other end.
Trailing 4-0, the Flyers got a four-minute power play that carried into the third period. They failed to capitalize. Again.
Trouble, trouble, trouble … TROUBLE.