If there's one thing we've learned about the Flyers this spring, it's that they are an unwavering group when faced with adversity or daunting odds, such as being down by three games to none in a playoff series.

Faced with being swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals last night at the Wachovia Center, the Flyers came up with a Herculean effort and a 4-2 victory, sending the series back to Pittsburgh on Sunday for Game 5.

What a difference there is when the Flyers have the lead and control the puck, which is what Pittsburgh had done exclusively in the previous three games.

"We managed the puck pretty well except for that last 10-minute surge they had," Scott Hartnell said. "We got pucks deep. We got on top of their defense. We had a third guy high. We didn't really have any odd-man rushes until we got a little nervous at the end."

Yes, it was a bit hairy in the closing minutes. The Flyers had built an early 3-0 lead, then saw Jordan Staal score twice, making it a one-goal game in the final 5 minutes, 49 seconds of the third period. Staal one-timed a pass by Maxime Talbot from the high slot to make it a nail-biter.

Kimmo Timonen, who has been sidelined with a blood clot in his left ankle - but who has received clearance to practice and may play Sunday - gave the team a pregame pep talk.

"He made us laugh a bit and lightened up the mood," Joffrey Lupul said.

It showed as the Flyers appeared unburdened in the first period and had 17 shots, one fewer than they had in all of Game 3.

They were moving the puck, shooting with authority, getting it deep and drawing penalties. They had three power plays in the opening period and made good on two. Lupul and Danny Briere notched their first goals in the series, while Jeff Carter scored his second.

Lupul started things at 8:27 with a hard slapshot from the right circle off the rush that nicked the stick of Penguins defenseman Hal Gill and went past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead.

"We did our best job so far of not throwing pucks away," Lupul said. "We looked composed. At times in the other games, we looked nervous throwing pucks off boards. Today, we hung onto them and made plays. It's a lot easier when you have the lead and control the puck."

Briere made it 2-0 three minutes later with his ninth goal of the playoffs, on a rebound of Randy Jones' shot from the point during a power play.

Carter, who was denied by Fleury early on a backhander through the crease, scored his sixth goal at 18:50, on the power play, on a backhanded rebound of a shot by R.J. Umberger.

"This is what we did against Montreal - got the lead early and put them on their heels," Umberger said. "We definitely handled the puck better through the neutral zone and made their D go back and get it."

Coach John Stevens changed three of his lines, and all three had energy.

Goalie Marty Biron, who had 36 saves, didn't face many quality shots early but made timely saves when the Flyers needed them, such as his pad stop on Pascal Dupuis late in the second period and his glove and chest stop on Sidney Crosby 20 seconds later.

There was also a glove stop on Ryan Whitney's shot from the left circle during a Pens power play with less than four minutes left in the period.

Biron lost his shutout at 3:16 of the final period when Staal flipped a shot off him and the puck somehow sneaked inside the left post.

Biron said he saw shots better because "we did a good job of maybe boxing out a little bit more." Still, the Flyers did some late backpedaling in the third period.

"You know, when you get that three-goal lead, it's just, I guess, human nature; you kind of sit back," Briere said. "You don't want to make any mistakes.

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Contact staff writer Tim Panaccio at 215-854-2847 or tpanaccio@phillynews.com.