PHILADELPHIA– The two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins had a chance to end the Philadelphia Flyers season on Friday in Game 5.
Instead, the Penguins came out flat. The Flyers scored the first goal and the last goal for a 3-2 win.
In the first five games of the series, the team which has scored first has won.
This season, the Penguins scored at least five goals in seven of the nine games between the teams, including playoffs. Given the Penguins offensive power and the Flyers inability to consistently stop the Penguins, the first goal shouldn’t be the deciding goal.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Sidney Crosby about the anomaly.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know. I think you get momentum from that first goal. Obviously, we gave up the first one last game and ended up getting the lead back. I don’t have a great explanation,” Crosby said.
One potential answer rests with the Flyers psyche. The young Flyers don’t have the lengthy playoff resume which the Penguins possess. When the Flyers are rewarded, their confidence grows.
Flyers starting goaltender Brian Elliott was unsteady in the first four games. Michal Neuvirth steadied the Flyers net and provided big saves.
In each Flyers win, the goaltender was the difference. Elliott was fantastic in Game 2, and Neuvirth gave the Flyers a chance in Game 5 by stopping 30 of 32 shots.
In 22 regular season games, Neuvirth had a .915 Save Percentage but a 2.60 Goals Against Average.
Penguins goaltender Matt Murray has been his rock-steady playoff self. Murray has a 1.63 Goals Against Average this series and a .933 Save Percentage, including two shutouts.
Intensity and Head Space
Over the past two Stanley Cup runs, the Penguins have only ended two series on the first try. They’re 5-3 at home in elimination games, but overall they’ve struggled on the road in these spots.
The Penguins are 3-5 in the first elimination game since 2016, including squandering a 3-1 series lead before beating the Washington Capitals last season.
They’re 2-1 in second chances to end an opponent’s season, excluding Game 7s.
Penguins Evgeni Malkin missed practice Saturday, and his status for Game 6 is unknown. Patric Hornqvist was a full participant in practice Saturday and appeared ready to rejoin the lineup today.
Flyers center Sean Couturier returned for Game 5 and was the game’s number one star. He also scored the game-winning goal.
There are also questions about Ivan Provorov. The Flyers defenseman played over 30 minutes in Game 5 but late in the game, Provorov crashed into the boards following a collision with Penguins defender Brian Dumoulin.