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Philadelphia Flyers still searching for answer to the Penguins speed

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

PITTSBURGH - The speed the Pittsburgh Penguins brought at them shift after shift, period after period, shouldn't surprise the Philadelphia Flyers - they've see it from Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal 20 times over the past two seasons.

The fatigue and frustration it caused, and maybe the lack of discipline it provoked? The Flyers didn't seem prepared for that, and already they find themselves in a likely must-win playoff Game 2 against the Penguins.

The Flyers, just as they couldn't during last season's one-sided Eastern Conference finals, didn't handle anything the confident and under-control Penguins brought at them during a 4-1 Pittsburgh victory in Game 1 on Wednesday night.

The Flyers retaliated with needless penalties, undisciplined play, a late sequence of message-sending hits and not much else.

After allowing four goals or more for the fifth time in six playoff games against the Penguins the last two seasons, the Flyers appeared leg-weary and slightly discouraged.

They also seemed to be looking for answers in an Eastern Conference first-round series that could get away from them as fast as Malkin on a breakaway if they don't win Friday night in Pittsburgh.

When an NHL team wins Games 1 and 2, it goes on to win a best-of-seven series 87.2 per cent of the time.

The Flyers know that any playoff series can turn with one good effort, an unexpected goal, a clean but disruptive hit or a night when determination trumps talent.

But Pittsburgh keeps beating them the same way over and over - the Penguins have outscored the Flyers 24-10 in six playoff games since May - and that must worry a team that is desperately searching for momentum after going 11-11-1 over the last six weeks.

"I don't buy that we're done by any means," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Thursday. "Pittsburgh's a good team, and we have to play well to beat them - better than we did.

"We need to play a more complete game."

The Penguins? They want to keep playing the same uptempo, keep-the-pressure on style that has enabled them to go 19-3-4 under coach Dan Bylsma.

"We're going to play the way we know how," said Crosby, who had a goal and an assist in Game 1. "Hopefully, we're skating and they have to chase us. Hopefully, the result of our game is at least getting scoring chances and then some will go in."

The Flyers were criticized by coach John Stevens for drawing numerous unnecessary penalties during a mistake-filled night, and their breakdowns in discipline were illustrated by forward Dan Carcillo's whack to Penguins forward Max Talbot's head with 7 seconds remaining. On Thursday, the NHL suspended Carcillo for one game and fined Stevens $10,000. Talbot wasn't hurt and Carcillo wasn't penalized for the hit.

"We held a conference call Monday with the general managers and coaches of playoff teams and told them explicitly we would not tolerate attempts by clubs to 'send a message' late in a game when the outcome had been determined," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice president of hockey operations. "Organizations - players and coaches - will be held accountable for such actions."

The Penguins avoided taking retaliatory penalties, even after the Flyers appeared to target Talbot and forward Matt Cooke late in the game.

"In the locker room we kind of talked to each other to make sure we skate away from that stuff and kind of keep our pace going," Staal said. "I think it turned out great."

So did Bylsma, a minor league coach until mid-February who has enjoyed a successful NHL playoff debut as a head coach.

"We talked about the higher intensity level the playoffs bring," Bylsma said. "You have to walk the line.

"Its been a part of every playoff series, it will be a part of every playoff series, and Game 1, we did a decent job of controlling our emotions. But it always is going to be there again game after game after game after game."

What the Flyers must find is a way to control the Penguins' speed and depth. The Flyers not only didn't slow the Crosby or Malkin lines, they got little production from their own deep cast of scorers after being the only NHL team this season with six players who had 25 or more goals.

The Flyers also were the NHL's most-penalized team, and they spent so much time killing penalties that it wore down centre Mike Richards, whose 23 minutes, 17 seconds of ice time were the most of any Philadelphia player except defenceman Braydon Coburn.

"I think I probably did him a little bit of a disservice - he's arguably our best player and I relied on him I think a little too much," said Stevens, who, nevertheless, plans to keep Richards on the penalty-killing unit.

The Flyers understand the importance of Game 2 against the confident Penguins, who are 15-6 during the last two post-seasons and 10-2 in Pittsburgh.

"You never want to be down in a series, so obviously there's a little bit more pressure now to get this next win so we can carry some momentum over into our building," the Flyers' Matt Carle said.

"But at the same time if we go down 2-0 in a series it's not over. We still have two games in our building. But it's definitely not a spot you want to be in."



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