PHILADELPHIA -- The most important thing, they insisted, was to ensure the high octane Pittsburgh Penguins power-play unit had as little time on the ice as possible. The Philadelphia Flyers accomplished that goal by limiting their visitors to less than four minutes with the extra man.
|Michel Therrien doesn't have to do a lot of shouting with the way his team is playing right now, particularly on defense. (AP)|
Finally the Flyers needed to find a way to prevent the Penguins from getting too many chances, which might have been the biggest challenge considering how depleted Philadelphia's blue line unit was coming into Game 3. Check that one off as well because Pittsburgh managed only 25 shots, its third lowest total of these playoffs.
So really, all the elements were there for the Flyers to get back into this series, yet the formula still wasn't enough to slow down what is turning into a runaway train in the postseason. The Penguins won for the 11th time in 12 games with a 4-1 decision over the Flyers to take a 3-0 stranglehold in their best-of-7 series, which might end on Thursday night.
If there is one lesson the Flyers could take out of the crushing defeat, it's that Pittsburgh doesn't need a whole lot of chances to make you pay.
"They're a patient team," Flyers forward Joffrey Lupul said. "They sit back and then their defense pulls out and they turn a lot of pucks over when we try to do too much with the pucks.
"There were probably a couple of goals we could have prevented, but bounces only come when you work for them and they outworked us and took advantage of their opportunities."
It didn't take long either. The Flyers had been grousing about the penalty calls against them in the first two games. Complaining is common for most teams at this time of year, but Philly seemed to have a legitimate beef just past the three-minute mark of the first period when Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher was called for a questionable hook on Evgeni Malkin.
Philadelphia did a pretty good job killing off the short-handed situation, but with the power-play chance nearly over, Ryan Whitney's centering pass hit a Flyers skate and bounced past goalie Martin Biron to give Pittsburgh the all important first goal.
A few minutes later it was a seemingly harmless play when Pittsburgh's Marian Hossa took a Sidney Crosby pass in his own end and skated down with four Flyers between him and the net. Hossa sidestepped forward Jeff Carter and fired a low, screened shot from just inside the blue line that eluded Biron and doubled the lead.
"I just tried to use my speed," Hossa said. "After I made the move on the blue line I saw the defenseman and tried to shoot through his legs and I don't think the goalie saw that puck."
Still the Flyers were able to re-energize the crowd and gave themselves some life when Umberger stuffed home a loose puck just after the halfway point of the period. But when Mike Knuble missed a wide open net a few moments later on a 4-on-3 Flyers power play, the signs said this was going to be a long night.
If there was any doubt, the Penguins ended them by the way they started playing defense, which may be the most under-appreciated part of their superb overall game these days.
"This is a young team playing a mature game and they're all committed defensively," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "When you do that, you give yourself a chance to win."
Pittsburgh allowed the Flyers only 18 shots over the course of the game, with 10 in the third period when Philadelphia was pressing to get the equalizer. But the Flyers' desperation forced them into taking chances and into making mistakes, the biggest one coming when rookie Steve Downie made his second crucial giveaway in as many games with an errant pass inside the Pittsburgh blue line.
Malkin picked it off and started a play that ended with Ryan Malone's goal that effectively put the game out of reach before Hossa iced it with an empty netter in the last minute.
"We put him back in because he's a big game player, but he's got to learn and obviously he hasn't," Flyers coach John Stevens said of Downie's miscue. "You can't make that play, a flat pass going in the offensive zone with Malkin on the ice. It hasn't worked all season. I don't know why he thinks it's going to work now."
Philadelphia finds itself in the same position that the Stars are in over in the West, facing the possibility of being swept by a team that is producing timely offense and giving nothing away defensively. And they realize that stopping Pittsburgh won't be easy.
"We've got to find a way to play with confidence and execute with the pressure we're receiving," Stevens said. "I mean they're on a roll, you can just see it."