Phil Kessel

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.

5 keys for Flyers to beat Penguins in playoffs

5 keys for Flyers to beat Penguins in playoffs

Nobody said it would be easy, right?

From start to finish, the regular season sure wasn't for the Flyers.

It took 82 games to seal their playoff fate. The reward? A first-round date with the Penguins, who are looking to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup, a feat no NHL team has accomplished since the Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.

Not only do the Flyers hold the task of ruining history, but they'll also have to beat Pittsburgh four times after failing to do so once during the regular season, going 0-2-2 against the Penguins.

So can they reverse some forceful trends? Don't count them out, but here are five musts for the Flyers to win their first postseason series since 2011-12.

1. Avoid that box
Give Pittsburgh an extra man and it'll eat you alive.

The Penguins finished with the NHL's second-best power-play percentage (26.2) since 1990-91, behind only the 2012-13 Capitals (26.8).

They possess three of the league's top-four man-advantage producers in Phil Kessel, who leads all of hockey with 42 power-play points, while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are tied for third with 38.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have the 29th-ranked penalty kill (75.8 percent) and allowed Pittsburgh to score 20 goals, the most they surrendered to any team this season, as the Penguins went 5 for 13 (38.5 percent) on the man advantage.

Players always talk about the intensity that goes with the first five or 10 minutes of a playoff game. The Flyers would be wise to stay composed and disciplined during that juncture, not to mention the course of each game.

2. Crosby, Malkin, oh my
Keep an eye on how the Flyers try to combat Crosby's top line and Malkin's second unit.

It would seem most sensible to size up Sean Couturier's group with Crosby's bunch, putting Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek against Malkin and company, creating a fascinating matchup. That's two rookies with 96 combined games of NHL experience facing an accomplished Malkin, the owner of 784 games and three Stanley Cup titles.

If you're the Flyers, one thing you don't want to do is overuse your fourth line. It's time to ride your best players, especially against Pittsburgh.

3. Total (playoff) G
The last time Claude Giroux was in the playoffs, he had just one point (an assist) over six games during the Flyers' first-round exit to the Capitals in 2016.

It was the lowest point total ever in his 11 career postseason series. Less than a month later, Giroux underwent right hip and bilateral lower abdominal surgeries.

Safe to say he's a different player right now (see story).

Can Giroux take his special season into the postseason? The captain is a game-changing facilitator, but the Flyers go to another level when he puts the puck in the net. Giroux did not score a goal in the four regular-season losses to the Penguins, but the Flyers went 21-5-4 this season when he lit the lamp.

4. 'Moose' sighting
The Flyers can't rely on outscoring the Penguins.

They couldn't win those types of games against Pittsburgh during the regular season.

So they need a steady and confident Brian Elliott to give them a chance (see story).

Elliott will head into the playoffs with just two games under his belt since Feb. 11. Goaltending could make or break the Flyers' chances.

5. Let the kids play
The Flyers' youth will see playoff hockey for the first time.

The Game 1 lineup will feature three rookies and two second-year players, all 22 years old or younger.

And that's a great thing (see story).

But jitters and inexperience can sometimes result in trying to do too much, which can lead to penalties or mistakes — a no-no against the Penguins.

The Flyers' kids, though, certainly don't lack pedigree or gumption.

Best of NHL: Phil Kessel's milestone goal gives Penguins OT win

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Best of NHL: Phil Kessel's milestone goal gives Penguins OT win

PITTSBURGH -- Phil Kessel's 300th career goal at 1:07 of overtime lifted the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 2-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night.

Kessel, who also scored the overtime winner against Edmonton on Tuesday, became the 18th American-born player to reach 300 career goals and the second active behind Minnesota's Zach Parise.

Kessel stripped Patrik Laine of the puck at his own blue line and went the other way on a breakaway. Kessel, with nine points in his last seven games, snapped a wrist shot between the pads of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck for the winner.

Conor Sheary scored his fifth for the Penguins, who won for the fifth time in six games. Pittsburgh has won seven of nine since losing the first two games of the season.

Pittsburgh also won its 17th straight home game against the Jets dating back to March 24, 2007. Overall, Pittsburgh won 17 of the last 20 meetings against the Jets, who last won in Pittsburgh, Dec. 27, 2006, when they were the Atlanta Thrashers.

Matt Murray won his seventh straight since allowing 11 goals on 65 shots in his first two appearances. Murray, who stopped 30 shots, helped Pittsburgh earn points in all eight starts this season (see full recap).

Vrbata’s 7th career hat trick sparks Panthers’ rout
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Radim Vrbata recorded his seventh career hat trick to lift the Florida Panthers to an 8-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night.

Evegenii Dadanov scored two goals and Vincent Trocheck and Aleksander Barkov each had a goal and two assists for the Panthers while Owen Tippett, the youngest player in the NHL at 18, scored his first career goal. James Reimer made 31 saves. Thirteen players recorded points for the Panthers.

Kalle Kossila scored his first NHL goal for Anaheim and Andrew Cogliano and Logan Shaw also scored. John Gibson allowed six goals on 17 shots in two periods. Gibson was replaced by Reto Berra to start the third period. Berra stopped three shots.

Vrbata's third goal came off a rebound and gave the Panthers a 7-2 lead at 8:39 of the third. Vrbata's seven hat tricks are with five different teams. The last one was Dec. 7, 2015 for the Vancouver Canucks against the Buffalo Sabres.

Dadanov's second goal made the score 8-3 with 2:41 left.

The Panthers scored six goals on their first 15 shots (see full recap).

Buchnevich, Nieves help Rangers keep Coyotes winless
NEW YORK -- Pavel Buchnevich scored twice and added an assist, rookie Boo Nieves had three assists and the New York Rangers beat the winless Arizona Coyotes 5-2 Thursday night.

Michael Grabner had two goals, Chris Kreider also scored and Ondrej Pavelec stopped 27 shots to help the Rangers get just their third victory of the season in the finale of a season-high six-game homestand.

New York shook up its line combinations and played with a traditional lineup consisting of 12 forwards and six defensemen for the first time in a week. It helped the Rangers beat Arizona for the eighth straight time, dating back to March 24, 2014.

Anthony Duclair and Clayton Keller scored, and Adin Hill made 24 saves as the Coyotes fell to 0-9-1. The loss spoiled the return of former Rangers star Derek Stepan to Madison Square Garden for the first time since he was traded to Arizona along with goalie Antti Raanta in the offseason (see full recap).