PITTSBURGH (AP) — Lost amid Sidney Crosby’s latest attempt to win the NHL batting title and Evgeni Malkin’s one-on-three brilliance during the Pittsburgh Penguins’ clinical dismantling of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 is this: The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions played pretty well in their own end, too.
That may be the most frightening aspect going forward for the Flyers and the other 14 teams hoping to end Pittsburgh’s run at history.
While it’s easy to point to Matt Murray’s 24 saves — including a fabulous diving stop on Philadelphia’s Scott Laughton in the first period that preserved a one-goal lead and set the stage for the blowout to come — it’s the little things the Penguins did that caught the attention of head coach Mike Sullivan.
Pittsburgh blocked 24 shots before the puck even got to the net. The defensemen in front of Murray turned Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds into a bystander. Philadelphia went on the power play four times and failed to produce a single scoring chance.
“It was just a commitment to defend and play the right way,” Sullivan said.
One the Penguins understand they’ll need to repeat in Game 2 on Friday night. For all of their dominance on Wednesday night, it still only counts as one. Last spring they drilled Ottawa 7-0 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals to go up 3-2 in the series only to lose Game 6 two days later.
“We know we’re going to see their best,” said Crosby, whose third career playoff hat trick in Game 1 started with a backhanded swat out of the air from in front that knuckled past Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott and into the net to put the Penguins up five.
It’s unlikely the Flyers could play much worse. Coach Dave Hakstol publicly endorsed sending Elliott back out for Game 2 in the immediate aftermath despite giving up five goals on 19 shots before getting pulled. Hakstol declined to elaborate on his plans Thursday, though he’s well aware Elliott’s play was not Philadelphia’s only issue.
“We just had too many holes and if you have holes in your game, that team is going to drive a truck through them,” Hakstol said.
Philadelphia returned to the playoffs this spring thanks in part to its resilience. The Flyers went nearly a month between victories while enduring a 10-game losing streak that spanned November and early December and then dropped seven of eight to start March before sprinting to third in the crowded Metropolitan Division.
“Nothing’s easy this time of year,” Elliott said. “A close loss feels the same as a lopsided one. We all didn’t get to this level by not going through some type of adversity like this. It’s just a matter of fact of going back to work and having the confidence we can definitely be better than we were.”
Another loss would put Philadelphia in a perilous spot going home. The Flyers haven’t beaten Penguins once all season, getting outscored 27-11 in the process. Going down two games would require them to take down the reigning champions four times in nine days. Good luck with that.
“We’ve got to be sharper,” Hakstol said. “That usually means you’ve got to be quicker and execute a little bit better. You can probably apply that to a lot of our game.”
Some things to watch Friday night:
Wild at Jets, Winnipeg leads 1-0 (7:30 p.m. EDT, USA)
It took Winnipeg nearly two decades to win the franchise’s first playoff game. If the Jets can do it twice in three days, they’ll have firm control against sloppy Minnesota.
The Wild let a third-period lead get away in Game 1, with the Jets getting the tying goal and the winning goal off Minnesota giveaways. The Wild understand they need to be smarter in their own end. Minnesota has won just one series in franchise history after dropping the first two games.
“I think in reality we had seven pretty bad minutes from the time we scored the second goal to the third goal,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “But it was a pretty even game after that. And I think we can play a lot better.”
The young Jets feel likewise. Having a crammed and raucous Bell MTS Place certainly helped.
“You saw the crowd last night, it was unbelievable,” said 22-year-old defenseman Josh Morrissey. “We had a lot of energy built of that. For us, it was a big comeback win and we won and we’ve got to keep going.”
Kings at Golden Knights, Vegas leads 1-0 (10 p.m. EDT, NBCSN)
The expansion Golden Knights looked every bit ready for the playoffs when they rode goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to a 1-0 victory in Game 1. The Kings will be without defenseman Drew Doughty for Game 2, suspended by the NHL for an illegal check to the head of Vegas forward William Carrier.
Doughty appeared lower his shoulder into Carrier’s head, connecting with his jaw, sending the Golden Knights wing to the locker room for the remainder of the game.
“I thought it was a bad hit, but it’s not for me to decide,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “The referee didn’t think it was a penalty but I’m sure people will look at that hit and make a decision on it.”
The Kings outhit Vegas 68-59, though some Los Angeles players scoffed at the notion Game 1 was an overly physical.
“It was a physical game, (but) I don’t think there was nearly as many hits as the stats credited,” Los Angeles wing Dustin Brown said. “Some buildings you can kill a guy and not get credit for a hit.”
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