Like just about everything else in this series, no one could have predicted this.
A 10-3 blowout on Wednesday night in Game 4, with the Pittsburgh Penguins helping the Philadelphia Flyers tie a dubious playoff record of most goals allowed in a game as the visitors postponed elimination and got back in the series with their first win.
And once again, the goalies were the story.
Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov was mercifully chased from the crease after allowing five goals on 18 shots, but backup Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t offer much more, as he also allowed five goals on 18 shots.
This has become the series that goaltending apparently forgot, as despite the fact that both starting goaltenders have mammoth salaries (Bryzgalov the league’s highest paid at $10-million and Marc-Andre Fleury in ninth at $5.5-million), they’ve posted a combined .830 save percentage that would have looked awful even in the high flying ‘80s.
Where things go from here is going to be pretty interesting.
Pittsburgh gets Game 5 back at home, where they went 29-10-2 during the season but have curiously had a tough time with Philadelphia ever since closing down the Igloo.
Win there and suddenly winning the series doesn’t seem so farfetched.
After all, despite all appearances after the first three games -- won by the Flyers by a combined score of 20-12 -- these are two very closely matched teams.
Both have incredible firepower, both are having injury issues on the back end (Flyers defenceman Nicklas Grossmann is now questionable with what’s likely a concussion) and both could use another save or three.
The difference very well could come down to which ever goaltender can find his game, with Bryzgalov expected to get another shot on Friday.
“He’ll be our best player in Game 5,” Flyers centre Claude Giroux said in a prediction that would only add to the wackiness that’s gone on.
Fleury, meanwhile, had his best game of the series after a terrible first period, seemingly regaining his confidence as things went along and the goals kept going in at the other end.
He’s had a reputation for being able to bounce back from bad games in the past, something that served him well during the Cup run in 2009, and could steal a game or two in this series.
Fleury also has more playoff wins than any other goaltender since the lockout, giving him far more experience than Bryzgalov in these situations.
“I thought we got some saves,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “Some big saves at key times and we turned one right back the other way and turned it into a goal.”
“He’s human, too,” defenceman Brooks Orpik said of the criticism Fleury’s received. “He can’t bail us out every game.”
It’s that matchup in goal that is now getting most of the attention, with two potentially fragile veterans going head to head against two of the best offences in the league.
“This series is not over,” Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said later in the night as an analyst on Hockey Night in Canada. “I think it’s going to be interesting in that next game.”
“Bryzgalov, holy cow,” added Kelly Hrudey, a former netminder. “I don’t know if he’s paralyzed by fear or if he’s lost his ability to battle again. Some of these goals, this is crazy. I never would have thought Pittsburgh actually has a chance in this series, but the way that he’s playing...”
You can finish the sentence on your own if you saw his play in the playoffs last year, when Bryzgalov was simply awful for the Phoenix Coyotes as they folded in Round 1, ensuring he’d get a ticket out of town as a high priced free agent despite his lack of postseason success.
Now he’s in Philadelphia, hockey’s No. 1 goalie graveyard (yes, even over Vancouver), and the pressure will be incredibly intense if the Flyers have to limp back home for Game 6 having dropped two games in a row.
Beyond the goalies, Game 4 was a real mess given all of the calls being made, as officials clearly had a mandate to put a lid back on the funny business from earlier in the series.
They succeeded -- but only to a point. After three Penguins were suspended in Game 3, it could be the Flyers turn to sit a player out a game or two. Three Philadelphia players were given misconducts in this one, including 26 minutes in penalties to fourth-liner Zac Rinaldo for punching Zbynek Michalek several times.
For all the talk about Pittsburgh (and Sidney Crosby) losing their composure earlier in the series, it was the Flyers melting down here -- which is what many pundits forecasted coming in.
Philadelphia has a young, rookie-laden team, and if either side is going to crack, it stands to reason it will be them.
That’s good news for the Penguins, who don’t look like they’re going anywhere despite still trailing 3-1 in the series.
They also seem to realize there’s a long way to go yet, and that becoming the fourth team to ever overcome a 3-0 deficit is going to take more than pumping easy goals past overwhelmed goalies in the next three games.
“It doesn’t get any easier from here,” Crosby said. “We did a good job of hanging in there, and we expect the same effort [again in Game 5]”
“It’s still 3-1 for the Flyers,” Bylsma said. “We got one win and there’s certainly some positives, but the only focus there can be is we’ve got one win to get on Friday.”