Its one of hockeys oldest axioms and you hear it repeated in virtually every playoff round: whichever team wins the special teams battle, likely wins the series.
If the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking for a reason why they are down 0-3 in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series to the Flyers, they need look no further than what has transpired on special teams.
The statistics are irrefutable in this series. The Flyers have nine goals on special teams vs. the Penguins three. Six of the Flyers goals have come on the power play and three have shorthanded.
Pittsburgh is 3 for 13 on the power play.
The Flyers power play is still No. 1 in the NHL this postseason with a 60 percent conversion rate. Their three shorthanded goals are also first in the league this postseason.
Wayne Simmonds scored a critical power play goal during Sundays 8-4 rout over the Pens in Game 3 as the second period was winding down to give goalie Ilya Bryzgalov some breathing room a 6-4 lead going into the final period.
The Penguins cleared the puck into neutral ice, but Brayden Coburn hunted it down, curled around and hit Simmonds with a stretch pass into the zone behind the Penguins defense.
The Simmonds goal was a real timely goal for us, coach Peter Laviolette said. They closed the gap and it stretched it back out by two goals right before the period ended.
The Flyers had a series-high four power play goals in Game 3. They have not scored more than two power play goals in any playoff game since before 2004.
Danny Briere, who had a power play goal in Game 3, said that special teams, discipline and scoring chances would be the three keys to the series. Well, the Flyers have excelled at all three.
Weve been getting better as the season moved on, Briere said. The special teams, the three shorthanded goals is something you really dont expect. You hope its going to happen, but you cant bank on it. Its a big plus.
Pittsburgh simply isnt as strong up top on its power play at the point as it used to be, while the Flyers have pressured and produced three of their shorthanded goals off turnovers at the points.
I know how much time we spend on the penalty kill trying to figure out the lanes and the routes and where to block the shots and where to block the seam passes, Laviolette said.
Some of them are a little bit funny where pucks have popped and weve gotten into foot races. You go back to the one where Claude Giroux got behind them in Pittsburgh and took a couple of defenders with him.
He caught a break and it was bobbling puck at the blue line and Max Talbot ended up getting it. It was good bounce that went our way.
On the power play you have to move the puck quickly and if you dont, you probably wont find room versus the four killers on the ice. Its something we continually work on and look at.
Laviolette used his timeout before the mid-point of the first period as the Flyers were going on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:20.
He said he burned his timeout, not because he wanted to install a set play for Briere, but because Giroux was in the box and he wanted to make sure all the personnel knew where they were supposed to be on the ice since it would normally revolve around Giroux as the PP quarterback.
We viewed that as a turning point in the game, Laviolette said. We wanted to stop it at that point and make sure everyone knew their role and their job.
He said execution has been the biggest reason for the Flyers six power play goals in 10 chances in this series.
Six different Flyers have scored on the power play too, including Giroux.
Were winning battles and shooting pucks, Giroux said when asked about the overall success. Its not pretty goals. Its guys getting rebounds, working together and moving the puck quick.
We have had pretty much the same units all season. Everybody knows what to do. When the puck is somewhere, everybody knows where its going to go.
The Penguins didnt specifically address the Flyers power play, but forward James Neal had an explanation for the Flyers 16 goals in the last two games, of which, exactly half are special teams related.
Its the edge on the puck, Neal said. Too many turnovers. Them capitalizing and coming right back at us.
Every time we put the puck in the net they would come right back. It's tough when you have goal after goal.