Pittsburgh Penguins pound Philadelphia Flyers, but they need more than one big win

PHILADELPHIA – Can they do it? Yeah, they can do it. The Pittsburgh Penguins are good enough, the Philadelphia Flyers are vulnerable enough and this series has been crazy enough, that's for sure. It's been the highest-scoring series through four games in NHL history, featuring 45 goals, one more than the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers produced back in 1985.

But unless the Penguins do it, unless they become the fourth NHL team to come back from 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-7 series, Wednesday night's 10-3 victory won't be remembered as a display of defiant pride. It will be remembered as a display of what all these Penguins could have been, of all that slipped away.

The Penguins' stars looked like stars. The Flyers' goaltenders looked like, well, Flyers goaltenders. It turned into a rout, and an electric building lost its power.

Jordan Staal had three goals. Evgeni Malkin had two. Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and three other Penguins each had one. The Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov, who said before the series he was afraid only of bears, looked like he was playing against grizzlies, and replacement Sergei Bobrovsky didn't look any better.

That should give Pens fans hope. It should also tick them off, because despite the score, all this did was stave off elimination. All this did was cut the Flyers' lead to 3-1 as the series shifts back to Pittsburgh, where the Flyers are 7-0-0 in meaningful games at the two-year-old Consol Energy Center. All it takes is one loss in three games, and the Stanley Cup favorites still will fall in the first round.

"This is, like, the weirdest series I've ever seen," said defenseman Brooks Orpik in a quiet, cautiously optimistic Penguins dressing room. "At times, it's like nobody wants to win the game. It's just back and forth, trading goals. The more we talk about playing good defense, then it's like 4-3 after the first period."

He laughed.

"I think it's just been a weird series," Orpik said. "I don't want to predict what's going to happen here going forward."

[ Slideshow: Check out Wednesday's game highlights ]

Who predicted this? Who predicted that the Penguins would blow a 3-0 lead in Game 1, a 2-0 lead in Game 2 and a 1-0 lead in Game 3? Who predicted they would fall from ahead three times and lose by scores of 4-3, 8-5 and 8-4 – even against an excellent team like Philadelphia – then come from behind and blow out Game 4?

When people say this series has been a throwback to the wide-open '80s, they're not kidding. It's not a cliche.

"I think this series will be remembered for decades, for sure," Bryzgalov said.

But how?

Comebacks from 3-0 series deficits should become less rare in this age of parity. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs did it. No one did it again until the 1975 New York Islanders. No one did it again until the 2010 Flyers. But two teams came close last season – the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and got to Game 7s – and the Penguins have the firepower and personality to pull it off.

The Penguins lost six straight from late December into early January. Then they won eight straight. Then won 11 straight later and got healthy down the stretch. If they get hot, look out, especially if you have a leaky goalie.

"They're good," said the Flyers' Jaromir Jagr. "They're not just going to give it to us."

The Flyers knew that Wednesday night. They did their best to inflame the passions of their fans. Crosby had said he didn't like anyone on the Flyers, so they gave away T-shirts that said: "GUESS WHAT? WE DON'T LIKE YOU EITHER!" Game 3 was marred by violence, so they showed NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan's suspension videos for the Penguins' Aaron Asham and James Neal, then showed lowlights of the shenanigans.

"IT'S TIME TO TAKE THE SERIES!" the scoreboard shouted just before the opening faceoff, and the Flyers tried to take it. Claude Giroux scored on the power play just 1:16 into the game. Malkin took a penalty shortly afterward. "WE DON'T LIKE YOU!" the fans started to chant.

But the Penguins came back and took a 2-1 lead. They fell into a 3-2 deficit, but they came back and were ahead 4-3 by the end of the first. Then the Flyers fell off the seesaw and – defying the physics of the series – up, up, up went the Pens.

"Everyone just kind of kept going," Crosby said. "We wanted to play a full game. I think we all felt that we owed that to ourselves after the first three. We wanted to give ourselves a chance by playing a full game no matter what happened."

It was 9-3 and the building was quiet by the end of the second period. The Penguins scored only one more goal in the third as the fans filed out. They hit double digits even though they were missing five regulars, including Neal, a 40-goal scorer during the regular season. Though they gave up three power-play goals, the Penguins scored four in a penalty-filled game as the referees tried to keep things under control.

Just as important, they didn't give up anything after the first. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury – who looked bad in the first three games and on the first two goals in this one – finally settled down. The Penguins finally played some defense.

"It was nice, for once, not to give up a ton of goals," Fleury said.

The same can't be said in Philadelphia. Bryzgalov gave up five goals on 18 shots, and then Bobrovsky gave up five goals on 18 shots. On at least a couple of goals, Bryzgalov hardly moved. The puck just whizzed past him.

Asked about Bryzgalov, Jagr said: "It's most important that he has confidence in himself. Nobody is going to help him but himself. I think he is OK." That doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it? As always, this is Philadelphia’s Achilles' heel.

You could argue that this series should be 2-2 or even 3-1, Pittsburgh. The Penguins should not have blown those leads at home.

But the series is 3-1, Philadelphia. The Pens did blow those leads. The Flyers are good, too. And for now, while the Pens have to say it was only one game, that they have to take it one game at a time, even Bryzgalov knows he still has the upper hand.

"We need to win the one game," he said, "and everything will be over."

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