SIDNEY CROSBY showed the heart of a lion Wednesday night. With his team facing elimination and an entire arena spewing venom every time he made a move, Crosby led an emphatic charge that let the Flyers know the Penguins were not ready to be swept out of the playoffs.
"We always had the confidence. It was just a matter of going out there and playing a full game," Crosby said. "I think the rivalry brings out the best in a lot of guys from both sides. When you are challenged, you want to make sure you play well and respond the right way."
Crosby had a goal and two assists as the Penguins erased an early two-goal deficit and flattened the Flyers, 10-3. The Flyers still hold a commanding 3-1 lead, but the series heads back to Pittsburgh where the Penguins led the Eastern Conference with 29 regular-season home wins. For Crosby and the Pens, there's no place like the Consol Energy Center.
The Penguins chased Ilya Bryzgalov with five goals. They peppered Sergei Bobrovsky for five more. If there was such a thing as a third-string goalie, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette would have put him in. Auntie Em! Auntie Em!
"There's nothing you can do. We lost," Bryzgalov said. "It's a 3-1 in the series right now. We need to win the one game and everything will be over."
Jordan Staal had a hat trick and Evgeni Malkin chipped in two goals and an assist and was a plus-4.
The Penguins tied the record for most goals scored by a Flyers opponent in a postseason game. The only other team to crack double figures against the Flyers in the playoffs? Also the Penguins, with five goals from Mario Lemieux in a 10-7 win in 1989.
"We just played a full game," Crosby said. "It doesn't always mean you're going to score 10 goals. We expect the next one to be tougher for sure."
The Penguins looked very much like the Stanley Cup favorites they were installed as prior to the start of the playoffs.
Another troubling sign was that Marc-Andre Fleury, after a shaky first period, had his strongest game of the series. The Penguins goalie came into the contest dragging a 6.34 goals-against average. He is now 4-1 in road games when the Penguins are facing elimination.
"The power play got us back in the game," Fleury said. "We took the lead, then got a few [more goals] and people started leaving. That was kind of nice."
Pittsburgh was playing shorthanded because of suspensions to Arron Asham, Craig Adams and 40-goal scorer James Neal.
One of the beneficiaries of the suspensions was Pittsburgh prospect Eric Tangradi, who saw his first action of the series. Tangradi grew up in Roxborough and attended Archbishop Carroll for 2 years. Tangradi had an assist on Staal's first goal and was a plus-2.
"The stage couldn't be any bigger," said Tangradi, whose last playoff game here was as a fan during the 2010 run. "Being from Philadelphia I've seen a few playoff games in my time living here. I've had a lot of great memories. To be able to play in one, it was a great thrill and a great honor."
A Pittsburgh team that looked shabby and in disarray through the first three games of this series, rolled through the Wells Fargo Center like a tornado through Kansas. Any fans who brought brooms to the arena rode them home like the Wicked Witch of the East.
If they have to chant "Crosby Sucks" for Game 6 on Sunday, it will be filled with a lot more nervousness than venom. The Flyers still are in control, but the Penguins heart is still beating.
"We needed a lot of guys to step up to win this first one and try to keep things rolling," Staal said. "A lot of guys in the room know how to play playoff hockey and I thought we had a great effort."