The Pittsburgh Penguins kicked their three-peat bid off with a bang on Wednesday night. On home ice in front of a rowdy crowd at PPG Paints Arena, the defending champions absolutely laid into their cross-state rivals, scoring seven unanswered goals en route to a 7-0 shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers.
It’s tough to imagine ways that the Penguins could have looked better in Game 1. Matt Murray made 24 stops, giving him three consecutive shutouts in the playoffs dating back to last year. Sidney Crosby notched a hat trick — a natural one, at that — and Evgeni Malkin looked engaged.
Yet it’s just one game. Pittsburgh doesn’t get an extra leg up in the series because they dominated Philadelphia for three periods in Game 1. That’s why it’ll be incredibly important for the Penguins to continue to take these Flyers seriously as opponents moving forward.
Flyers Now Have a “Nothing to Lose” Mentality
If Philadelphia didn’t feel like the underdog heading into Wednesday’s contest, it certainly must now. The members of the Flyers didn’t mince words following the loss, and they know that they got showed up on the grandest stage of them all; the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“That’s one of the toughest ways to start a playoffs series, obviously,” Shayne Gostisbehere told gathered media following the game, according to Wes Crosby of NHL.com. “But we knew it wasn’t going to be easy. The last time I checked, they got to beat us four times. Obviously, they beat us 7-0. It really hurts. It’s obviously embarrassing, but it’s only 1-0 in the series, and there’s a lot of hockey to be played.”
It’s dangerous to speculate about the psychology of any given player or team, but the Flyers have to feel like a wounded bear at the moment. Angry at themselves for letting their guard down, upset at not having a better showing and aching for the opportunity to avenge the embarrassing loss in Game 2.
As the saying goes, though, it’s not a playoff series until someone wins on the road. The reality is that the Flyers are sitting where they should be after Game 1, trailing 1-0. How they respond in the next two contests will be critical, and they will likely approach these games with a “nothing to lose” attitude after getting thrashed 7-0.
Related: Who is the Flyers’ X-Factors in these playoffs?
One Flyers Shot Could Have Changed the Outcome
Key moments aren’t always obvious until games are over. Yet when Scott Laughton failed to score on a high-quality chance midway through the first period while the Penguins only lead 1-0, it was immediately clear that it was a shot that could have changed the momentum of the game.
Scott Laughton was oh so close to scoring here. pic.twitter.com/3jF8HFrSss
— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) April 11, 2018
It’s probably not a great sign for the Flyers that Laughton’s whiff with 8:20 left the first period represented their best chance of the night, but a goal on that shot would have evened things up, and who knows what the final score would have been. This is a team that is capable of scoring goals in bunches, and perhaps things would have swung in the opposite direction.
But alas, the forward wasn’t able to convert, and the Penguins’ avalanche of offense started soon after.
This is a moment that the Penguins should, at least to some degree, be focused on. Yes, they managed to secure a 7-0 win, but in playoff hockey, anything can and will happen. One shot or one shift can dramatically shift the energy of a contest – and a series – it’s just that the Flyers couldn’t get anything going during Game 1.
Which is something that Claude Giroux alluded to following the lopsided loss.
“It was one of the worst games I’ve been a part of. … They had their chances to score, and they went in. They made plays in tight areas, and we just have to find an answer coming next game.”
Penguins Must Manage Emotions Ahead of Game 2
The Penguins have now played the Flyers five times this season, and they’ve managed to score at least five goals in each game. You can look at this from two different perspectives: either Pittsburgh has Philadelphia’s number and will continue to score at this insane rate, or the Flyers are due to start slowing the Penguins’ offensive machine down eventually.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Philadelphia is going to get its chances to get back into this series, and it’s up to the Penguins to weather those storms. Of course, this isn’t a team chock full of spring chickens. There isn’t a playoff scenario the core of Pittsburgh’s roster hasn’t seen before – against this rival, no less – and odds are good that they’ll be able to control their highs and lows as Friday night’s showdown approaches.
But if anyone in that locker room starts overlooking the Flyers and begins to think about what winning the Stanley Cup for a third straight time would mean, then it could spell trouble for the Penguins. Winning Game 2 is all they should be thinking about; then they can focus on trying to steal another victory once the series shifts back to Philadelphia.