PHILADELPHIA -- So exactly who were these guys in the black and orange trimmed jerseys?
The logo on the front and the names on the back suggested they were the Philadelphia Flyers, but everything else about them indicated this was an entirely different team than the one that had shown up for the first three games of this series.
|Mike Richards says the Flyers have to take it one game at a time and there's 'still a mountain to climb.' (Getty Images)|
"We had our legs going tonight from the start which for whatever reason, we haven't been able to do until now," Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher said.
Of course desperation tends to do that for teams, something the Flyers had plenty of as they faced the ignominious possibility of getting swept out of the playoff in their own building. And they wasted little time making it work for them, taking advantage of some breaks and scoring three times in an overwhelming first period that was easily their best of the series, before then hanging on for a 4-2 victory that reduced the Penguins series lead to 3-1 in the series.
"We knew they were going to come out hard and that it was important to get on them quickly," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Having a good first 10 minutes is important in a game like this and we didn't get it."
At least not to the extent they would have liked. Considering the daunting energy created by the sea of fans clad in orange T-shirts and the rousing rendition of God Bless America that featured a video performance by the late Kate Smith, the Penguins actually got off to as good a start as a visiting team could hope for -- firing 11 shots on goal before the game was six minutes old.
But momentum changes quickly in the playoffs and forward Mike Richards turned it in the Flyers favor when he created a breakaway by picking off a pass at his own blue line. Richards missed high and wide, but the play began a frenetic sequence of whistle-less end-to-end rushes that culminated when Joffrey Lupul beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury with a drive that went in off defenseman Hal Gill's stick.
It was the kind of bounce the Flyers have been looking for all series and it not only put the crowd back into the game, it got the Flyers' legs moving in a way they haven't been throughout this series. Suddenly, it was Philadelphia winning races to the puck, battles along the boards and getting to the front of the net, and the pumped-up effort began putting the Penguins on their heels and getting them into penalty trouble.
Before the period was over, the Flyers had added power-play goals by Daniel Briere -- who looked very comfortable being re-united on a line with Richards -- and Jeff Carter and they went into the room with looking like they were in complete control of the game.
"I think we were a lot more composed with the puck tonight, and we got the lead which was really important because when they get ahead, they're very tough," said Lupul, who sealed the deal with his second goal of the night into an empty net with 33 seconds remaining. "It seems like all series we've been playing catch-up and having to press, but when you go ahead, it makes it so much easier to play."
It also lends itself to a bit of complacency which is a particularly dangerous thing against an explosive team like the Penguins. The Flyers weren't necessarily guilty of easing up in the second period even though they were outshot 12-9, but in several instances, they were fortunate goalie Martin Biron was on his game and able to prevent Pittsburgh from getting on the scoreboard.
At the other end, meanwhile, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was just as sharp, keeping his team alive until the offense got in gear in the third period. Jordan Staal, who returned in time for the game after attending his grandfather's funeral, scored three minutes into the third period and then again at the 14-minute mark to pull the visitors within one and create some nervous moments for Flyers, who saw the end of their season flashing before their eyes.
"When you get that three-goal lead, it's just human nature I guess to kind of sit back," Briere said. "It's really easy to say keep going but at the same time, you don't want to take any useless chances."
In other words, while the Flyers were bending, they weren't breaking in large part because they didn't give the Penguins any added advantages as time would down.
"We don't have any power plays," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "Two tonight, two the last game, they've been very disciplined. Give them credit."
And give them a little life. The series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 on Sunday, with the Flyers still clinging to the hope of a miracle, but realizing they are facing a daunting task.
"We'll take it one game at a time and not sit back like we did in the third period because it's still there for us," Richards said. "But we know we still have a mountain to climb."