Kevin Gorman: Penguins prove their superiority with win
Forget the scores. The Penguins are the superior team in this Stanley Cup first-round series. They have been better than the Flyers, win or lose, whether or not they capitalized on chances.
The first period of Game 3 on Sunday was different. The Flyers pushed the pace, possessed the puck and fed off a loud, rowdy Wells Fargo Center crowd that was about to reach a crescendo when Nolan Patrick tried to do his best Travis Konecny impression by beating a Penguins defenseman to the right and going glove side.
Then the Penguins answered. And the Flyers had no answer.
Penguins 5, Flyers 1.
“The first 20 minutes was the first time we looked close to how we want to be with the puck,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “I thought our pace was good. I thought we had enough possession and some opportunities off our offensive zone play.
“But you have to be able to sustain that for 60 minutes. Then you can evaluate what the outcome is, not 20.”
The Penguins didn't just answer the Flyers. They answered the questions that trailed them after the Game 2 loss and did so in a hostile environment.
If you worried about whether Matt Murray could stop the puck, Sidney Crosby could find the net, Kris Letang could come back from his collision with Claude Giroux, Phil Kessel could contribute a point or the power play could convert ...
Worry no more.
After following a Game 1 shutout by giving up five goals in the Game 2 loss, Matt Murray stopped 26 shots and is 9-1 after playoff losses in his NHL career.
“You want to win games, so, obviously, after a loss is important,” Murray said. “It's just as important as after a win.”
After following a Game 1 hat trick by missing on three great chances in Game 2, Crosby scored a wraparound goal to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 10:25.
“It was good to get one early,” Crosby said. “That always makes a big difference as far as being able to forget about it.”
Aside from that save and that shot, the Flyers outplayed the Penguins almost every way imaginable in the first period. Yet they still trailed.
“Whether you want to say they weathered the storm in the first period or not, I don't know,” Hakstol said. “I mean, it was a good first period. They came out of it 1-0.
“From there, I thought we did things that aren't going to give you success against that team. We've done a pretty good job of killing penalties, but you give them that number of opportunities, they're going to make you pay on some of them.”
The Penguins did, despite the power play going 1 for 8 in the first two games of the series. They went 3 for 7 in Game 3, starting with Kessel scoring his first playoff points on a feed to Derick Brassard for a power-play goal at 2:48 of the second.
Letang set up Evgeni Malkin for a power-play goal and 3-0 lead at 6:48 of the second. Five seconds later, Brian Dumoulin scored to make it 4-0, setting a franchise playoff record for fastest back-to-back goals.
“We stuck with our game plan,” Dumoulin said. “We didn't try to do it individually. I thought that was the key, especially in the first period.”
Mike Sullivan deserves credit for the game plan and for his team sticking to it. Before the game, the Penguins coach spoke with confidence about how much he liked about the way they played in Game 2, even if they didn't get the result.
Sullivan didn't have to say it, but he knew had the superior team.
Now everyone else does, too.