Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Flyers' fatal flaw reappears in Game 4
By Scott Burnside ESPN.com
PHILADELPHIA -- Remember in the old "Superman" comics when the "Man of Steel" was just about to do something heroic and suddenly discovered a piece of kryptonite in his cereal?
Guess what the Philadelphia Flyers found in their goal Wednesday night?
With Philadelphia having been more than super in building a 3-0 series lead against the powerful and not to mention hated Pittsburgh Penguins, it seemed there was only one fatal flaw that could derail the Flyers, one long-standing, accursed, Stanley Cup-stealing element that could stop them from at the very least disposing of the Penguins: goaltending.
You know how Superman cringes and covers his face when he sees kryptonite? That's how Flyers fans react when you talk playoff goaltending. And it's how they reacted Wednesday night.
With a chance to sweep a Penguins team missing four regulars thanks to injury and suspensions, the Flyers collapsed in a hail of goals that chased starter Ilya Bryzgalov, and with backup Sergei Bobrovsky not faring much better, the Pens rolled to a 10-3 victory.
"Well, it's 10-3 in your home building, so it is embarrassing," Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "There's a lesson to be learned. Every game matters. There's no easy games in the playoffs. Maybe we thought it's going to be easy. But it's not easy, and you know, there's a lesson to be learned.
"Today everything was kind of off. Everything, from goalies, D, forwards, everybody was bad. There wasn't one person who was good tonight. It was embarrassing but we sleep on it and we move on."
Game 5 is Friday night in Pittsburgh, and the Pens will get Craig Adams and James Neal back from suspensions incurred in Sunday's wonky Game 3.
In spite of the impressive win, the Pens remain a million miles away in this series. That's what history tells us is the distance between a 3-0 series deficit and a series win.
So in some ways, Wednesday's shellacking is likely to be more of a nuisance to the Flyers.
But for the Flyers, Game 4 serves as a stark warning that if trouble isn't here, it could well be arriving on the next train.
The Flyers had been superb offensively, outscoring the Penguins 20-12 in the first three games and running roughshod on them on special teams. But that served to gloss over what has been only average goaltending by Bryzgalov.
In some ways, it was nice for Bryzgalov to get his playoff skates wet with his new team after a tumultuous regular season. Because the first three games were so bizarre, offering any number of storylines, there was little attention paid to the Flyers' goaltending.
Dozens of reporters, though, gathered around the small stool on which Bryzgalov stood to answer questions following Wednesday's loss. No doubt many were hoping for some bon mots the likes of which the loquacious netminder has provided throughout the season. They were disappointed.
"There's nothing you can do," Bryzgalov said. "We lost. We're still up 3-1 in the series. We just need to win just one game, and everything will be over.
"We're trying hard; we're not playing loose. They are forcing us to make mistakes. Give them credit."
When someone mentioned there had been a record number of first-period goals scored, Bryzgalov suggested this series would be remembered for decades, but that was it.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he was happy with Bryzgalov's performance through the first three games of the series. And when you're 3-0, maybe it doesn't matter that prior to Wednesday, Bryzgalov was sporting a humongously big 3.98 goals-against average and a humongously ordinary .868 save percentage.
"It was an off game for us," Laviolette said. "We were not as sharp as we needed to be, and that's obvious. I said it before about Bryz the first two games in Pittsburgh, I thought he made spectacular saves."
For the first time in the series, the Flyers actually opened the scoring in Game 4, as the first period once again turned out to be a shooting gallery. The teams combined for seven goals in the first frame but -- in a complete role reversal from the first two games -- it was Pittsburgh that battled back, erasing leads of 1-0 and 3-2 to take a 4-3 lead out of the first.
When Kris Letang gave the Penguins a 5-3 lead 3:07 into the second period, Laviolette had seen enough and gave Bryzgalov the hook.
The mercurial netminder gave up five goals on 18 shots, and while he didn't have a ton of help, he didn't help himself. In fact, after playing well in Game 1 -- in which the Flyers erased a 3-0 first-period hole to go on to a 4-3 overtime win -- Bryzgalov hasn't done much to distinguish himself, in spite of his coach's assertions.
"I think that at that point Bryz needed to come out," Laviolette said of his decision to make the switch.
"Generally speaking, we all need to be better with what we do, and he'd seen five goals, I don't know what it was, 22 minutes in, and that's enough for him. He's been carrying the load for us. I think it's just important for him to come out of that situation, and give Bob an opportunity to go in and battle for us."
The coach was referring to Bobrovsky, who has played well against the Penguins but on this night allowed goals on the fourth, seventh, 10th and 11th shots he faced. He finished with an identical line score to Bryzgalov with five goals on 18 shots.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma deftly sidestepped the question about whether the team might have found an area to further exploit in this series.
"We had a task tonight which was win one game and only focus on one game," Bylsma said. "We got a win with that game here tonight; we've earned one more game. That's our focus again, one more game back in Pittsburgh. Anything beyond that focus right now for our team, it's not there."
Part of the reason no one has been talking about "Bryzgalov the Ordinary" is that his counterpart has been "Marc-Andre Fleury the Worse." Fleury was yanked after the second period in Sunday's 8-4 loss and has looked uncertain throughout this series. He struggled again to start Game 4 but shut down the Flyers after the first period as the Penguins reeled off eight unanswered goals.
Fleury made a monster stop on a Claude Giroux shot from the slot when the score was still 7-3 (and given the goaltending acumen displayed in this series, it was still a game), and the Penguins went down the ice and scored again to make it 8-3.
It's too small a sample to say whether Fleury has his mojo back, but if he has, it will put pressure on Bryzgalov to get back on track.
Regardless, there will now be a lot more eyes on the Flyers' net trying to figure out whether "Superman" looks like he's going to have a winning spring or whether we're going to discover a bigger chunk of kryptonite has somehow got wedged in the Flyers' paraphernalia.