PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 18: Ilya Bryzgalov #30 of the Philadelphia Flyers stops Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first period in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center on April 18, 2012 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Sometimes no matter how cautious a coach and players are in their interviews, motivation for the opposition is still provided from other sources. Such was the case Wednesday, as this already-strange series traveled to the Land of Oz.
There is an old adage that you should never wake a sleeping giant. Head coach Peter Laviolette and his Philadelphia Flyers players have been very cautious as to let the sleeping giant in this series remain in slumber.
They have said all the right things, praising the Pittsburgh Penguins and their players, just as they should be doing in this situation.
Laviolette has taken the "Dick Vermeil approach", one that is many times pointed out as an example of the correct way to avoid the provocation of the opposition. It was during the lead up to the 1980 NFC Chanpionship game that Vermeil gushed over how he and his Philadelphia Eagles were just lucky to be in the same game with a team as great as the Dallas Cowboys. Dallas, after all, had recently appeared in three of four Super Bowls, winning one.
The tactic worked like a charm as Philadelphia ran all over the Cowboys, 20-7, gaining their first appearance in a Super Sunday.
But sometimes, no matter how cautious a coach and players are in their interviews, motivation for the opposition is still provided from other sources. That's a dangerous thing when a team as good as the Penguins already has its collective backs up against the wall being down 0-3.
The superstar player everyone in Philadelphia loves to hate, Sidney Crosby, was characterized as "The Cowardly Penguin" in a Photoshopped picture on the front of a Philadelphia-area newspaper Wednesday morning. His face was placed onto the cowardly lion from "The Wizard of Oz", and the caption read "Time To Finish Off Sniveling Sidney".
"No, it's not the first time I've seen something like that," said Crosby -- who would seem the opposite of cowardly, being that he is a Stanley Cup-winner coming back from concussion problems -- in understated fashion. "Probably not surprised that it was here that it came out in. It's not a big deal."
The residents of the Land of Oz loved it and ate it up like candy, as they danced about the Yellow Brick Road in celebration of the much-anticipated demise of the player (and team) that over the course of the past five seasons had become the equivilent of their Wicked Witch of the West. Maybe the better term would be the Wicked Witch of the West(ern part of Pennsylvania).
But after the tornado passed through South Philly last night, the Wells Fargo Center did not land on Crosby, and we did not get to see his legs curl up. Nor did he appear to be "melting" at any point during the tilt.
Not by a long shot.
After a shaky start that saw the home team take a 3-2 lead late in the first period, Sid and the Penguins flipped the switch and went on to score the last eight goals of the night to blugeon the Orange-and-Black, 10-3.
Crosby went on to record a goal and two assists and Jordan Staal posted a hat trick. Perhaps the most frightening sight of the night came in the form of the NHL's leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin, scoring his first two goals of the series after being held in check over the first three games. If there were any two players the Flyers needed to remain dormant, it was Crosby and Malkin.
Following the drubbing, it appears what was looking like an improbably quick series could now turn into an all out war.
One that could get even tougher.
GM Paul Holmgren announced after the game that the club's best defensive defenseman, Nicklas Grossmann, is out on a day-to-day basis with an upper body injury. The task could get even more difficult to secure that fourth triumph to send the Pens packing.
Grossman took an unpenalized high, hard hit along the boards early in the first period from Pens winger Tyler Kennedy. The defender was immediately stunned after contact was made with his head, and Grossmann was showing obvious difficulty trying to get to the Flyers bench following the hit. He played a few more shifts before shutting it down after logging just 8:54 of ice time.
With the Pittsburgh offense starting to click on all cylinders, this is some very unwelcomed news.
As for the antics, Philadelphia should have known better. The very same paper had been vocal in calling out the Chicago Tribune for a similar attack on a player that seemed to cross the line of tastefulness back in the 2010 playoffs. The Tribune depicted Chris Pronger -- who was villified for taking game pucks after Chicago victories in Games 1 and 2 in Chicago -- as "Chrissy" in a poster insert to the paper, donning a female figure skater's outfit after the Blackhawks had blown Philly out in Game 5 by a 7-4 count and taken a 3-2 series lead during a very contentious Stanley Cup Finals.
After the photo ran, Philadelphia went from a team that appeared defeated and ready to go away quietly after the fifth game to one that was resilient and looked ready to take the next two contests. Had it not been for a bad-angle goal yielded to Patrick Kane by Michael Leighton in overtime, it is quite possible that we could be remembering history a little bit differently, with another Stanley Cup championship under the Flyers' belts.
Up in the series against Pittsburgh, 3-1, Philadelphia still has a decided edge. Heading to the CONSOL Energy Center for Game 5 isn't the worst thing, either, as the Flyers success in the building has been uncanny, to say the least. Winners of seven of the eight contests played on the Pens home ice over the past two seasons, the scene could be more preferable than actually playing at home.
"I think we've just got to shut the door down in Pittsburgh," said Claude Giroux. "We’ve been successful in Pittsburgh, so hopefully we can keep it like that."
Especially after the Game 4 debacle.
Giroux, who apologized to Flyers' fans after the game for the club's awful, undisciplined performance, made a guarantee for if the series requires a Game 6 in Philadelphia on Sunday.
"We lost 10-3 in front of our fans. obviously we’re embarrassed," he said. "Our fans didn’t deserve that. Obviously we apologize to our fans, but I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not going to happen again."
Each game of the series has been the kind that could go either way, and Philly could have actually been the ones swept away if not for their ability to come back from large deficits in both Games 1 and 2.
Philadelphia has to be much better in their own zone. The two teams have combined for an NHL record 45 goals in the first four contests, 22 of which have been scored against the Flyers.
Though he was left hanging out to dry for many of the five goals he allowed, Ilya Bryzgalov looked very shaky. He appeared to be attempting to squeeze a wet bar of soap when trying to gather control of rebounds, one of the problems he had when he was "lost in the woods" in the early portion of the regular season. A return to absorbing the puck into his glove or midsection and not yielding any rebounds -- which is what contributed greatly to his change in fortunes when he became the hottest goaltender in the League -- would be a tremendous plus moving forward in the series.
There was no sweep to be had for the Flyers, so maybe it's appropriate that the brooms were put away last night.
After all, that was the preferred mode of transportation for the Wicked Witch of the West, and were probably necessary to get back to Pittsburgh -- aka, the Wicked Witch of the West(ern part of Pennsylvania) -- for Game 5 Friday night.
Sticking with the "Wizard of Oz" theme, all of Philadelphia should be concerned. The Wicked Witch of the West(ern part of Pennsylvania) is far from dead. At least for the moment.