PHILADELPHIA — Unlike in Game 3, there was no surge at the start for the Penguins to endure.
No, it was the visitors who dictated terms to the Flyers right from the start Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center, putting the defending champs on the verge of a ninth straight series victory. Behind a well-rounded performance by nearly the entire roster, the Penguins drubbed their Keystone rivals 5-0 to build a 3-1 lead in this first-round best-of-seven series.
Along the way, Sidney Crosby notched the Penguins’ all-time record for career playoff points, Evgeni Malkin scored another multipoint game and Matt Murray was rock solid in his second shutout of the series. In a series that’s been oddly one-sided — each of the games has been decided by at least four goals — the Penguins were in control right from the start.
“We didn’t give them much space and limited their scoring chances,” said Jamie Oleksiak. “We quieted the crowd as early as possible.”
Not that there weren’t moments when the Flyers turned on the pressure, but they were too sporadic to inspire the locals decked out in orange for much longer than a few seconds. As a result, the Penguins will have an opportunity to close the series Friday in Pittsburgh.
“I can’t say any bad (things) about tonight,” Malkin said. “It’s an amazing team and I enjoy it every year.”
Conveniently, the first period provided a fine microcosm for this game, and perhaps the series. First, the Penguins were all over the Flyers from the start, rolling four lines and eventually generating 18 of the first 25 shot attempts, including a power-play goal by Malkin at 4:33 off a slick backhand pass from Crosby.
“It was a huge moment for sure,” Malkin said. “First goal is huge.”
The Flyers pushed back for a relentless shift about halfway through the first, firing six shot attempts and forcing Murray to make four saves in a minute. However, Brian Dumoulin‘s calm carry to center ice reset the momentum, then Phil Kessel connected for an odd-man rush goal moments later, killing whatever life the Flyers conjured.
“They had their chances at times,” Murray said. “They hemmed us in at times, but we got the job done and weathered the storm.”
Malkin played set-up man on Kessel’s strike from the right circle, his first of the playoffs, at 14:37.
“Overall, we’re playing really well on both sides of the ice and that’s creating chances for our team,” Kris Letang said.
Outside of a Travis Konecny breakaway that Murray denied early in the second — not to minimize it at all — that was pretty much it for the home team.
Unlike an overmatched Brian Elliott, who probably needed to deny Kessel to keep his team in this series, Murray has shined on several prime scoring chances over the past four games.
Letang’s deflected wrister from the slot chased an overmatched Elliott eight minutes into the second. Crosby then surpassed Mario Lemieux with his 173rd career playoff point, a sleight-of-hand wraparound goal after Michal Neuvirth lost track of the puck on a tangle behind the net.
“He’s in very elite company,” Mike Sullivan said. “He’s led this team to a lot of playoff success. That’s the player and person I’ve grown to respect.”
Malkin’s double-minor penalty for high sticking late in the second provided an opening for the Flyers, at least in theory. However, Murray stoned rookie Nolan Patrick in the opening seconds of the advantage, putting the Penguins in cruise control from there. Murray made 26 saves for his fourth shutout in his past six playoff games.
“Just focusing on our game and not giving them much time,” Murray said, describing the defensive performance in front of him — specifically the penalty kill’s 4-for-4 night.
Riley Sheahan capped a fine evening for the fourth line with a breakaway goal at 15:46 of the third, giving the Penguins at least five goals in seven of eight matchups against the Flyers this season. They’ve also won all four games they’ve played at Wells Fargo Center, keeping one of the loudest crowds in the sport sitting on their hands.
Not to mention, the Penguins controlled the play without the services of Patric Hörnqvist, out with an undisclosed injury suffered during Sunday’s Game 3.
“One of the things we admire about this group is that they never look for excuses,” Sullivan said.
On the other side, Philadelphia’s attack reached a low point for the series without the services of emergent center Sean Couturier, who was injured in Tuesday’s practice and missed the game. That meant increased defensive attention on Claude Giroux, who scored 102 points in the regular season but has just one assist in this series.
“Obviously, we’re focused on him,” Letang said. “We wanted to pay extra attention to him.”
Meanwhile, Crosby has nine points (five goals) in four games, Malkin has five points and Kessel has netted his first goal of the series. The Penguins appear on their way to another berth in the second round, which would be their eighth in 12 playoff trips.
Thanks to Dan Kingerski for the reporting from Philadelphia.