Playoff hockey is a game of inches and captializing on chances when you get them. With the game 1-0, off of a heck of a slapper from tough guy Aaron Asham, Evgeni Malkin kicked the puck to the net. Just before Malkin could tap it with his stick in to legitimize the goal, the puck trickles in. The big Russian just ran out of time and space. The goal wasn't legal so it would be reversed. If Geno gets there, you got a 1-1 hockey game and anything could happen.
But he didn't and it wasn't to be. Give the Flyers credit, they came out great, forechecked hard and clamped down defensively. Though the Pens third line of Matt Cooke - Jordan Staal - Tyler Kennedy got some good cycling shifts of possession in, they were contained to the outside and didn't get great chances.
And again, give Martin Biron his due....I still think there are legitimate concerns if he's a goalie to keep turning in outstanding efforts when you need them most, but he he did tonight. Biron didn't blow it, he stopped everything the Pens threw at him which is a sure bet to win a playoff game.
Frustrating times, to be sure. Now we get a quick turnaround (with less than 48 hours between Games 5 and 6) and a change of scenery to take it back to Philly.
- As I've pointed out before, if guys like Asham and Daniel Carcillo are on the scoresheet for Philly and guys like Cooke and Pascal Dupuis aren't on there for the Pens, you have to figure that favors Philly in any given game. Sure did this time.
- At the same time, it's not like the Flyers top guns (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter) are lighting it up. While you know the stars will eventually get their points, the Pens have done well to shutdown the big boys so far. It might be a different story if the Pens didn't have an answer for Philadelphia's top lines, but I don't think that's been the case.
- I hate to give credit to an idea the Versus commentators threw out there, but I think they're on to something: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren't getting much support for their wingers. Guys like Chris Kunitz, Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko aren't there right now. They're just not as in sync as they have to be. You have to credit the Flyers defensive effort, but at the same time it's up to the Pens offensive players to get themselves open, get to the front of the net and eventually convert on something.
- Philippe Boucher did pretty well in his first taste of playoff action this year, notably throwing his body around. Even though he's a veteran and surely knows what he needs to do, it didn't seem like Boucher made many smart decisions with the puck when he had to.
- From now until Saturday the media will probably put a lot of the pressure on the Pens, but I don't think it'll be like that inside the room or in the players' psychies. The theme of Pittsburgh's season has been overcoming adversity, and they've risen to the challenge every time so far. The Pens tonight looked like they knew it was three chances to win one game. The Flyers played like they knew it was lose tonight and you're done. Make no mistake about it; don't think it was in the Pens mind how easily the Flyers rolled over in Game 5 last season, when Pittsburgh eliminated Philly with a 6-0 game. That's last year, this is this year. Time to buck up. I would think that message has been received loud and clear after this performance.
So we'll see how it goes. Maybe the Pens will benefit from getting a top six forward (Petr Sykora, even if he's not playing like one) and/or a top 4 defenseman (Kris Letang) back for Game 6. Injuries are no excuse, everyone deals with them this time of year, but it could be an added boost to get an important player back.
Now the series shifts back to Philadelphia, where the Flyers try to force a game 7 and where the Pens will have one more chance to finish this thing off. No one said it would be easy, and it's not going to be. But it's not like Pittsburgh can't win amongst the orange, they've done it once. Now it's time to just do it again. A little adversity never hurt anyone if you've got what it takes to meet it. Let's see if Crosby and the boys can....I think after this disappointing effort, they may find a gear on Saturday that they didn't have tonight.