Tonight is the final game of 2011. But the Flyers better not be looking at it as just a tune-up. The Pittsburgh Penguins are much more than that. It would be foolish to think otherwise.
Going into this game, the teams sit tied with 36 points, although the Pens have played one extra game. The winner ties the Rangers for top spot in the division. With Evgeni Malkin leading the charge, Pitt hasn’t really been short of offense. James Neal has really stepped his game up all season for them as well. As good as Crosby is, they aren’t really missing him right now. They just keep winning, and they’re using a full team effort to do it.
And that’s exactly what it will take from us to beat them. Last time we played them, we built a 3-0 lead and hung on for a 3-2 win. I lauded Bryzgalov for his great play in that game, when we didn’t give up a lot of shots through the first two periods, but most of those shots were high quality. Then in the third he really stepped his game up as our offense didn’t push up as hard, and the defense sat back allowing him to get peppered.
Tonight, we’re going to need more of that. The Pens are better than they were 3 weeks ago, and we’re in a bit of a funk. They are just as deep as we are, so it’s got to be one of those games where all of the lines are rolling and contributing. A half assed effort won’t get us a win tonight. I don’t remember any games in the last 6 years when the Pens didn’t bring their A game against us. They always come to play. I want to see that when push comes to shove, we can play too.
Last season, we completely unravled around the holidays. We got spanked by the Panthers, and then didn’t really compete with the Canucks. If this team is different that last years, then they won’t get affected by off ice festivities. They’ll show up focused and ready to play. And I fully expect that of them tonight. After seeing Lavy over the last 3 episodes of 24/7, I know he’ll do his best to motivate them.
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