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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Series too erratic to pronounce Flyers' doom

| Sunday, April 15, 2018, 9:48 p.m.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray braces for a shot by the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds during the third period Sunday.
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Penguins goalie Matt Murray braces for a shot by the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds during the third period Sunday.

We can act like we have a good handle on this Penguins-Flyers Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. But we don't.

How can we? It's been unpredictable game-to-game. It's been unpredictable within games.

The Penguins dominated Game 1, winning 7-0. They got dominated in Game 2, losing 5-1. Then they pulled a 5-1 reversal Sunday in Philadelphia for Game 3.

Lots of scoring. Emotional swings. Kind of like the 2012 series between the teams, except with one-tenth the violence and mayhem.

We can go through the routine of pronouncing the Flyers dead — again — like many did after Game 1: The matchups are bad for the Flyers. Brian Elliott is toast in goal. Philly doesn't have enough toughness. The Pens “flipped a switched” n'at.

Hey, I subscribed to some of that myself. I didn't think this series would see a sixth game either. The Penguins are better. They should win this thing with a mulligan or two to spare.

But the manner in which they get there? Our collective crystal ball has been foggy in that regard.

I'm not going to pretend like I have any clue how Game 4 is going to go.

Another pendulum swing to a fourth consecutive blowout? This one back to Philadelphia? Yeah. I could see it. Sure, why not?

Either team finally winning a conventional, close, one-goal playoff game where under-six goals hits in Vegas? We are overdue for that.

That's gotta happen eventually, right?

Right?

Geez. Even 2012 had one of those when the Penguins stayed alive with a Game 5 victory.

“This first one, having played it here. Now we've got a feel for it,” said captain Sidney Crosby after a four-point afternoon Sunday. “That should help us going into Game 4.”

It's not just the final scores that have been erratic. It's been some of the play within the games.

The Flyers came out as the far better team in Game 3. They carried the play early, outshooting the Penguins, 11-4, in the first period.

Just 1 minute, 15 seconds into the game, Nolan Patrick blew past Olli Maatta, but Matt Murray made a great glove save.

Less than a minute later, Murray made another big stop on Travis Sanheim after a backdoor pass from Jori Lehtera.

Travis Konecny had a glorious scoring chance as well but couldn't finish. Not quite as much of a blown layup as Scott Laughton in Game 1. But close.

Television cameras caught Konecny yapping something at Matt Murray after the play. The NBC broadcast speculated it was something to the effect of, “You got lucky.”

Murray just gave a knowing smile and skated away.

“He's such a battle-tested guy. He's got a quiet confidence,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He knows he's good.”

Yet somehow after 20 minutes of play, the Penguins went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.

Even the special teams were kind of strange. It was a dominant win for the Penguins. They were 6 for 6 on the penalty kill and 3 of 7 on the power play.

“I thought we did a better job tonight,” defenseman Justin Schultz said. “We just have to keep improving on that.”

The Penguins were just 1 of 8 on the power play in the first two games.

“It was nice to see the power play get a couple and get some confidence there,” Schultz said. “I don't think we needed it. We knew we had it. We were getting our chances. Just a matter of sharpening up a little bit.”

Even the successful power plays were a bit bizarre in how they cashed in, though. Evgeni Malkin's score on a four-on-three to make it 3-0 occurred only after a series of fumbling misadventures near the blue line to enter the zone.

Derick Brassard's man-up goal to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead a few minutes earlier was huge. But the unit attempted only two shots and got just one on goal in the first 1:36 of the advantage.

Oh, and as far as the PK goes? Six for six is, 6 for 6. It was perfect.

Just avoid six trips to the box on Wednesday night, though.

None of this is to nitpick details or marginalize a Penguins victory. Actually, quite the contrary.

It's to reiterate that, while the Penguins appeared to be in a different league than Philly after the first 60 minutes of this best-of-seven series, Game 2 was a blatant reminder that this series' script wasn't going to write itself.

And the story of it might be more winding than the history books will show if this series lasts only five games as so many us — yours truly included — predicted.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at tbenz@tribweb.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.

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