Flyers-Penguins Game 4 preview: For Philly, a virtual must-win

FLYRGLANCE18
Penguins center Sidney Crosby skating with the puck against Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere on Sunday. Pittsburgh leads the series, two games to one.

Penguins (49-30-6) at Flyers (43-28-14)

WHEN: 7 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Wells Fargo Center

BROADCAST & STREAMING: NBCSP, NBCSports.com/live, 97.5 FM

SOCIAL MEDIA COVERAGE: @BroadStBull and @samdonnellon on Twitter

KEY PLAYERS: For the Flyers to have any chance in this strange series, they must beat the Penguins on Wednesday. Simple as that. A loss would put the Flyers in a three-games-to-one hole. In their playoff history, they are 1-16 in those situations. A win would even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at two wins apiece — and the Flyers are 14-8 in series deadlocked after four games.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray struggled during the regular season, but he has been impressive in the series (1.70 GAA, .929 save perentage) and has badly outplayed his counterpart, Brian Elliott (4.43, .863). The Flyers have averaged just 1.67 goals (excluding an empty-net score) in the series, so coach Dave Hakstol is making several lineup changes. He might have to make even more changes if top-line center Sean Couturier (76 regular-season points) can’t play. Couturier was injured in a violent open-ice collision with teammate Radko Gudas at practice Tuesday.

The Penguins have a key injury of their own. Right winger Patric Hornqvist, who had 29 regular-season goals and led the team with 15 power-play tallies, is sidelined because of a lower-body injury. Dominik Simon (four goals in 33 regular-season games) is expected to take his spot on the top line next to Flyers killer Sidney Crosby. Crosby’s line has dominated the Flyers.

“We have to take care of the puck a little more, and we can’t be scared of making plays,” said Claude Giroux, implying the Flyers haven’t been aggressive enough against the Pens’ top unit. “Sometimes you start playing too safe and it gets you in trouble.”

The Penguins are expected to load up their second line, which could include Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel. That unit figures to give the Flyers matchup problems.

THINGS TO KNOW: The Penguins have outscored the Flyers in the series, 13-6. Including the four games in the regular season against the Pens, the Flyers have been outscored, 33-17. … Crosby has seven points in the Pens’ two playoff wins; he was pointless in their loss. He needs one point to tie Mario Lemieux for the all-time Penguins playoff record of 172 points. … In a surprise, Pittsburgh’s Brian Dumoulin went into Tuesday tied for second among NHL defensemen with five playoff points. … Shayne Gostsibehere is minus-5 in the series, and Giroux is minus-4. Andrew MacDonald (plus-1) and Jake Voracek (plus-1) are the Flyers’ only “plus” players. … In the series, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 4-1, in the first period. … Pittsburgh has an 8-3 domination in five-on-five play — a Penguins weakness (and Flyers strength) during the regular season.

HEAD TO HEAD: The Flyers went 0-2-2 against the Penguins in the regular season and allowed five goals in each game. Overall, the Flyers hold a 153-90-30-10 regular-season advantage in the all-time series.

COMING FLYERS GAMES:

Friday: 7 p.m. at Pittsburgh

Sunday: Time TBA at Wells Fargo Center (if necessary)

Tuesday: Time TBA at Pittsburgh (if necessary)