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PITTSBURGH -- Ever take a cake out of the oven too early and it collapses into an unsightly, gelatinous mess? Well, that's sort of what the Pittsburgh Penguins resembled in their first attempt at closing out the Philadelphia Flyers in their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series.
Instead of showing the sense of purpose that marked their play through the first three rounds of the playoffs last season, the Penguins turned in a strangely dispassionate performance on home ice, losing 3-0 Thursday and facing a sixth game in hostile Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.
In some ways, maybe the hockey gods were paying back the Flyers for ripping them off mightily in Game 4, when they outshot and out-chanced the Penguins by a wide margin, only to see Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury cheat them of victory with a 45-save performance en route to a 3-1 Penguins win.
Facing elimination Thursday in Pittsburgh, the Flyers didn't fall prey to the foibles that have plagued them throughout this series.
They weathered a steady assault in the first period when Martin Biron -- often maligned as the kind of goaltender who rarely comes up with the kind of performance we saw from Fleury -- was heroic.
Biron, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, made lovely stops on dangerous chances by Jordan Staal (twice on the same shift), Tyler Kennedy and Evgeni Malkin (twice on the same power play), along with denying hard point shots from Philippe Boucher and Sergei Gonchar on the power play as the Penguins outshot the Flyers 15-5 in the first period.
"Part of the message before the game was we needed Marty to be great," Philadelphia coach John Stevens said. "When Marty plays like he did, he allowed us to regroup between periods; he allowed us to start doing some of the things that we'd done earlier in the series and we really got things corrected."
With the first period behind them, the Flyers began to slowly suck the life out of sold-out Mellon Arena and the Penguins themselves, when fourth-liner Arron Asham ripped a shot past Fleury 6:32 into the second period. It was his second postseason goal.
Less than two minutes later, the Penguins appeared to have tied the game, but a review showed Malkin kicked the puck toward the net and didn't manage to get his stick on it before it crossed the goal line.
After that, the Penguins seemed to throw up their hands and say, "Oh well, that didn't work. Is that cake ready yet?"
After delivering 15 shots, many of them quality chances, in the first period, the Penguins combined for just 13 more the rest of the way. In the third period, they took four minor penalties. Shortly after the first of those penalties expired, Claude Giroux scored to make it 2-0, and that was that.
"It's disappointing. That's what you want to do; when you get a chance [to eliminate a team], you want to do it," Boucher said. "We did what we wanted for a little bit and then we got away from it."
Actually, the Penguins appear to be drifting further and further away from where they want to be, at least where they were through the first two games of the series. Over the past three games, the Flyers have been the better team for long stretches.
"That's why we're playing with confidence at this point," Flyers forward Daniel Briere said. "We've proven that we can carry the play, even though they have players like [Sidney] Crosby and Malkin."
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, who made a few lineup changes for Game 5 by sitting Petr Sykora and Kris Letang and inserting Miroslav Satan and Boucher into the lineup, said his squad needs to be better at stringing together solid periods of play.
"We know we can play like that; we know we need to play like that, and that's how we need to be prepared to play the first 20," Bylsma said. "And after we're done with that first 20, we've got to get right back to it in the second 20.
"That's something we can do better. We can put period after period together, and we know we can do that better. It's a focus thing and a mentality thing, and it's something we have to be prepared to do."
If you said the Penguins would limit the Flyers' big guns -- Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell and Briere -- to one assist in Game 5 and keep the Flyers' power play at bay once more, you would have bet the farm the Pens would be sleeping in Friday morning and pondering future opponents.
Those things came to pass in Game 5 (the Penguins have now denied the Flyers on 18 straight man-advantage opportunities dating back to the first period of Game 3), and the Flyers' playoff heart still beats. The Penguins must now return to Wachovia Center, where noise doesn't really cover what comes out of Philly fans' mouths.
"Yeah. They're a good hockey team," Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. "Do we expect to come out here and dominate a game? Probably not. But we expect a little more of ourselves. We realize that, and we need to be better."
When it was suggested to Briere that it would be much nicer to go home and practice than go home and clean out his locker, he said he's been so confident the Flyers are going to win this series, he hasn't thought at all about the alternative.
"Honestly, someone asked me about it this morning and I said I hadn't even thought about it [being finished]," Briere told ESPN.com after the game. "We're far from done, I'm hoping."
What's that the old rural cookbooks used to say? "Bake until done"?
At this point, nothing is done in this series. Not yet, anyway.Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.