Phil Sheridan: Penguins' Fleury outplays Flyers' Bryzgalov

Posted: April 21, 2012

PITTSBURGH - It was a minor irritant when the Pittsburgh Penguins came out on top in one of the carnival-ride games that defined the beginning of this series.

But now? Now that these teams played something like a normal playoff hockey game? The Penguins' 3-2 victory in Game 5 here Friday night signified more than another game's worth of revenue for Mr. Snider and the Comcast-SpectaCats. It marked enough of a sea change to make the Flyers feel just a little bit seasick.

"There wasn't a dozen goals," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "There was five. The pace was still fast and furious. It was physical. We generated as many quality chances. The game was just more in line, with goals against, with what it should be."

The odds and history and all that stuff remain in the Flyers' favor. It is still a rare, rare feat to overcome a three-game deficit to win a best-of-seven series. But it is also pretty rare for the nature of a series to change so profoundly. When the Flyers were firing pucks past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at an absurd rate, it was fair to wonder whether they could win a more tightly played game - the kind of game they would have to play against the Rangers or Bruins later on.

Well, Game 5 was a more tightly played game. Like a lot of playoff hockey games, it came down to the team with superior goaltending. That team was not the Flyers.

Lost under the whirligig music from Pittsburgh's 10-3 smackdown of the Flyers in Game 4 was the fact that Fleury finally got his legs under him. He pitched two periods of shutout hockey while the light behind Ilya Bryzgalov and Sergei Bobrovsky kept flashing red.

The Flyers got to Fleury with a power-play goal midway through the first period Friday. But overall, he continued the steady play that began in the second period of Game 4. By the third period, he was flat-out brilliant (sometimes literally), singlehandedly turning back the Flyers' most desperate effort of the game.

"He won the game for them," Scott Hartnell said. "It was that simple."

Fleury won Game 5 during a Flyers power play in the third period. After getting just 13 shots on net through the first 471/2 minutes, the Flyers shelled Fleury with seven during the two-minute advantage. Four or five were golden opportunities, the kind that certainly would have found the back of the net in Games 1 through 4.

Jake Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Jaromir Jagr. They all had goals snatched away by Fleury. After the power play, Fleury added Scott Hartnell to the list.

It was the third consecutive penalty killed by the Penguins. That marks another huge swing in the series. When the Flyers scored two power-play goals in the first period, they tied a franchise record with 11 in the series. That record was set in seven games in 1989.

Their power play is good, but nobody's is that good. It took a combination of poor goaltending and spotty defensive play to make that production possible. The Penguins corrected both of those problems in Game 5.

The bigger concern for the Flyers is in the opposite net, however. After being pulled from Game 4, Bryzgalov needed a strong performance - for his own confidence as well as that of this coach and his teammates. He did not deliver it.

No, it wasn't the ice follies of Game 4. In a way, Bryzgalov's performance in Game 5 showed just how off-the-charts terrible the Flyers' goalies were Wednesday. It doesn't take four or five soft goals to lose a normal playoff game. It can take just one.

Bryzgalov allowed three goals, his lowest total since Game 1. But that's misleading. Where Fleury did just what was needed for his team to win, Bryzgalov did exactly what it took for his team to lose. The Flyers took the lead twice. Each time, Bryzgalov gave it back.

He was screened by a pair of teammates on the game-winning goal. The bottom line, though, is that if Bryzgalov played the way Fleury played, the Flyers would be waiting around to see who they play in the second round.

"We're disappointed," Bryzgalov said. "We had two opportunities, but we failed. We let Pittsburgh back in the game."

Again, the odds remain stacked against the Penguins. Overcoming an 0-3 deficit is as difficult as anything in team sports. It is a tall mountain to climb. The Penguins are halfway to the top now. The Flyers still have two chances to win one, but their margin for error is vanishing.

"It's going to be every game, tougher and tougher," Bryzgalov said.

Will the Flyers rise to meet the challenge?

"We'll see," Bryzgalov said.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan

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