Because of the way they’ve been soundly beaten – getting outscored by a combined 12-1 in their two defeats, including Sunday’s 5-1 loss at the Wells Fargo Center – it seems as if the Flyers are getting blown out of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals by the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If they can again rebound from a lopsided defeat, however, they can even the series at two games apiece Wednesday. They bounced back in Game 2, scoring a 5-1 win and avenging a 7-0 loss in the opener.
“It’s a seven-game series,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Sunday’s defeat. “Some games you’re going to play your best, some games you won’t. In Game 2, we played a great game, a great team game. We have to put this one behind us right away and be ready for Game 4.”
Ah, the problem is this: Game 4 is at the Wells Fargo Center, and the Penguins have owned the Flyers in that building this season. Pittsburgh was one of the NHL’s worst road teams this season, but the Pens are quite comfortable playing in the Flyers’ home. Consider:
— Pittsburgh has outscored the Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center, 15-4, winning 5-1 and 5-2 decisions in the regular season, along with Sunday’s playoff blowout.
— In the three games at the Wells Fargo Center this season, the Penguins are 6 for 13 on the power play, while the Flyers are 0 for 15.
— Sidney Crosby has eight points and is plus-6 in the three games this season in Philly. He has 38 goals in 63 career regular-season games against the Flyers. He also has 30 points, including 13 goals, in 20 career playoff games against the City of Brotherly Hate for Crosby.
The home crowd was extra-loud in the opening period Sunday, and the fans seemed to energize a Flyers team that was physical and relentless on the forecheck, and spent most of the session buzzing around goalie Matt Murray.
“They came out hard. We expected that,” Crosby said after collecting a goal and three assists. “He made some big saves, and that was a great job by him to let us settle in.”
Pittsburgh, showing the poise of a two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, survived the early onslaught and took control with three second-period goals, including two on the power play.
“We enjoy it, and we’re used to it,” Penguins defenseman Oli Maata said about playing in a hostile playoff atmosphere. “If you’re not getting excited for these types of games, there’s something wrong.”
“When you look at the puck battles won and lost over the last two periods, they won a majority of those,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who again on Monday claimed Giroux’s penalty in Game 3 — he knocked the stick out of Crosby’s hands — was not deserved.
Crosby, serenaded by the familiar disparaging chants Sunday, said “it’s always intense” playing at the Wells Fargo Center. “Tough environment to come into, so I think we all prepare knowing that.”
If the Flyers are going to have any chance of winning Wednesday, they might want to try a different defensive strategy on Crosby, who has been dominant against every line. Against the Flyers, he has been matched mostly against Sean Couturier’s line this season.
In the regular season, Crosby had nine points and was plus-8 in four games against the Flyers. In the Pens’ two wins in this series, Crosby has a total of seven points.
“It’s not time to panic here,” said Giroux, whose team hasn’t won a playoff series since it upset Pittsburgh in 2012. “We play Wednesday here and our guys will be ready and we’re going to put this one behind us. We’ll do exactly what we did after Game 1. We’re going to look at what we did wrong and fix them.”
The Flyers’ 5-1 win (including an empty-net goal) in Game 2 was a little misleading. It could have been a different game if Pittsburgh didn’t hit the post four times and if Crosby didn’t miss an open net in the closing seconds of the second period.
Wednesday’s game will help shape the Flyers’ odd, up-and-down season.
Find a way to win and it becomes a best-of-three series, with two of the games in Pittsburgh, where the Flyers have a 13-4-3 record since that building (now called PPG Paints Arena) opened in 2010-11. Suffer another loss and they will be on the verge of pulling out their golf clubs.
“We have to come back in Game 4 and use our crowd, use what we do best in this barn to make us successful,” goalie Brian Elliott said.
They need to string together three straight strong periods Wednesday, avoid the lazy stick penalties that plagued them Sunday, and create more Grade-A scoring chances.
Hakstol is tinkering with some lineup changes for Game 4.
“We’ve consistently been at the net,” he said, adding that his team has not had enough possession in the offensive zone because the Penguins “defend quick. They get five guys around the puck defensively really quick.”