Business as usual for Penguins as series lead turns to stranglehold

Pittsburgh Penguins star Evgeni Malkin joins Christine Simpson to talk about Game 4, potentially wrapping up the series in Game 5 and playing with Phil Kessel.

PHILADELPHIA — The buzzer had just gone and Matt Murray had just recorded his second shutout in the first round of these NHL playoffs, and that’s when the goalie from Thunder Bay, Ont., turned around, grabbed his water bottle off the back of his net and took a good, long swig.

Murray, who will turn 24 in about a month, got a couple of head pats from teammates a few seconds after that. There was no cheering, not even any little fist pumps from the Pittsburgh Penguins or from their goalie who’d just been perfect. Then they all skated off the ice at Wells Fargo Center, which had nearly cleared out five minutes earlier on account of their dominance.

After a 5-0 pummelling on Wednesday in Philadelphia, this is no Las Vegas sweep, but it sure feels like one. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions from Pittsburgh have an absolute stranglehold on the Philadelphia Flyers, a convincing 3-1 lead in this Battle of Pennsylvania that feels nothing like a battle.

“Yeah,” Murray said later, sitting in his stall with a Gatorade towel around his neck, looking nothing like a goalie who just earned a shutout in a big game and everything like a guy without a care in the world. “Just trying to stop the puck.”

Yes, it’s a business-as-usual feeling these days among the Penguins.

Carl Hagelin nearly shrugged when asked what he thought of Murray’s play. “He looked good,” Hagelin said. “Obviously.”

Yeah, obviously.

In the last two games, the Penguins have scored 10 goals and given up one. On Wednesday, they chased Flyers goalie Brian Elliott from his net less than half-way through the game. The stands were nearly empty with a couple minutes to go, most of a crowd that’s so good at being hostile and raucous hardly getting the chance to do so in a game the Flyers were losing from the 4:33 mark and onward.

Pittsburgh’s fourth goal in this drubbing came from captain Sidney Crosby, who had a two-point night to overtake Mario Lemieux as the franchise’s all-time playoffs points leader.

Flyers goaltender Michal Neuvirth, called on in relief of Elliott, was looking over the wrong shoulder and on the wrong side of the net when Crosby snuck around the other side and put that puck in, making it look a tad too easy.

“I was lucky that the puck was right there, the side of the net, and I think most of the guys thought I’d gone the other way,” Crosby said. “So that’s a fortunate bounce but we’ll take it, and it was good to get that one.”

A fortunate bounce? Okay, sure.

Crosby had a goal and an assist on Wednesday. So did Evgeni Malkin. So did Phil Kessel.

Murray, meanwhile, recorded his second shutout of this series and the sixth of his career in the playoffs. The goalie who backstopped the Penguins to the Stanley Cup the last two seasons faced 26 shots, including a couple breakaways. Flyers left winger Travis Konecny had one of those breakaways, and he spoke for all involved with the Flyers franchise when he dropped an F-bomb immediately after failing to capitalize.

It was that kind of the night for the Flyers.

In the first period, when the were down just 1-0, the top line of Claude Giroux, Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek had a barrage of chances, made it look like they were on the power play, bringing this crowd to its feet.

But seconds later the Penguins turned the play the other way, Malkin found Kessel, and Kessel found the back of the net. It was 2-0, just like that, and the fans got pretty quiet.

“They could have scored on that shift and maybe it’s a different game,” Crosby said. “But we did a good job of just holding on, Murr made a couple saves and we capitalized on a great chance there. Obviously Phil gets those looks, you like his chances from there. He buried it … we did a good job of holding on and giving ourselves a chance to go the other way.”

Murray’s approach to that onslaught of shots was pretty simple. The goalie said his only thought was: “Get the job done.”

That’s the feeling among these Penguins, too. They’re getting the job done, which explains why they weren’t cheering and fist-pumping at the end of this latest win.

“I think any time it’s 4-0 for a while, then 5-0, you start focusing on the next game there at the end,” Hagelin said. “We know we can’t get too high or too low.”

No danger of that among this group, it seems—at least not yet. This, after all, is just the start of their attempt at a three-peat.

As Hagelin put it: “We know we have a bigger task in front of us.”


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