PHILADELPHIA — Sidney Crosby became the all-time Pittsburgh Penguins playoff points leader.
Matt Murray was impenetrable.
The Pittsburgh Penguins controlled the Philadelphia Flyers like a bright orange marionette for a 5-0 win. The Penguins posted a five spot, again.
The Penguins goal scorers list reads like a future Ring of Honor induction ceremony: Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Crosby. And the fifth goal by Riley Sheahan.
Crosby’s two points were his 172nd and 173rd career playoff points, which passed Mario Lemieux as the all-time franchise leader. Crosby earned praise from Mike Sullivan thusly: “It puts (Crosby) in elite company. It’s a testament to his talent, but also a testament to his work ethic.”
The Flyers were without their top center Sean Couturier, who doubles as their best defensive player and heartbeat. The Penguins were without Patric Hornqvist but the Penguins so thoroughly dominated possession, Hornqvist’s absence wasn’t as consequential as the Flyers inability to stop them.
“I can’t say any bad words tonight,” said Malkin. “Power play work, PK work, five on five we played hard.” (Pittsburgh Hockey Now will have more from Evgeni Malkin for PHN Extra on Thursday.)
Midway through the first period, the Flyers had their opportunity. In a fit of rage against the dying of the light, the Flyers unleashed a furious offensive assault on the Penguins which lasted nearly two full minutes and ended in a goal … by the Penguins’ Kessel.
After the furious assault, the Penguins dictated terms for the remainder of the game. In the second period, the Flyers needed nearly 15 minutes to get their second shot on goal. Wise men at their end know dark is right. The Flyers forked no lightning. Even on a four-minute power play to close the second period, the Broad Street Bullies went gently.
The Flyers had little rage for the dying of the light. They earned three shots on goal in those nearly four minutes but precious few good opportunities and Murray refused to give many rebounds.
The Penguins chased another goaltender. After Letang snapped a shot past Flyers goalie Brian Elliott from the high slot, Elliott was pulled for Michal Neuvirth.
The Penguins have chased four goalies in their past five playoff series, though they have chased Elliott twice in this series. Count that as you choose.
They go for the kill Friday night, 7 p.m. at PPG Paints Arena.
Matt Murray: A+
The Flyers didn’t push him hard enough to earn the A++ again. Murray was perfect, though. He absorbed good shots. Murray directed rebounds. He caught and sang the sun in flight. (OK, last one. If you don’t yet know the Dylan Thomas poem, here it is.)
Penguins PK: A+
The Flyers first power play totaled zero shots on goal. The Penguins successfully killed the four-minute Malkin high sticking penalty, as well. The Penguins PK ruthlessly jumped into shooting lanes. Sticks clogged the passing lanes. And the Flyers were left without answers.
PHN asked Carl Hagelin if the PK adjustments or mindset was the most prominent change. Without hesitation, Hagelin cited mentality.
“We haven’t changed too much. I think we’re just doing a better job being aggressive and getting pucks out when we have the chance,” said Hagelin.
Fans were not without answers, however, as boos rained down upon the home team. The PK, as much as the Penguins relentless attack, deflated the Flyers.
Chad Ruhwedel: A
Picking out certain moments or highlights for Ruhwedel is tough. And that’s the point: He’s as noticeable as a vegetarian at Pat’s or Geno’s Cheesesteaks when he makes a mistake. However, for the last few weeks, he has been perfectly stable, serviceable and reliable. The coaches have rewarded his no-frills game with ice. And more ice.
And thus PHN rewards him with an A.
Brian Dumoulin: A
While many will point to Dumoulin’s deft play to skate the puck out of trouble in the first period, Dumoulin earned a high mark for continued aggressive defending.
Dumoulin, who sometimes sags too much, stepped forward Wednesday night. He stepped forward on the wall to keep the play alive, he stepped forward into rushing Flyers forwards, and he stepped forward in the neutral zone to play pucks. So many little things which won’t make a Sportscentre highlight but make big differences in the game.
Note, I did write Sportscentre, not Sportscenter, because only Sportscentre actually covers hockey. (That’s the TSN nightly show, not the mouse ears’.)
Tom Kuhnhackl + Riley Sheahan + Zach Aston-Reese: A
The fourth line was good. Tom Kuhnhackl played with jam and grit. Sheahan was in perfect position. Zach Aston-Reese won puck battles along the wall and was part of the penalty kill. The Penguins fourth line set the tone early. Kuhnhackl almost cost the unit an A with a bad interference penalty in the second period, but the Penguins killed it, and the German forward was off the hook.
Sheahan’s third period goal was a perfect example. Kuhnhackl and Sheahan won the battle on the defensive end wall. And won the next battle on the mid-wall. In the process, Sheahan broke out of the zone in transition and received a “Murphy dump” for a breakaway goal. (A “Murphy dump” is a high fluttering pass over the defensemen. Named after former Penguins defenseman Larry Murphy.)
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin: A
Without Couturier to counterbalance Crosby or Malkin, the Flyers turned to rookie Nolan Patrick. The poor kid was run over. Crosby played with the puck as needed. The lines were more than defensively responsible, they were in lockdown mode.
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust: B+
They didn’t score. That’s the only reason the grade isn’t an A. As Matt Gajtka theorized yesterday, Rust on the line does indeed unlock their potential.
Conor Sheary was noticeable in all three zones. He led the Penguins with five shots. His forecheck was especially impressive. He created several turnovers, a couple of those directly. Sheary’s pressure led to extended offensive pressure, at least twice. In turn, Brassard was able to play without pressure, and he thrived.
I’d love to give someone a bad grade. But, on a night when the Penguins dominated, the closest I’m able to come is a C for Jamie Oleksiak, who is currently getting comfy in the coach’s doghouse. Oleksiak played less than 10 minutes in Game 3. He played a team-low 13 minutes in Game 4.
He isn’t hurt.