Work in Sports
Pens, Flyers reverse trend in conference semifinals
Posted: Wednesday May 03, 2000 08:57 PM
PITTSBURGH (AP) -- The home ice advantage truly has been that during these Stanley Cup playoffs, with one notable exception. In the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series, there is a home ice disadvantage.
Going into Thursday night's Game 4 of what has been an impossible-to-predict series, the road team has won every game -- Pittsburgh won twice in Philadelphia, while the Flyers won 4-3 in overtime Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.
No wonder Penguins defenseman Darius Kasparaitis suggested Wednesday, "We might as well bring in all Philly fans to our building."
What's remarkable is that, until this series, the home team almost always won whenever Pittsburgh and Philadelphia played.
The Penguins once went 15 years and 42 games without winning in Philadelphia, and hadn't won there in six years until winning Games 1 and 2. Also, until Tuesday, the Flyers had won only three of their previous 22 games in Pittsburgh.
So what gives -- besides, of course, the advantage that historically, and psychologically, goes to the home team?
"Maybe we haven't made the switch in our brains," Kasparaitis said.
Before Wednesday night's games, the home team had won all but 14 of the 50 NHL playoff games this season, and the home team's record in the other three conference semifinal series was 8-1.
In the Flyers-Penguins series, it's the home team that's been road kill.
"The number one concern with myself is we didn't play in Game 3 the way we played in Philly, when we played patient hockey," Kasparaitis said. "We tried to get the crowd going. Philly played different. They played the way you have to play a road game. We tried to play fancy."
Flyers forward Mark Recchi said going on the road, away from Philadelphia's supportive but demanding fans, may have helped the Flyers regain their focus.
That, of course, and the knowledge that losing Game 3 would have essentially ended their season, given that only two teams in NHL history have rallied to win a playoff series they trailed 3-0.
"Sometimes it's easier to play on the road. You're not trying to impress the crowd," Recchi said. "You can concentrate on what you need to do and play good defense."
Flyers forward John LeClair, who scored a key third-period goal Tuesday, said, "Being on the road, you're not as wound up when things happen and there's not the pressure from the crowd. You don't take stupid chances."
Or, exactly the kind of risky gambles the Penguins repeatedly took while being outshot 44-18 in Game 3. The kind of mistakes that led to the Penguins' theme of the day in practice Wednesday: play smarter.
"We were very much an average hockey club, no discredit to the Flyers," coach Herb Brooks said. "You can't make progress when you're an average hockey club. We didn't match the desperation Philadelphia had."
The very desperation the Flyers likely will have again in Game 4. Should they win, they will have negated all that Pittsburgh accomplished by winning the first two games in Philadelphia. They also will regain, for what it's worth, home ice advantage.
Should the Penguins win, however, it's a 3-1 series that is theirs to lose.
"There's still no pressure on us," Penguins goaltender Ron Tugnutt said. "If we play a good game tomorrow, we're up 3-1."
Asked if the Penguins lost their momentum and confidence by losing Game 3, Penguins star Jaromir Jagr said, "No, not at all. I think we're OK."
Jagr, who already has six goals in the series including four in the last two games, normally doesn't spout playoff hyperbole. He doesn't guarantee victories, as Mark Messier once did, and he usually tries to keep games in their proper perspective.
But Jagr is very much aware that the team that wins Thursday may very well be the team that wins the series.
"It's huge," Jagr said.
There were no dissenters in Mellon Arena, where the Flyers practiced for about 45 minutes, mainly to keep their game legs.
"If it's 3-1, it's not quite the same as 3-0, but you're still down," LeClair said. "This game is as important as Game 3."