By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Embarrassing comes to mind. It’s pretty much how every Flyer felt when applause seeped deep in derision came raining down from the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night. A Flyers’ goalie made a save. Finally. It proved to be somewhat of a rarity with a little less than five minutes gone into the second period. By then, it didn’t matter. The Flyers were trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins by a few goals in Game 4 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
After it was over, and the rubble from this carnage was sorted out, the Flyers will be going back to Pittsburgh for Game 5 of the best-of-seven series on Friday with a 3-1 lead after an utterly forgettable 10-3 defeat in Game 4.
The 10 goals is the most playoff goals the Flyers have given up since April 25, 1989, in a 10-7 loss to the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins (Lemieux had five goals and three assists that game). It also marks the Flyers’ worst playoff loss—again to those dreaded Penguins—since a 6-0 setback to Pittsburgh on May 18, 2008.
“It’s 10-3 in our building, so obviously it’s embarrassing,” Flyers’ defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “Maybe we thought it would be easy. But there is a lesson to be learned and some things we have to correct. Skating is the biggest one. When we skate [well], we’re a very good team. It was a bad game for us. We can do so many things better. Everyone was bad. It wasn’t just one person. But it is one game. We’re not happy with the way we played and it’s one of the things we talked about.”
Ilya Bryzgalov, acquired to help the Flyers go deep into the playoffs, was horrendous. In the series’ first three games, Bryzgalov’s many flaws were masked by explosive, spectacular offense.
Not this time.
Bryzgalov was pulled by Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette with 15:13 left in the second period after giving up his fifth goal on 18 shots (almost a goal every third shot). He’s given up 17 goals on 109 shots during the series—and his goals-against average for the game was 13.04. Bryzgalov’s replacement Wednesday night, Sergei Bobrovsky, didn’t fare much better giving up four goals on the first 11 shots he faced.
After trailing 3-2 with 4:06 left in the first period on a Jakub Voracek goal, the Penguins staved off elimination by responding with eight unanswered goals—five coming in the second period on a mere 16 shots.
Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin combined for three goals and three assists. Jordan Staal stepped in and added a hat trick, compensating for the missing James Neal, who was serving a one-game suspension for a hit on Sunday for the third-period head shot against Claude Giroux.
But the way Bryzgalov and Bobrovsky played, Neal’s absence wasn’t a factor. Bryzgalov was so porous he couldn’t have stopped four beach balls let alone one. He’s made some incredible saves in this series, especially in Game One, though he fell victim numerous times to what should have been routine saves. They got by him. Still, the Flyers kept winning despite Bryzgalov.
And it finally caught up to Philadelphia Wednesday night. The soft goals. The sloppiness in front of the net. The lack of concentration. The inability to clear the puck.
By the start of the third period, empty maroon seats dotted the Wells Fargo Center, and chants of “Crosby sucks, Crosby sucks” had died down and dissolved into boos.
What happens after this is anyone’s guess. Pittsburgh has the kind of explosive team that can easily climb back into this series—and Wednesday night’s demoralizing setback proved that.
Laviolette will no doubt have to go into serious damage control mode. But can he cure what ails his goaltending quandary?
When asked about his goaltending situation, Laviolette said he was pleased overall with Bryzgalov’s play through the first four games. Penalties also killed the Flyers. They were whistled 16 times, nine times in the second period.
“We certainly need to make a change there, because we can’t go to the box like we did tonight,” Laviolette said.
With less than two minutes left in the game, Bobrovsky stopped the puck and it was greeted by applause again. The same applause that greeted the ending of a miserable night for the Flyers.
“I think we got embarrassed in front of fans, and it’s something we’re not happy about,” Giroux said. “We weren’t too sharp tonight, and maybe guys kind of forgot they have to of the best players in the world. We thought it was going to be easy in front of our fans, and we’re not too happy about it. We just have to do better in Pittsburgh. We started good for once. We had the lead, and then we kind of stopped playing. The whole game was a blur. We have to move on and get ready for Game Five. We have to do a better job of being disciplined. It’s not the kind of team we are. We didn’t skate and didn’t win battles. We’re embarrassed in front of our fans, and I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not going to happen again.”