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If the Pittsburgh Penguins don't realize the enviable position they're in, the large NHL standings board in the middle of their dressing room should tell them.
Only two Eastern Conference teams are listed, with the conference finals results in bright red numbers: Penguins 3, Flyers 1.
For the Penguins, it's one victory to go to play for the Stanley Cup, a large picture of which also is displayed in their locker room. The black and white photo highlights the names of the 1991-92 Penguins, the last team in franchise history to play for, and win, the Cup.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Pittsburgh -242 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 5.5 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 58% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh -242 (View NHL Bet Percentages). Bet this game.
Only one victory, though the Penguins know Game 5 against the Flyers on Sunday is likely to be the most difficult playoff game for them to date. The Penguins could have closed out their intrastate rival Thursday but lost 4-2 after falling behind by three goals and, too, falling into a Flyers-baited trap of focusing on pushing, shoving and punching rather than trying to score goals.
``It's a great opportunity to finish this series off,'' team captain Sidney Crosby said Saturday.
If the Penguins didn't realize how difficult it can be to finish off a team, the Detroit Red Wings showed them by losing Game 5 of the Western Conference finals at home to Dallas 2-1 on Saturday. Now, the Red Wings must return to Dallas for a Game 6 they didn't want to play Monday night, especially not after dominating the first three games.
Back to Philadelphia? The Penguins don't want to do that until next season.
``We definitely don't want to go back to Philly, that's for sure,'' said Jordan Staal, who scored both Pittsburgh goals in Game 4. ``It ain't fun playing there. We want to get this done right now and we're focused on just one game right now, this one.''
Coach Michel Therrien, no doubt trying to keep his team's confidence level high, keeps emphasizing how well they play at home. The Penguins are 7-0 at Mellon Arena in the playoffs and 15-0 at home since a 2-1 shootout loss to San Jose on Feb. 24, or nearly three months ago.
``February? That's right?'' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said, unaware the streak was so long. ``Knock on wood.''
Still, this doesn't figure to be the same Flyers team that looked ill at ease in losing Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh by identical scores of 4-2. Star defenseman Kimmo Timonen (blood clot on left ankle) went through a full practice Saturday and expects to play for the first time since Game 5 of the second round against Montreal.
``I think I'm ready to go,'' Timonen said.
Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn, who needed 50 stitches to close a cut above his left eye after being struck by a puck in Game 2, is less confident about playing Sunday but hasn't been ruled out.
In addition to getting their shutdown defenseman back, the Flyers appear to have regained some of the confidence they lost during the first three games. By finally winning, the Flyers also shifted more pressure onto the Penguins, who weren't at full strength themselves during practice Saturday.
Star forward Evgeni Malkin and linemate Petr Sykora, neither of whom has scored a goal since Game 1, sat out with undisclosed illnesses. Crosby downplayed the significance of their absence, saying every player has some ache or pain at this stage of the playoffs.
``We'll see them tomorrow,'' he said.
Timonen is resigned to playing with pain in his ankle and numbness in his toes, but was told he can do no serious damage by playing. That's all he wanted to hear.
``Obviously, my leg could be better but it could be worse, too,'' he said. ``In this situation, you know, it can't get any better.''
The Penguins know what they must do to play better. Namely, stay out of the extracurricular skirmishes they avoided during the first three games but constantly found themselves involved in during Game 4.
``They want after every whistle to get involved in stuff, they want to grab a guy ... little things like that really can slow down the game and give them a little rest,'' defenseman Ryan Whitney said. ``We're a tough team to play against when we're playing quick, and when they can rest between whistles with little scrums and stupid stuff like that, that's really what they want.''
Despite the lift Timonen's return would give them, the Flyers face significant obstacles, including the fact only two teams in NHL playoff history have won a series after trailing 3-0.
No wonder several Internet apparel sites already are selling Penguins Eastern Conference championship T-shirts and hats. And hundreds of Penguins fans rushed to purchase Stanley Cup finals tickets for road games in Detroit when the Red Wings put them on sale last week.
``For us, it's desperate times again,'' Flyers forward Mike Richards said.
Whitney said the Penguins must be prepared to match that desperation.
``We're excited. We know it's going to be a good test,'' he said. ``They've got momentum, they've got guys coming back and they won the last game, so they're going to play well. We're going to have to play better, it's pretty simple, and I think we will.'' Bet this game.
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