Wednesday night’s Game 4 between the Penguins and Flyers was nearly identical to Game 3. The only difference? The teams swapped roles.
Even with a 3-0 series lead, it was unlikely the Flyers would walk all over the Penguins again. However, it was just as unlikely the Flyers would be the ones getting walked over. Unfortunately, that’s what happened. Philadelphia’s gruesome twosome of Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky allowed a combined 10 (TEN!!) goals and not only allowed the Penguins to hang around for a few more days, but also gave a talented team life.
Still, with a 3-1 series lead, this is no time for the Flyers or their fans to start panicking. Though, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about panicking. After all, if a team is to overcome an 0-3 deficit, the NHL is where it’ll happen. The Flyers know this better than anyone. Therefore, instead of panicking and having flashbacks to the Flyers surrendering a 3-1 series lead to the New Jersey Devils in 2000, let’s focus on what the Flyers need to improve in Game 5 and just pretend that Game 4 was a fluke. Because, really, that’s all it was, right? Right? RIGHT? … Oh crap.
First, and this is the most obvious, the Flyers need to find a solution between the pipes. Considering the Flyers have surrendered 3, 5, 4, and 10 goals in the first four games of this series, it’s a miracle they’re up three games to one.
Goalies are going to have bad games though, even in the playoffs. What concerns me most is that Bryzgalov has been sluggish and aloof since the end of Game 1. I watched the Canucks beat the Kings last night and was amazed how bad Bryzgalov looked compared to Corey Schneider and Jonathan Quick. Both Schneider and Quick bailed out their teams on multiple occasions. Even in defeat, Quick at least gave his team a fighting chance with one great save after another. For the Canucks, it was Schneider that made the biggest play of the game. With Vancouver on a power play, Kings captain Dustin Brown escaped on a shorthanded breakaway. Brown was tripped and awarded a penalty shot. Schneider came up roses and kept Vancouver up 2-1. Seconds later, Vancouver scored on the power play to extend it’s lead to 3-1 and clinch its first win of the series. A goalie swung that game. Imagine that.
Currently, the Flyers are getting zilch from their goalies, and nothing is more deflating than knowing your goalie can’t keep the puck out of the net. Although the Flyers have proven they can close out the Penguins without solid goaltending, they’re going to need a reliable option in net sooner or later if they hope to be around in May. Wednesday’s effort by Philadelphia’s goalies was summed up perfectly by my friend Jared; “I miss Garth Snow” … and that’s never a good thing.
Second, the Flyers need to help their goalies. While the Penguins scored plenty of soft goals, the Flyers defensemen didn’t exactly make the Penguins earn anything, either. I stopped screaming, “put a body on him” after the 328th time no one listened. The Flyers continually allowed the Penguins to skate unchallenged through the blue line and then sat back and let them pick apart the defense. What happened to the aggressive style of play that forced Pittsburgh into mistakes in the first three games? Did the NHL pay the Flyers to extend the series? Needless to say, I’m perplexed by the Flyers effort.
Games 1 through 3 proved the Flyers could rattle Pittsburgh’s stars by making them work for space. Nothing came free. Philadelphia’s defensemen challenged every pass, protected the blue line, and fought for every lose puck in the corners. On Wednesday, the Flyers sat in a cocoon in front of Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky and dared the Penguins to shoot. When you give offensive superstars like the Penguins room to operate and create scoring chances, you’re going to get burned. The Flyers got burned, and badly. While it’s certainly easy to point at the goalies and blame them for Game 4’s embarrassing blowout, the entire roster deserves a share of that humble pie for such a lackluster defensive effort.
Finally, the Flyers must play with urgency. Unless you’re playing the Charlotte Bobcats or you’re a baseball team, you can’t win without urgency. After scoring early in Game 4, the Flyers relaxed. When they failed to generate any scoring chances on their second power play, the Flyers essentially handed the Penguins momentum. Pittsburgh took advantage and took a 2-1 lead before their own stupid penalties gift-wrapped Philadelphia consecutive power plays on which they regained a 3-2 lead. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the Penguins transitioned to disciplined hockey and allowed the Flyers to make the foolish, irresponsible, and cowardly plays that dogged the Penguins in Game 3. The result? The Penguins outscored the Flyers 8-0 the rest of the way.
It’s only one loss in a seven game series, so this isn’t time to call the Flyers choke artists or believe they can’t bounce back. With that said, let’s hope the Flyers realized the NHL Playoffs don’t permit days off, because when you don’t bring it, you get beat by a touchdown.
If the Flyers don’t get their heads on straight and find that urgency that gave them an overwhelming edge in Games 1 through 3, they’ll find themselves back in Philadelphia for a Game 6 in which ALL the pressure will be on them. Then they’ll really understand the consequences of giving a talented team life.