Sidney Crosby scored two points, becoming the Pittsburgh Penguins all-time playoff points leader, and the Pittsburgh Penguins blanked the Flyers 5-0 Wednesday night to go up 3-1 in the series.
After getting beaten by four goals in front of their home crowd Sunday afternoon, the Flyers were looking to bounce back and lock the series at two games a piece, sans one crucial cog. Just about an hour before the game, Sean Couturier was scratched from the lineup after a collision in practice with defenseman Radko Gudas a day prior. Moments later, Couturier was named a finalist for the Selke Award, given to the league’s best defensive forward.
The Penguins attacked the void created by Couturier’s absence from the onset, forcing the rest of the Flyers to shoulder the load. With the Flyers looking for a spark in other forms, they found themselves down a man early in the first period when Matt Read was sent to the box for holding. A minute and a half later, the most potent power play in all of hockey struck to open the scoring in Game Four. Phil Kessel received the puck to the right of Brian Elliott on the end wall, forcing defenseman Andrew MacDonald to step out and defend him. Kessel quickly shuffled the puck down low to an awaiting Sidney Crosby, who Elliott swiveled to his right to defend. Crosby went back hand across the crease to an uncovered Evgeni Malkin, who one-timed a blast past a sprawling Elliott to make it 1-0.
Shortly following the Malking goal, the Flyers grabbed momentum, as a series of offensive shifts in a row without a stoppage saw Philadelphia attack Matt Murray from all angles. The best chance the Flyers encountered during this flurry came when Jakub Voracek went tape-to-tape with Michael Raffl, who scuttled the puck across the goal mouth, but couldn’t find the back of the net. This was one of 26 shots that Matt Murray turned aside Wednesday night, as he was perfect in Game Four.
After the Flyers forced the puck deep into the Penguins’ zone, a turnover sprung Phil Kessel on an odd man rush, who flipped the puck ahead to Malkin down the left wall. With numbers at his favor, Malkin drew one defender before dishing the puck cross ice back to Kessel, who fired on Brian Elliott. Elliott made the initial save off his left pad, but was unable to entirely secure the rebound, as the puck squirted through his legs and into the net. The Kessel goal extended the Penguins’ lead to 2-0.
As the period drew to an end, the Flyers found themselves on another penalty kill, which they were able to stave off. Just as the penalty expired, the Flyers grabbed the puck in their own zone, springing Travis Konecny out of the box. Konecny found himself alone in space with Matt Murray, but was stoned by the Pittsburgh to keep the shutout in tact.
After one period of play, it was 2-0 Penguins.
Coming out of the intermission, the Flyers struggled to get anything going offensively. As the period progressed, the Penguins shut down all shooting lanes, and Philadelphia managed just one shot through the first 12 minutes of play.
Eight minutes into the second period, the Penguins got on the board again after the Flyers were unable to clear the defensive zone. Pittsburgh grabbed the puck off the failed clear attempt, wheeled it around the board behind Brian Elliott where it was collected by Jake Guentzel. Guentzel went cross ice to an awaiting Kris Letang, who not only was able to walk into the slot, but he did so undefended. Letang collected himself and fired a wrist shot through Andrew MacDonald, who seemingly put a screen on Elliott, and past the goaltender’s glove to increase the Penguin lead to three. The goal was Crosby’s 173 point in the playoffs in a Pittsburgh uniform. He passed Mario Lemieux for most points in franchise playoff history.
Dave Hakstol had seen enough of Brian Elliott at this point, pulling the goaltender in favor of Michael Neuvirth, who came off the disabled list prior to the game and was named the backup, replacing Petr Mrazek. Elliott surrendered three goals on 17, getting pulled for the second time this series.
It didn’t take long for the new goaltender to surrender his first tally, however, as just two minutes later the Penguins would get on the board again. The puck was sent in behind the net, where Shayne Gostisbehere was waiting. Yet, Gostisbehere did not come away with possession, as he was fairly easily rubbed off the puck by Sidney Crosby, who was able to poke the puck ahead to Jake Guentzel. Guentzel then returned it to Crosby, sneaking it through Claude Grioux behind the net. Crosby walked the puck into the net to the left of Neuvirth, who was fully turned around to the far right pipe after losing track of the puck.
As the period ticked away, the Flyers would find themselves on a four minute man advantage after Travis Konecny caught a high stick to the face, drawing blood. But as had been the case for much of the second period, the Flyers struggled to get any kind of sustained momentum, recording just one shot during the first two minutes of the power play.
The second period came to an end with the Penguins blanking the Flyers 4-0.
The third period saw just one more goal scored. The Penguins took advantage of another Flyers’ turnover in the offensive zone, as Zach Aston-Reese took the puck away from Jori Lehtera and quickly shifted it across the ice to Olli Maata just outside the neutral zone. Maata flipped the puck high into the air, over two lines, and onto the awaiting stick of the speeding Riley Sheahan, who split two defenders and found himself barreling down on Neuvirth. Sheahan beat the goaltender stick side to increase the Penguins’ lead to 5-0. This marked the seventh time in eight matchups that the Penguins have scored at least five goals on the Flyers.
The win pushed the Flyers to the brink of elimination, down 3-1 in the series. Team that take a 3-1 series lead take a commanding advantage in the best-of-seven series, winning 268 of 296 series, a near 91 percent clip. The Flyers will try to climb back a game at a time, as the series shifts to Pittsburgh for Game Five Friday night. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m., and you can catch all the action on 97.5 The Fanatic!
-By Tyler Zulli, producer and www.975thefanatic.com contributor