Penguins ruining 'rivalry' with Flyers

| Wednesday, April 22, 2009

PHILADELPHIA — On the morning of Game 4, Daniel Briere wondered if this Penguins-Flyers thing might become a rite of spring, given the array of young talent on both teams.

Briere, a Flyers forward, went so far as to compare the matchup to the vicious Colorado-Detroit rivalry of 1996-2002.

"It seems like this is going like that," Briere said. "I started my career out West, and it seemed like those teams had to go through each other every year to have a chance at the Cup. This is probably going to be the same thing. Maybe you throw Washington into that mix with us and Pittsburgh."

Here's the problem with that concept: It can't be a true rivalry unless both teams do some winning — and the Penguins appear to have no intention of letting that happen.

A year after dispatching the Flyers in five games, they are on the precipice of doing so again after a 3-1 victory Tuesday night at Wachovia Center.

This was, indisputably, the Penguins' worst effort of the series, but goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stole the game, making 45 saves on a night when his team was outshot, 46-25.

A fierce penalty-killing unit did its part, as well (Jordan Staal played 7:58 short-handed), snuffing all eight Flyers' power plays. Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy and Max Talbot scored the goals. Talbot's was an empty-netter with 51.3 seconds left.

The outcome left the Flyers utterly befuddled.

"I think we deserved a better fate," said center Jeff Carter, whom Fleury stopped five times. "Their goalie won them that game; that's for sure."

The series shifts to Mellon Arena for Game 5 on Thursday, when the Penguins could capitalize on the precious chance to end a series early and thus preserve valuable energy resources.

The Flyers' theme after a 6-3 victory in Game 3 was that they could easily be ahead and had improved each game. They thought they'd found a chink in Fleury's armor.

Not so.

Fleury made a half-dozen Grade-A saves in the second period alone, including four on hard one-timers from the slot and one on Arron Asham alone at the side of the net.

Philly's theme now is that if it just keeps playing this way, well, good things will happen.

"It's a deep hole, yes," said center Mike Richards, who saw Fleury somehow stop his one-time attempt on a third-period power play. "We also started the season 0-6 (0-3-3, technically). Pretty big hole there, too. I have confidence if we play like we did tonight, this series could be a long way from being over."

OK, but here's the thing: The Penguins have the better goaltender, and that is the most important position on the ice.

Crosby scored the game's first goal at 3:19 of the second period when he drove hard to the net and took a Chris Kunitz pass. The puck banked off Crosby's stick, then his body. That marked the first even-strength goal of the series for a Penguins player on the top two lines not named Evgeni Malkin.

Fleury continued his incredible play in the third period, turning back prime chance after prime chance before ex-Penguins farmhand Daniel Carcillo finally got the Flyers on the board — on their 39th shot — at 11:44, just as the crowd had begun to turn on its team.

Carcillo proceeded to implore the crowd as he sat on the bench.

"The building was shaking," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma. "I'm confident it was shaking, literally. It was a moment where the momentum was with the Flyers."

Fleury held on, helping the Penguins improve to 7-2 in nine playoff games against the Flyers over the past year.

Sure, this has been a much more entertaining series than last year's. Much more intense, too. It won't end with a 6-0 humiliation, like last year's series did.

But unless the Flyers find a way to crack the code, it'll end at precisely the same point.

Five games.

What kind of rivalry is that?

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