Penguins' best-in-NHL power play will give Flyers a stiff challenge

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Sean Couturier (right) defending Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby in the Penguins’ 5-4 overtime win over the visiting Flyers on March 25.

Pittsburgh’s power play was ranked No. 1 in the NHL and it feasted on the Flyers in the four games between the teams this season.

That will have to change if the Flyers are going to upset the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions in a first-round series that starts Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald had a simple solution for containing a Pittsburgh power play that had a franchise-record 26.2 percent success rate in the regular season and went 5 for 13 (38.5 percent) against the Flyers.

“Stay out of the box,” he said with a smile. “That’s No. 1. Obviously, they’ve been lethal all year against everyone and especially against us. A couple games we played them pretty good, and I think we just took too many penalties in one game and they capitalized.”

MacDonald said the Flyers have to do a better job blocking shots and clogging the lanes.

Phil Kessel had a league-high 42 power-play points for the Penguins this season, while Sidney Crosby (38 points), Evgeni Malkin (38 points, including 14 goals), and Patric Hornqvist (15 goals) also excelled on the power play.

“We’re going to have to be disciplined,” said center Sean Couturier, whose team’s penalty kill finished just 29th in the 31-team NHL and was successful 75.8 percent of the time. “If I remember correctly, we took a lot of penalties against this team. You can’t give them a chance to get momentum – even if they don’t score they create a lot. It gets tough as you kill penalties, so it’s going to be key to be disciplined and stay out of the box.”

That’s not easy against their bitter rivals from across the state.

“I think sometimes the emotions take over. That’s going to be key in the playoffs – never get too high, never get too low,” Couturier said. “You have to be in control of your emotions. You want to play with an edge, but you have to be careful to not get over it.”

Remembering 2012

Only eight players remain, including five from the Flyers, from the wild 2012 playoff series that Philadelphia won in six games. A combined 56 goals were scored, including 30 by the Flyers, who haven’t won a playoff series since.

“That,” said Couturier, who was a rookie that season, “was a crazy series. Probably not like any other [playoff] series, where it’s usually tight, defensively. There were a lot of goals scored, a lot of offense, a lot of momentum swings on both sides. It was a great series, especially coming out on top.”

Couturier, Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, and Matt Read are the Flyers still on the team from that matchup, while Crosby, Malkin, and Kris Letang are the only remaining Penguins.

Breakaways

Penguins goalie Matt Murray enters the series with a 146-minute, 26-second playoff shutout streak that dates back to Game 4 of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals. … Giroux on his hat trick that sparked the Flyers to a 5-0 win over the Rangers, clinching a playoff berth Saturday: “I didn’t think I played that great. I just had three chances and they went into the net. You look at the first goal, I was just trying to make a pass and it goes in.” … Pittsburgh scored at least three goals in 33 of its  last 41 games, going 27-3-3 in those contests. … Crosby has 38 goals and 93 points in 63 career games against the Flyers. …  Giroux has points in nine of his last 10 games against Pittsburgh. … The Flyers are 25-1 to win the Stanley Cup, and the Penguins are 10-1, according to Bovada, which lists Nashville (15-4) and Boston (11-2) as the favorites.

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