The extra day off between Games 3 and 4 of the Flyers-Penguins Eastern Conference Quarterfinal has given us time to take stock of what we have seen so far and how it might affect what is about to come.
Obviously, the Flyers are in command, needing just one more win to vanquish the Penguins and move on to the second round. But theres plenty to contemplate as Game 4 approaches and for the Flyers, theres still work to be done.
With so many younger players, it would have been easy to expect the Flyers to be the team getting caught up in the intensity and adrenaline rush that comes with performing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Instead, the Penguins have been guilty on several counts of failures in discipline.
In Game 1, they frittered away a 3-0 lead as they stopped attacking. In Game 2, the Pens completely broke down defensively. On Sunday, they showed a lack of physical control and took a series of bad penalties, some that resulted in suspensions.In short, the Pens fell apart at the seams.
The Flyers have managed to stay physical without spending too much time in the penalty box. They have also kept their cool despite falling behind in all three games. They really have shown remarkable poise and composure in spite of their youth and relative playoff inexperience.
He was a super villain in the eyes of Philadelphia sports fans before he stepped onto the ice at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday. Now, he has gone to a new level. Sidney Crosby certainly did not cover himself in glory in Game 3.
His aim was clear -- he wanted to spark his team and try to turn the game and the series around. The last time the Penguins played a postseason game in Philadelphia, a fight by then-Pen Max Talbot with Dan Carcillo was a catalyst in helping to turn a 3-0 deficit into a 5-3 series-clinching win.
This time, however, the strategy backfired as Crosby and his teammates lost sight of the prize and got caught up in the emotion of the moment. They took foolish penalties and the Flyers' power play made them pay four times.
It became a mess for Pittsburgh and had all the appearances of a team unraveling, especially when Crosby continued to try to agitate near games end when the result was, for all intents and purposes, determined.
Crosby has to understand that if he is going to get involved in the after-whistle shenanigans, he is putting himself in the line of fire. As the victim of serious concussions, that is not the smartest thing to do. He makes himself that much more of a target. His teammates can protect him to some degree, but not entirely.
In general, Crosby is very good for the sport. He is a supremely-skilled player, who represents hockey with class off the ice. But his on-the-ice act in Game 3 will not be something he will be putting on his resume.
Thanks to their lack of discipline, the Penguins will be without three players for Game 4. Craig Adams one-game suspension was automatic for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game. James Neal got a game for his double infractions. Arron Asham got four games for his vicious crosscheck of Brayden Schenn (see story).
The NHL has to start clamping down on these dangerous hits. It seems just about every playoff game there is at least one questionable hit. Discipline czar Brendan Shanahan seemed to begin the postseason trying not to have his decisions have a large impact on the results of the playoff series. Perhaps that explains his lack of suspension after Shea Weber slammed Henrik Zetterbergs head up against the glass on night one of the playoffs.
From that point on, things have spiraled out of control. Players have been taking liberties left and right. Shanahan has turned into one very busy man. He has a thankless job, but an important one. His decisions on the Pens seem just to me.
Two full days off between games in a playoff series always seem like an eternity. The series' have a certain rhythm about them when it goes every other day. That rhythm gets broken with the extra day off.
I think in this particular case, the extra time off benefits the Penguins. They were a team in need of a break after the craziness of Game 3. Instead of hanging around Philadelphia, they went back home. Dan Byslma gave them Monday completely off. By Wednesday, it is possible they will have had enough time to mentally put their troubles from Sunday behind them.
Meanwhile, the Flyers were steamrolling and any downtime at this point only serves to slow their momentum. I think they would have preferred to just keep on playing. Well see if the added time between games has an impact on either team in Game 4.
The Flyers are in a good place right now. They have been the much better team through the first three games of the series. They are getting contributions from a variety of sources and their youngsters have had no problems adjusting to the increased pace and intensity of postseason play.
Meanwhile, the Penguins are bordering on disarray. Their defense has been porous and their goaltender hasnt been able to bail them out. Their Art Ross Trophy-winning center, Evgeni Malkin, is without a goal and their captain has resorted to gamesmanship to try and make an impact on the series. Surely, this series is over, right?
Most likely, yes. However, think back to 2010 when the Bruins led the Flyers three games to none in the second round. No one gave the Flyers a chance to come back. They had been badly outplayed, as well. The Bruins looked solid. Yet, four games later the guys in orange and black were advancing, while the Bs were going home.
The point is, you never really know. The Penguins are an explosive group with some top-end talent and a goalie capable of getting very hot, even after a rough patch (see: the 2009 Finals).
To give the Penguins any hint of life would be playing with fire. Thus, it is imperative the Flyers close this series out Wednesday and be done with them. They do not want to let Sid and his gang off the mat.