Sidney Crosby

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

BOX SCORE

After watching what transpired over the last two games, there’s a strong feeling the Flyers played their final game on South Broad Street this season.

And for those who forked over postseason prices for Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, those fans certainly didn’t receive face value for what they paid.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Flyers dropped Games 3 and 4 on home ice, and neither game was even remotely competitive. After the Flyers lost, 5-1, in Game 3, the Penguins dimmed the lights at the Wells Fargo Center and shut off any electricity the crowd was hoping to generate in Game 4 with a 5-0 shutout (see observations).

Simply put, the Flyers looked deflated and dejected knowing they would be forced to play without Sean Couturier, who was a game-time decision but officially ruled out 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.

“They came out hard,” Andrew MacDonald said. “We kind of looked a bit flustered and I don’t know if it was attributed to the lines or what, but it certainly wasn’t a great start for us.”

Whatever rivalry existed between the Flyers and Penguins coming into this season was hardly recognizable in the four games played in Philadelphia (two regular season, two playoff), where the home team was outscored 20-4 (see story).

Just the mere presence of the Penguins in this building is expected to bring out the best in the Flyers. Instead, we saw them at their worst, and nothing irks Flyers fans more than watching Sidney Crosby walk out of the City of Brotherly Love with six points and two victories in a pair of playoff games. 

“It’s disappointing,” Dave Hakstol said. “You take that upon yourself. Bluntly, we’re not happy about it. It wasn’t good enough.”

The Flyers may have fed off the home crowd for one period on Sunday afternoon, but even as they barraged the Penguins with constant pressure, they still found themselves down 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes. After a slew of penalties in the second period, the Flyers were never the same.

Disapproval poured down Wednesday when the Flyers flopped on their power play, which finished 0 for 10 in the two games on home ice, and the crowd of 19,644 booed unmercifully as the horn sounded after each period.

With the Wells Fargo Center half empty midway through the third period, the postseason frenzy felt more like a preseason yawner. 

“Fire Hakstol” chants could be heard from the upper deck — the first time that phrase echoed throughout the building since the 10-game winless streak in November.

Prior to this week, the lasting memory of a playoff series against Pittsburgh was Claude Giroux decking Crosby on the opening shift of Game 6 in 2012 and then proceeding to score the first goal as the Flyers eliminated their cross-state rival.

For whatever reason, the Flyers never evolved into a dominant team on home ice this season. The Flyers' 22 wins were the fewest of the 16 teams to reach the postseason and even three non-playoff teams finished with better records at home.  

At times, the Flyers played too cute or tried to execute too perfectly in their building, but in this series, it was just too ugly.

“Earn Tomorrow” was the Flyers' playoff slogan coming into this series.

After what the Wells Fargo Center witnessed this week, a chance at tomorrow may be too much to bear.

Flyers on verge of elimination after being blasted by Penguins in Game 4

Flyers on verge of elimination after being blasted by Penguins in Game 4

BOX SCORE

Playing without Sean Couturier was too much of a loss for the Flyers.

The Penguins took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a convincing 5-0 win over the Flyers in Game 4 Wednesday. After scoring five goals in a Game 2 victory, the Flyers have managed just one goal in their three losses during the series. 

Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal just 4:33 into the game and Phil Kessel added his first goal of the series later in the opening period.

Penguins goaltender Matt Murray stopped all 26 shots for his second shutout of the series.

The Flyers’ power play finished 0 for 4 and is now 2 for 17 in the series. 

It’s the first time the Flyers were beaten in Games 3 and 4 of a playoff series on home ice since the 1989 Wales Conference Finals. 

Game 5 is scheduled for Friday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh (7 p.m./NBCSP).

• Unlike Game 3, the Flyers came out with a very timid start as they played with a real uncertainty considering Dave Hakstol had to make the necessary line changes in the absence of Couturier. 

Once again, the Flyers were hounded by Pittsburgh’s pressure, which eventually led to Matt Read’s holding penalty three minutes into the game. 

The Flyers were able to generate some sustained pressure after the initial 10 minutes. However, they lost all momentum when the Penguins converted a 2-on-1 between Malkin and Kessel after the Flyers had spent an entire shift in the Penguins’ zone. 

• The Flyers resorted to dumping and chasing more often in Game 4 as Pittsburgh clogged up the middle of the ice and denied them clean entries. 

