Inside the Flyers: Flyers-Penguins no ordinary playoff series

Can't bear to look: Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov sits on the bench after being pulled in Game 4.
Can't bear to look: Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov sits on the bench after being pulled in Game 4. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 20, 2012

The getting-stranger-by-the-shift series between the Flyers and their cross-state pals from Pittsburgh has resembled a glorified men's league.

Only most men's leagues likely have better goaltending.

The playoffs are usually tight-checking, low-scoring goalie duels. Kind of like the admirable way the Flyers played in the last six weeks of the regular season.

In the first four games of the Flyers-Penguins shootathon, the teams have combined for an astounding 45 goals. In the history of the NHL playoffs, the first four games of a series have never produced as many goals.

"Maybe," smiling Flyers winger Jaromir Jagr suggested after Thursday's practice in Voorhees, "the forwards are too skilled."

Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers goalie who hasn't looked the same since he suffered a chip fracture in his right foot late in the season, has a 4.95 goals-against average and an .844 save percentage in four games.

And he's been the series' best goalie.

Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury lowered his goals against average to 5.43 and raised his save percentage to .817 in the Penguins' 10-3 wipeout of the defensively challenged Flyers on Wednesday.

This is a series that has had a slew of odd-man rushes, poor goaltending, too much open ice for the snipers, cheap shots, poor goaltending, power-play goals out the gazoo, and poor goaltending.

This is a series in which the shooting percentages would make NBA players proud: Matt Read is 2 for 3 (66.7 percent), Danny Briere is 4 for 7 (57.1 percent), Jordan Staal is 5 for 10 (50 percent), and Max Talbot is 3 for 6 (50 percent).

To a man the Flyers - who have a three-games-to-one lead and can wrap up the series with a win in Pittsburgh on Friday - say the wide-open style hasn't been by design. It wasn't as if coach Peter Laviolette was trying to draw the Penguins into a fastbreaking game that created enough open space to land an airliner.

"No, he wouldn't say, 'Let's win this game 7-4 or 8-5.' That would never happen," veteran Flyers defenseman Andreas Lilja said. "We always try to play tight defensively."

After the Flyers overcame a 3-0 deficit and stole Game 1 in overtime, 4-3, these have been the scores of the last three contests: 8-5, Flyers; 8-4, Flyers; 10-3, Penguins.

"We're playing the same way we did all season, so it's crazy when you look at it," winger Jakub Voracek said. "We have to be more disciplined because they have one of the best power plays in the league."

So do the Flyers, who have converted on a ridiculous 9 of 15 power-play chances (60 percent), while the Penguins have connected on 7 of 22 (31.8 percent).

So what gives? Why have the playoffs turned into pond hockey?

"I wish I could explain it, but I can't," Lilja said. "I think we're playing playoff hockey, but it just seems like a lot of pucks are bouncing in. If I knew why, I would tell the rest of the guys and we would probably score eight and they wouldn't score any. It's weird. It's definitely not fun. It's too many goals. I'd rather see a 3-2 game or a 2-1 game, but you just have to roll with it and try to shut them down the next game."

Briere suggested it's a matter of two explosive teams - the Penguins led the league in goals in the regular season, while the Flyers finished third - matching up.

"Look at the two teams. They have three high-scoring lines. We have four high-scoring lines," Briere said. "That makes for a lot of fireworks.

"We both play an up-tempo, high-offense, quick-transition game," said winger Jody Shelley, who has watched the bizarre series from the press box as a healthy scratch. "I mean, I'm a hockey fan, too, and I saw two of the most exciting games I've ever seen early in the series. I think both sides would like to rein it in a bit."

The series is "completely off from what you would expect, but I think that's what makes it interesting," Briere said.

"The great thing is we're up 3-1 in the series, and we've put ourselves in a good position," added Briere, whose line, with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds, was minus-11 in Game 4. "We had a bad day. We didn't come prepared to play the same way they did. Now it's time to fix that. It's just one loss."

The bottom line: Despite tying a dubious franchise record for most goals allowed in a playoff game Wednesday, the Flyers have the Penguins on life support.

"If somebody would have told me in September that you're going to be up 3-1 on Pittsburgh in the first round, I would have said - even if we're going to lose the fourth game, 10-3 - I would take that deal for sure," Lilja said.


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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