2012 NHL Playoffs: Philadelphia Flyers on Brink of Sweeping Pittsburgh Penguins
The experts in Vegas labeled the Pittsburgh Penguins favorites to win the Stanley Cup. A healthy lineup, strong goaltending and playoff experience made them a popular choice among the national media. Then again, we are talking about the NHL playoffs.
Tomorrow night, the Philadelphia Flyers plan on quieting their naysayers. They've jumped out to 3-0 lead and have the opportunity to eliminate a rattled Penguins team.
But before the Wells Fargo Center is flooded by a sea of orange in what's sure to be a raucous Game 4, let's take a look at some of the highlights (and embarrassments) that have made this 'Pennsylvania Civil War' a series to remember.
Veteran Leadership And Strong Rookie Play Have Propelled The Flyers
The Flyers boast an arsenal of young talent, but this crop of rookies has had a major impact on this series so far. Sean Couturier's three goals and one assist in three Flyer wins pale in comparison to the dominance he's exerted over Evgeni Malkin.
Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Zac Rinaldo have also played stellar so far. Experience holds a great deal of weight in any team's push for Lord Stanley, but these rookies are playing like veterans. When you toss in proven guys like Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell, it makes for a dangerous squad primed for a Cup run.
Marc Andre Fleury Has Been Miserable
Fleury has given up 17 goals in three games. You simply cannot win a playoff series with numbers like this. The Penguins defense has not done much to alleviate Fleury's problems, but his prowess between the pipes in the regular season has vanished.
The Flyers have exploited Fleury in all three games thus far. The Penguins have squandered leads in every one. Fleury shouldn't reap all the blame of course, but when you are spotted leads in three straight games, you cannot collapse like he has done.
Sidney Crosby's Childish Actions Were An Embarrassment
I will be the first to admit that Sidney Crosby is an incredibly talented hockey player. He's led his Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009, won gold for Canada in 2010 and has solidified himself as the golden-boy of the NHL.
But even Pittsburgh fans have to admit that his actions in Game 3 were an embarrassment to the sport. It's a foregone conclusion that Crosby will never actually fight his own battles. He's one concussion away from retirement. So what was he thinking when he swatted Jakub Voracek's glove as Voracek bent down to pick it up after a massive scrum involving everyone on the ice?
What kind of instigating is that? It resembled something out of a school yard. If you want to instigate a fight, drop your gloves.
Hockey is game of honor. Scores are settled with bare knuckle fights. If Crosby wanted a piece of Voracek, he should've approached him like a man. His immaturity and disrespect for the game were on display for all to see in Game 3.
Lack of Discipline for the Penguins Was Evident in Game 3
Arron Asham's violent attack on Brayden Schenn was inexplicable. Obviously frustrated that his team was getting pounded by a potent Philadelphia offense, Asham charged a defenseless Schenn and was immediately ejected from the game.
Asham's actions have cost him a four game suspension, and rightfully so. Schenn was not hurt in the attack, but it was clear that Asham intended to inflict injury.
James Neal also decided to partake in stupidity when he violently went after Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux on the same shift. After laying out Courturier, Neal cowardly went after Giroux's head, adhering to the old adage, "if you can't beat em', hurt em'." Fortunately, Giroux was not injured on the play.
Neal only received a one game suspension, which is an absolute joke. He committed two illegal hits in one shift. It may not matter if the Flyers close out the Penguins in Game 4, but Neal deserved at least a three game suspension.
In any event, instead of helping their depleted team stave off elimination, Asham and Neal will be an afterthought in Game 4.
The Sea of Orange Will Be Rocking for Game 4
The electricity inside the Wells Fargo Center for Game 4 will be surging. The Flyers have shocked the hockey world by exhibiting superiority over a team chosen by many to win this year's Cup. They have showed heart, discipline and most of all resilience.
The Flyboys understand what is at stake here. A sweep of the Penguins will mean much more than just a trip to the second round of the playoffs. It's a warning to the rest of the league that Flyers are for real.
If the Flyers start off slow tomorrow night and get down a goal or two, the Philly faithful won't worry. After all, they've started slow this entire series and still have a 3-0 lead.