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Pens/Flyers Game 5 Preview: Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em

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The Penguins look to take out the Flyers once and for all

Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Basics

Philadelphia Flyers (1-3) @ Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1)

Start time: 7:00 PM

How to watch: Locally on AT&T Sportsnet in the Pittsburgh viewing area, NBCSN nationally. Online find out how to stream on nbcsports.com

SBN arbiters of class and good taste: Broad Street Hockey

Series to date: Pittsburgh opened up a Stone Cold can of whoop ass in Game 1, winning 7-0. Sidney Crosby recorded a hat trick. Philly bounced back to even the series in Game 2, beating the Pens 5-1. Then Pittsburgh re-established control in Game 3, blowing open the contest with 2 goals in 5 seconds in the 2nd period en route to a 5-1 win. Game 4 was another shutout win for Matt Murray as the Pens go up 3-1 in the series.

Eye on the Pens

It was announced yesterday that Patric Hornqvist “upper body injury” will miss his second game in a row tonight. Without Hornqvist, Dominik Simon slotted in for his first career NHL game and played well in a limited role - don’t let the first line classification fool you. (an assist, 1 SOG, +2 in just 12:36 time on ice).

Lines remained the same, as expected for practice on Thursday.

One interesting development for the Pens is defenseman usage. Even in Game 4 where the score was out of reach for most of the game and Pittsburgh was headed to a blowout win, Kris Letang still ended up with 28:40 played. Brian Dumoulin wasn’t far behind with 24:00. By comparison to those heavy minutes, the third pairing was barely used (Jamie Oleksiak, 13:06; Chad Ruhwedel 15:46).

In 2017’s playoffs, coach Mike Sullivan was very democratic in his usage of defensemen without Letang. Dumoulin was pulling #1 duties with 21:59 per game. Ian Cole was the #6 but still playing 18:50 per game. That’s incredibly well-balanced this time of year with all six defensemen mashed with 19-22 minutes per game.

However, this playoff is starting to look more like playoffs 2016, when Letang was available and at the very top of his game. In 2016 Letang played a whopping 28:53 per playoff game, with Cole at just 16 minutes and Justin Schultz used only 13 minutes in a highly sheltered role.

Nothing wrong or right about either deployment, but it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on when and if this playoff run gets deeper. The Pens are putting a lot on the shoulders of Dumoulin-Letang and picking/choosing spots for Oleksiak/Ruhwedel to play in limited minutes. So far, it’s worked to perfection as the big guys have done a tremendous job and the sheltered players have played well in limited shifts.

—Tough to find any playoff stat under Sullivan that isn’t great for the Pens, but one would have to be winning with a chance to end series. Only three times have they eliminated a team on the first chance (2016 vs NYR, TB; 2017 vs NSH). Five times the Pens have had a series extended with a loss. I believe the record I saw is 8-6 with a chance to eliminate a foe. 8 series wins in 2 years will always, always work but the losses part could be improved on.

And in the other corner, the boo boo faces of Philadelphia

The Flyers are remaining coy about the status of Sean Couturier for Game 5, who did not practice on Thursday but did travel with the team to Pittsburgh.

Here were the lines at practice:

Claude Giroux - Valterri Filppula - Jakub Voracek

Oscar Lindbolm - Nolan Patrick - Travis Konecny

Matt Read - Jori Lehtera - Wayne Simmonds

Michael Raffl - Scott Laughton - Jordan Weal

Ivan Provorov - Andrew MacDonald

Shayne Gostisbehere - Robert Hagg

Brandon Manning - Radko Gudas

—Hagg will slot into the lineup in place of Travis Sanheim. Hagg had 3 goals and 6 assists in 70 games this year and is probably most known to Pens fans for boarding Bryan Rust on March 2nd, which knocked the Pens winger out of the lineup for a week. Hagg hasn’t played since March 20th and pairing him with Gostisbehere (weak series) looks promising. So does MacDonald on the top pair. And Manning-Gudas has been the gift that keeps on giving the Pens goals. In short, the defense is a mess.

—The Philly beat writers have speculated if Couturier can play, changes to the above centers will be made.

—Didn’t see anyone even ask about who the goalie will be. I assume it will be Brian Elliott but who knows. Does it even matter?

They said it

“I feel we’re so close sometimes to just being in the game or taking over the game. It’s frustrating at times. We’ve got to find something to get the momentum to our side and get going.” — Sean Couturier, whose team has been outscored 17-1 in their three losses in the series.

“You wouldn’t know the difference if he was on a 20-game goal-scoring streak, or if he hadn’t scored in 10. That’s just the way Phil is. He comes to the rink every day with the same approach. He really doesn’t get fazed by any of the trials or tribulations that the game may present.” — Mike Sullivan on Phil Kessel