Kevin Gorman: Flyers need new luck in net vs. Penguins
The Philadelphia Flyers are finding out what Columbus, Washington, Ottawa and Nashville learned last year, that the Penguins' path to the Stanley Cup goes through your goalie.
And the Penguins went through everything but the Flyers' five-hole in Game 1 of their first-round series.
It doesn't matter whether it's Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby, Craig Anderson or Pekka Rinne in net, the Penguins have a penchant for turning Vezina candidates and winners alike into victims in the playoffs.
“You can't see yourself as a victim out there,” Flyers goalie Brian Elliott said Thursday at PPG Paints Arena, a day after allowing the first five goals in the Penguins' 7-0 Game 1 victory.
“You have to be a little bit of the aggressor and have that battle mentality, that you're going to go out and, no matter what happens, there's no give up, there's no feeling sorry for yourself.”
The Penguins certainly weren't showing any sympathy, let alone mercy on the opening night of their quest for a Cup three-peat.
After only one game of a seven-game series, that the Flyers already are talking about battling only illustrates how quickly the Penguins can get into an opponent's head.
Oh, the Flyers said all the right things. Coach Dave Hakstol talked about liking the way Elliott read plays and saw the puck, how the Flyers need to do a better job in front of their goaltender, no matter who it is.
“We had too many holes,” Hakstol said. “You have holes in your game, and that team is going to drive a truck through them.”
In Game 1, the Penguins went through the Flyers like a tractor-trailer through the Fort Pitt Tunnels at night: One minute, the game was tied; the next, the city was lit right before their eyes.
The Penguins scored three goals in the first period, five before the second reached its halfway point. When Sidney Crosby did his mid-air magic to make it 5-0, Hakstol mercifully gave Elliott the hook.
“I just wanted to get him out of there,” Hakstol said.
Truth is, Elliott wasn't seeing the puck especially well against the Penguins. To be fair, it was coming at him from every direction.
“Look at their goals: deflections, back-door tap-ins, batted from the air,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said, in defense of Elliott. “(Stuff) happens sometimes. It's not a sign on him at all.”
Truth is, the 33-year-old Elliott is far from peak playoff form. To be fair, he missed seven weeks after a “core muscle” surgery.
The Flyers have been a hot mess between the pipes. Backup Michal Neuvirth was injured a week after Elliott and still isn't ready. The Flyers traded for Petr Mrazek and promoted Alex Lyon but didn't clinch a playoff berth until Elliott returned in time to play in their final two regular-season games.
Hakstol didn't commit to a Game 2 starter but said he is inclined to stick with the goalie the Flyers call Moose.
“He's our guy. He's a huge reason why our team was able to put ourselves into a position to be in the playoffs,” Hakstol said. “In terms of his presence in our dressing room and the trust that we all have in him, that's a pretty big factor.
“Like everything else, we'll look hard at it but right now, my first gut instinct is that he's our guy and I don't see any reason why we would go away from him.”
Here's a couple of reasons why it doesn't matter: The Penguins have 27 goals in five games against the Flyers, with at least five goals in every game.
A dozen Penguins have scored, with Zach Aston-Reese and Riley Sheahan the only forwards not to score against the Flyers.
“They're a good team. They're going to score goals,” Flyers defenseman Andrew McDonald said. “They get opportunities. For us, it's a matter of limiting those chances and doing a good job of letting Brian see the puck. He's going to stop it if he sees it.”
Truth is, Elliott wasn't seeing the puck as well as Hakstol hoped, as the Penguins scored five times on 19 chances. To be fair, one of those shots landed on the back of Elliott's shoulder.
Somehow, that one stayed out of the net. With the way their goalies have played against the Penguins, maybe the Flyers' best bet in net isn't in seeing the puck but having some blind luck.