WELL, THEN. Maybe this is happening a little earlier than we thought, given how the first three games of the series went, but it was going to happen sometime this spring, and now it has. We have arrived at the point in the proceedings where the coach earns his money.
The Flyers' Peter Laviolette has an exciting, young group in his dressing room - many of them new to the team and many of them involved in their first playoff experience - and that young group has just been knocked off the wave it was riding and made to swallow a bucketload of seawater besides.
Penguins 10, Flyers 3.
And now we will find out some things.
The care and feeding of the ego of starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is one bit of business for the coach in the next day. Laviolette yanked Bryz at 3:07 of the second period, after Pittsburgh's Kris Letang ripped a shot past him on the power play that gave the Penguins a 5-3 lead. Whatever the message being sent - Bryzgalov was bad but not godawful, which admittedly might be a difference without a distinction - is known only to the coach. As it turned out, backup Sergei Bobrovsky was even worse.
But smoothing over things in goal isn't the half of Laviolette's task. They all can mouth the words that this was only one game, and that we still have a three-games-to-one lead in the series, and that the pressure is still on the Penguins, and blah blah blah. Saying it is one thing, though. Believing it is another.
Laviolette needs to make them believe it.
"It wasn't our best game," said center Claude Giroux, one of the young veterans on this team who will be tasked with delivering the coach's message in the coming hours. This was his first opportunity, minutes after the game ended.
"I think we got embarrassed in front of our fans," Giroux said. "That's something we're not happy about. But the good thing about playoffs is, you put that one behind you and correct what you do. Now we'll go back to Pittsburgh, and we know what we've got to do."
A lot of these guys do not have a Stanley Cup GPS. This is a new group, with new leaders and lots of new followers, and Wednesday night really was a horror show. The goaltending was bad, yes, but the Penguins fell behind, got ahead, fell behind again after a bunch of penalties left them shorthanded seemingly forever, and then pulled ahead again. There was enough fight in that group to assure an interesting Game 5 on Friday night at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
But that was only part of it - because the Flyers completely turtled beneath the avalanche. There is no pretending. They weren't going to win the game, but they were the ones who stopped skating. They were the ones who took the dumb, undisciplined penalties. "Unglued" might be too strong a word, but "overwhelmed" would not be.
To his credit, Giroux did not hide from how bad it was. That undoubtedly is part of the coach's plan: admit, acknowledge, move on.
"We weren't too sharp tonight," Giroux said. "I think guys kind of forgot that they've got two of the best players in the world [Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin] on the other side. Maybe we thought it was going to be easy tonight in front of our fans. We had that lead and then they took over. We're not happy about it. It's got to be better in Pittsburgh . . .
"[We] started good, for once. Had the lead. Then we kind of stopped playing. I don't know - the whole game was kind of a blur. Everything happened so quick. We've just got to move on and be ready for Game 5. It's a little bump to the road. We've got to make sure, in Game 5, that we're ready to battle a little bit better."
Ten is a very big number. It has resuscitated the Penguins, and nobody can argue that it has not. That said, the Flyers still have the home-ice advantage. They still need only one more and the Penguins still need three. This is still supposed to be their series, even after everything. And there is no question, as Giroux immediately demonstrated, that all of the right things will be said in the coming hours and days.
But, in the end, they will just be words.
Soon, we will see whether they believe them.
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