Battle of Pennsylvania: What we’ve learned so far

The Penguins currently hold a 2-1 series lead in the latest installment of the Battle of Pennsylvania. It’s been, in the most literal sense of the phrase, as back-and-forth as it could possibly be. Each game has been decided by a 4-plus goal differential, where neither team’s defense has been able to handle the opposition’s forecheck when they’re on their heels.

We’re three games in to at least five games (potentially still seven), but here’s what we’ve learned so far in this series:

Sidney Crosby is Still Sidney Crosby

Sidney Crosby has won the Conn Smythe trophy in the two previous Cup runs, and he’s making a strong statement for a third straight Conn Smythe as the team chases their third straight Stanley Cup. He’s tallied seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) in the first three games, including a four-point performance Sunday afternoon in the front of the Philadelphia faithful.

Despite their hatred towards the Penguins’ captain, even so much so to put pictures of him in all the urinals in Wells Fargo Center, he’s off to another MVP-caliber start to the playoffs. If they’re smart, they’ll shut their cheesesteak-filled pie-holes the next time they want to chant “Crosby sucks.” The guy thrives under the hatred. You’d think they would’ve learned that by now.

Matt Murray is Back to Playoff Form

Matt Murray continued his playoff shutout streak from last year in game one of the series to three games. The streak was broken in game two, a game that the entire team didn’t play well in the defensive zone.

Murray was spectacular in games one and three, however. He continued his fantastic form in playoff games following a loss, with 26 saves in game three and only one goal allowed. Murray kept the Penguins alive in the first period while Philadelphia was outplaying Pittsburgh in every facet of the game in the first period.

If Murray continues to be in familiar playoff form, the Penguins could compete with anyone in the playoffs. He would certainly give the Penguins a much more significant edge over Philadelphia for the remainder of the series.

The Penguins Win When They “Just Play”

In the two games the Penguins have won so far, when the Flyers have tried to bait the Penguins into dumb and/or retaliatory penalties, they’ve ignored them. When the Penguins have given in and tried to fight fire with fire, they got flustered and spent too much time in the penalty box.

When the Penguins give into the bait, they play differently. They play hockey a different way than how Mike Sullivan has wanted them to play that’s led them to back to back Stanley Cups. If you want to know what happens when the Penguins play this way, go watch the first round of the 2012 playoffs.

The fact that the Penguins have prevailed in two of the three games so far without giving in, it shows that Sullivan still has a good grip on his team. If they can continue to follow the “Just Play” mantra, they’ll have a much better chance to put away the Flyers.

Don’t Expect Good Officiating

Now, to put this in perspective, this goes for both sides. I’m convinced the NHL thinks violence equals ratings, so even when egregious hits happen, don’t expect officials, or the league for that matter, to clamp down on any physicality.

The best way for the Penguins to keep things clean is do what they did in game three: convert on the power play. The Penguins scored three times in seven tries on the power play on Sunday. If the Penguins convert a high percentage with the man-advantage, it will make the Flyers think twice about committing even borderline infractions. And if Philadelphia still doesn’t stop, at least the Penguins can make them pay by putting the puck in the net while a Flyer sits in the box.

The series continues Wednesday night at 7:00 PM in Philadelphia for game four of the series. The series will come back to Pittsburgh Friday night for game five.

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