Let’s just be real, did anyone here really think that the Philadelphia Flyers would actually sweep the Pittsburgh Penguins in their round 1 series? Did anyone really consider that the Penguins would just pack it in and go back to Pittsburgh without a game to play? On Wednesday night, the Penguins avoided elimination, by winning game 4 by a score of 10-3. No it was not the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Philadelphia Eagles. This wasn’t really a touchdown and a field goal to a field goal. This was NHL playoff hockey. This was the same team that days ago, lost 8-4 and was quickly unfolding. This was the team that had so many questions to answer, and so many doubters that they were indeed the team that was picked by any and all odds makers, as the team most likely to have the best odds to win, not only the series, but the Stanley Cup. On the flip-side, was this the real Philadelphia Flyers team, the team that asserted itself as offensively dominate, defensively average in games 1,2,and 3? Was this the team that had the swagger on the ice for those aforementioned games? What went wrong? Where did it go wrong? and can it be fixed, before Fridays game 5? Some will tell you game 5 is the most important of games, if the Pens win, it’s back to being “a series”, if the Flyers win, well its adios for the Penguins. I will try to answer these questions, and try to evaluate what the chances are that the Penguins have of making history and coming back from being down 0-3
Where did it go wrong? Plain and simple, on special teams. While the Pens struggled games 1-3 on the power play, they feasted on the power play in game 4 going a lofty 4 for 9 on the power play at a incredible 44%. Its really that simple folks, special teams has been the so-called “x-factor” for the series. Taking a look back at games 1-3 the Flyers feasted on the Pens PK, and then wanting more decided to feast on the Penguins PP, scoring multiple short-handed goals. So anyone can give you a moment within a game, but the truth of the matter is the reason the Pens won, is because they owned the special teams play in game 4. I wouldn’t look any further to why teams win games in the playoffs, then to the special teams. At this point in the season, most of these teams are pretty equal at 5 on 5, so of course the biggest factor would be special teams play! The Flyers did convert on both of their PP oppurtunities, but after period one, it was ALL Penguins. The Flyers played reckless, on both ends of the ice, and that really is what led to 9 PP’s for the Pens. Even though it was tightly officiated game, the Flyers played role-reversal with the Penguins and became the team oft penalized, oft frustrated, and often outplayed.
Can it be fixed? Yes, it sure can. Will it be fixed? I undoubtedly know it will. Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, had the Flyers working at practice just today on PK, PP and 4 on 4 drills. He also had a long talk, with the team, at center ice about staying disciplined, not taking bad penalties, and being aware of time, space and score. Time, space and score you say? What TSS means is, being aware of game conditions, protecting leads, but not sitting on them, pushing play when space is allowed, eliminating cross ice passes, and being aware where each player is on the ice. It really is referring to being accountable for every pass, every shot, every shift, and every period. Laviolette also spoke about playing with “more jam”. Playing with more jam, means, standing up the blue line, making the other team dump the puck in, instead of allowing them to skate into the offensive zone freely. It mean tightly checking each guy, making it difficult to get an offensive flow going for the opposition. It means being defensively accountable (even forwards). What bothers Laviolette the most is lack of accountability. Give him effort, and play the system and you will earn your ice time. These are all thing that can be fixed, and fixed pretty quickly. The Flyers all know what is at stake, and they know that giving ANY team any kind of breathing room when they are down 3-1 in a series, can be dangerous…after all the Flyers were in the exact same position the Penguins now find themselves, in 2010 when they came back from a 0-3 deficit against the Boston Bruins. Can it happen again? Yes it can. Will it happen again? If the Flyers don’t fix what ailed them in game 4, yes it will!