Penguins move to brink of Cup finals with 4-1 win
PHILADELPHIA – Quick strikes by Ryan Whitney and Marian Hossa raised the Pittsburgh Penguins to heights not reached since Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr donned the black and gold.Whitney and Hossa scored less than 3 minutes apart in the first period, and the Penguins held the Philadelphia Flyers to 18 shots Tuesday night in a 4-1 victory that gave Pittsburgh a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.One more win against their cross-state rivals, and the Penguins will advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since Lemieux and Jagr led Pittsburgh to back-to-back titles in 1991 and 92.R.J. Umberger, born in Pittsburgh, answered with a first-period goal for the Flyers, but the Pittsburgh defense then locked them down. That made things easier for Marc-Andre Fleury, who finished with 17 saves after a pair of 4-2 home victories.Ryan Malone scored with 10:02 left to make it 3-1 and silenced a crowd hoping to see Philadelphia get back in it. Instead, the Flyers can be eliminated as soon as Thursday in Game 4. Hossa added an empty-net goal with 53.7 seconds remaining.Pittsburgh, which recorded 25 shots, is 11-1 in these playoffs and has led 3-0 in all three series. Detroit holds the same advantage over Dallas in the West, and can advance with a win Wednesday.The excitement and enthusiasm from the “Flyer-ed Up,” orange-clad fans was dampened by Whitney’s power-play goal 5:03 in, then extinguished when Hossa made it 2-0 2:38 later.It was reminiscent of how Pittsburgh took out the Madison Square Garden crowd 1:02 into Game 3 of the second round when Hossa scored against the New York Rangers.The loudest noises that reined down from the rafters at Wachovia Center came in the form of groans, first when Evgeni Malkin drew a questionable hooking call against Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher with a dive in the offensive zone, then when Whitney cashed in the Penguins’ third power-play goal of the series.Hossa needed no help to further frustrate the Flyers. He rushed the puck through the neutral zone, stick-handled around Jeff Carter near the blue line, and sent a shot between the legs of Philadelphia defenseman Lasse Kukkonen, who screened goalie Martin Biron as the puck sailed by at 7:41.The goals came on the Penguins’ second and fourth shots.While Sidney Crosby and Malkin and the rest of the Penguins passed the puck around as if they had it on a string, the Flyers struggled to generate any kind of offense. Given three power-play chances, of various lengths and manpower-advantages, in the first period, Philadelphia couldn’t even muster a shot.Philadelphia’s power play, the NHL’s second-best in the regular season, continued to struggle. The loss of top defense pairing Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn has proved costly. Timonen is likely out for the playoffs due to a blood clot in his foot, and Coburn missed his first game after being struck in the face by a puck in Sunday’s loss.The Flyers cut the deficit in half on Umberger’s 10th of the playoffs. The play was started by top-line forwards Danny Briere and Vinny Prospal, who were held without a point in the first two games. Prospal swooped behind the Pittsburgh net and banked a shot off the right post. The puck caromed into the slot, where Umberger softly swept it in past Fleury with 9:01 left in the first.From that point through the end of the second period, the Flyers generated only three shots in 29 minutes. They went into the third trailing 17-8 on the shot clock, but still behind by only a goal.Philadelphia’s best scoring chance in the second came when Mike Richards got free after a turnover 9 minutes in and was tripped up by charging defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who knocked away the puck.With the score 2-1, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell hit the left post with just under 14 minutes remaining.Malone then took a pass from Petr Sykora, who was leveled by Steve Downie, and scored his fourth of the playoffs.Notes: A pregame moment of silence was held in the blacked-out arena for Stephen Liczbinski, a Flyers fan and member of the Philadelphia police force, who was killed last week in the line of duty. Biron stood at the top of his crease and applauded along with the crowd as Liczbinski was remembered. … Pittsburgh has scored first in nine of 12 postseason games, going 9-0. … The Flyers’ low shot total for a playoff game was 13 on May 24, 2000, against New Jersey in the East finals. Their fewest of these playoffs is 14 versus Montreal on April 28. … Coburn could return once the swelling in his face subsides. … Penguins LW Gary Roberts sat out due to illness. He was replaced by Adam Hall. … Crosby had a pair of assists for Pittsburgh, which lost its four regular-season visits to Philadelphia.
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