The Flyers also had some inexcusable plays in the second period as they were caught offsides on a routine offensive zone entry and committed an unnecessary icing that led to their offensive ineptitude. As a result, the Flyers failed to generate a shot on net in the first 9:21 of the second period.  

• With Hakstol electing to keep Claude Giroux at left wing and moving Nolan Patrick up to the top line, the Flyers were weakened down the middle as Valtteri Filppula moved up to the second line and Jori Lehtera filled in as the third-line center. It presented clear matchup problems with the Penguins’ center combo of Sidney Crosby, Malkin and Derick Brassard. 

On a number of occasions, the Flyers would dump the puck in and the Penguins would retrieve it with no pressure. 

After falling behind early, Hakstol switched things up and moved Giroux to center with Jakub Voracek and Travis Konecny for a handful of shifts.  

• The Flyers desperately needed to have the better goaltending and that simply didn’t happen as Brian Elliott was pulled for the second time in four games after he allowed three goals on 17 shots. 

While the Penguins easily dissected the Flyers’ PK on their power-play goal, Elliott had enough time to deny Kessel’s goal as the puck slid through his pads. Kris Letang’s goal was deflected off Andrew MacDonald’s stick and Elliott was visibly frustrated as there was nothing he could have done. 

Hakstol had a quick trigger in pulling Elliott after three goals. In Game 1, Elliott wasn’t yanked until the Penguins made it 5-0.   

• Unquestionably, the Flyers’ best forward in this game was Nolan Patrick. The rookie center brought speed and a strong pursuit of the puck to his game that wasn’t matched by his teammates. 

Patrick finished with a team-high six shots on goal, while no one else on the Flyers’ roster had more than three.

Flyers desperately need Claude Giroux to find his form

usa-claude-giroux-flyers.jpg
USA Today Images

Flyers desperately need Claude Giroux to find his form

Claude Giroux’s torrid finish over the final 10 games of the regular season is undoubtedly the single-biggest reason the Flyers earned a first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Without his contributions, the Flyers would have already conducted their exit interviews.

But the team is still searching for the player that posted a career-high 34 goals and 102 points.

Through the first three games of the series, Giroux has managed one assist. He hasn’t experienced this lack of production over a three-game span since the beginning of February, Games 51-53 of the regular season, which more than anything speaks to how dominant he was over the final two months of the regular season.

Upon further inspection, Giroux’s shot has been wickedly off the mark. Excluding shots that were blocked, Giroux hit the net on 76 percent of his attempted shots during the regular season. That number has dipped dramatically in the Pittsburgh series to just 44 percent.

Of the 10 shots he fired in Game 3, five never had a chance at becoming a goal. The captain’s marksmanship hadn’t been this far off the mark in a single game since March 2014. Uncharacteristically, Giroux’s nine missed shots in the postseason now lead all NHL players.

Somewhere there’s a “gripping the stick too tightly” cliche just ready to roll off the tongue.

Giroux’s lack of scoring aside, the most startling sequence of events came right after Evgeni Malkin scored a power-play goal early in the second period. It was a moment head coach Dave Hakstol referred to as the point in Game 3 when he should have utilized a timeout (see story).

It might have prevented the fastest two goals in NHL postseason history. Sidney Crosby not only won the faceoff cleanly but skated around the Flyers’ captain, who appeared so shell-shocked that he forgot to pick up Brian Dumoulin, who jumped in from his left defense position to take Crosby’s pass and score on a snap shot.

Goaltender Brian Elliott even appeared surprised how that play unfolded.

“We can’t get beat off of a neutral-zone draw like that and have a guy walking down Main Street,” Elliott said. “It’s just another thing that I don’t think we’re ready for right off the draw there.”

If there’s one aspect of Giroux’s game that’s a notch above the competition, it’s his work in the faceoff circle. He took over 1,000 draws this season and was never beaten that badly.

After cleaning up in Game 1, Giroux won less than 40 percent of his faceoffs in Games 2 and 3, which hadn’t happened in back-to-back playoff games since the epic seven-game series against Boston in 2010.

Entering this series, the Flyers needed one of two things to happen to have a legitimate chance at dethroning the two-time champs: superior goaltending or the Flyers’ elite players outperforming Pittsburgh’s elites.

So far, neither have happened.

Crosby once went 13 straight playoff games without a goal. The Penguins suffered then, and the Flyers can’t survive without Giroux at his best in this series.