PHILADELPHIA – Forget not having Sean Couturier.
The Flyers probably could have dressed Bob Clarke, Eric Lindros, Mark Howe and Bernie Parent and still not beaten Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
So dominant were the Penguins that the Flyers practically stood there and marveled at their talent and execution.
The usual suspects – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang – all played key roles in their 5-0 win at the Wells Fargo Center, sending the Flyers to a 3-1 deficit in the first-round, best-of-seven series and, of course, the brink of elimination.
Game 5 is scheduled for Friday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
The Flyers don’t have a hill to climb – they have Mt. Everest.
In NHL history, only 28 of 269 teams (9.3 percent) have rallied from a 3-1 deficit.
And of those 28 who succeeded, few of them probably played an opponent like the two-time champion Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
The Flyers came back from Pittsburgh tied 1-1 in this series and promptly were outscored, 10-1, in the two games here.
Embarrassing to say the least.
The fans serenaded the Flyers with a chorus of boos as they left the ice.
What’s the problem?
Relief goalie Michal Neuvirth put it succinctly.
“They were the better team,’’ he said.
Nolan Patrick, who was moved up to the first line to fill in for the injured Couturier, was surprised by a rocky start in the first period.
“We had some spurts but we would make a mistake and it would end up in our net,’’ he said. “Obviously it’s disappointing but nobody is quitting in this room. Nobody is feeling sorry for ourselves.’’
Things got off on the wrong foot for the Flyers as Pittsburgh raced to a 2-0 lead in the first period.
It only took a penalty to Matt Read at the three-minute mark to kick things off for the Penguins.
Crosby found himself unguarded in the left circle and found Malkin open across the hash marks. Brian Elliott had no chance on Malkin’s shot for goal No. 1 at 4:33.
Later, Kessel scored his first goal of the series on a break-in. Elliott thought the he had smothered Kessel’s close-range shot but the puck somehow trickled through his pads at 14:37 and Philly was down by a pair.
The onslaught continued in the second period.
Letang, who makes a habit of torturing the Flyers, made it 3-0 Flyers and that was all for Elliott, who was replaced by Michal Neuvirth.
But the Penguins weren’t done yet.
Crosby scored his fifth goal of the series at 10:56. On this particular play, both Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere were caught a bit standstill and Crosby was able to register his ninth point in the four games.
Coach Dave Hakstol will have an interesting decision to make for a starting goaltender in Friday’s Game 5 at Pittsburgh.
“It’s not where we wanted to be,’’ Elliott admitted. “It’s not where we went to bed thinking how this game would end up. You have to regroup.’’
Defenseman Andrew MacDonald said the Flyers really didn’t get much pressure on the Penguins and that contributed to their downfall.
“I don’t think we did a very good job of getting through the neutral zone to establish a forecheck,’’ he said. “They seemed to be smothering us there, breaking up a lot plays, preventing us from getting in.
“It’s hard to generate a lot when you’re not getting in the offensive zone much. It (losing by a 10-goal margin in the two games) is frustrating. We’ve faced adversity the whole season, we’ve had our ups and downs. This is certainly a big down but when we’ve had our backs against the wall, we’ve responded.’’
Elliott has looked shaky at times and currently his save percentage for the series stands at just .856. That’s way below acceptable.
Claude Giroux looked downcast as he commented on the loss.
“It’s frustrating,’’ he said. “It’s just not good enough right now. We had a couple good shifts in the first and we got some momentum. Then they came down and scored and kind of killed it.’’
Hakstol acknowledged his team has its hands full. The Flyers season could be over Friday, that’s the reality of the situation.
“Tonight we didn’t get enough into the critical areas,’’ Hakstol said. “They were really good in terms of boxing up things down low, clogging lanes whenever we were shooting from the outside.
“Tonight was one of the first night that I felt we had some looks that got through to the net but we didn’t have net front presence. Our power play hasn’t been clicking and that’s a big part of it.’’