Flyers-Penguins: Postgame Perspective

Flyers get wake-up call from cross-state rivals

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The Flyers just got a wake-up call. These are not the Penguins of the last two seasons.

All the Penguins have done in their last four games is score 21 goals without Evgeni Malkin for all four and Marc-Andre Fleury for two.

The Flyers and Penguins deserve a lot of credit for where their new head coaches have them. Dave Hakstol has certainly helped lead the Flyers into the race. The Penguins, already stocked with talent, needed Mike Sullivan more than they could have ever realized. And at this point in the season, they went from being potentially the most overrated team in the league this season to a driving force just as playoff time hits, winning 11 of their last 12 games.

The Flyers were on the losing end and roughed up again by the Penguins for the second straight time. But last time, that game seemed to have a positive effect on the Orange and Black. With four games left, they have no choice. As frustrating as it was, this is a result that the Flyers need to bounce back from with vigor, especially with the same Penguins team coming to Philadelphia in just six days.

On March 19, the Flyers lost to the Penguins, 4-1, in a game where they looked completely unmatched. It was easy to think that the Flyers may have just been caught on an off day, having spent a lot of energy in wins over the Red Wings and Blackhawks earlier in the week.

This was a back-to-back for the Flyers, but they had faced the Ottawa Senators the day before. Their game against Washington on Wednesday seems like a distant memory. 

Ultimately, you watched the most dangerous team in hockey dismantle a team that has created almost as much noise in their own right.

Since March, the Flyers only regulation losses are to the Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins…now twice.

After that first loss to the Penguins on March 19, the Flyers went 5-1-1 in the seven games before Sunday's in Pittsburgh. They did not lose a game by more than one goal. In fact, since New Year's, the Flyers have lost by more than one goal just six times in 42 games. 

The six goals allowed were the most the Flyers have given up since the 7-1 drubbing to the Florida Panthers in the second game of the season. Steve Mason had not allowed five goals since facing the Washington Capitals on Nov. 12. 

The Flyers deserved what they got in every sense. There were far too many turnovers, poor defensive coverage and the limited use of special teams didn't do any favors. Mason's had to bail out the Flyers many times before, but not against a team like this. 

The Penguins have reached a confidence level that is difficult to shake. Nothing phases them. Every move made has meaning behind it and is well-thought out. And when a team feels like they can do anything, they can make a game look effortless. 

On the other hand, when the Flyers fall behind quickly to a team like that, you tend to grip the sticks tighter and feel like you have to make the extra move, the extra pass or whatever else to effectively beat a team.

The Flyers have four games left, three against playoff teams. That kind of effort and performance simply can not happen. But at the same time, it didn't happen against the Washington Capitals or Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Red Wings, so what is it about the Penguins this season that is bringing out the worst in the Flyers?

Aside from the obvious speed differential, perhaps the Flyers and fans have almost taken these games for granted.

Remember the first loss to Pittsburgh, 4-3 on Jan. 21? The Flyers were without Sean Couturier and the Penguins were fully healthy. So if they would have played with Couturier, the Flyers might have been able to hold the 2-0 lead they opened up.

But these last two games, it's the Flyers who have been fully healthy and the Penguins having to dig deep. And they have demolished the Flyers. 

So the Flyers really need to buckle down in the final week, not just because their playoff hopes depend on it, but because three hungry teams are coming their way in a matter of five days. Efforts and performances like the one on Sunday will simply not cut it.

Kevin Durso is managing editor for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.

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