Originally created 05/07/00

Pens on the ropes?



PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers don't have to say it. They can sense it. They've beaten the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sure, their Eastern Conference series is tied 2-2 going into Game 5 on Sunday at the First Union Center, but the Flyers own huge advantages in confidence and momentum after winning the third-longest game in NHL history.

Maybe, a significant advantage mentally, too.

As the Penguins tried fitfully to recover from their 2-1, five-overtime loss that began Thursday night and ended at 2:35 a.m. Friday, they couldn't help but draw eerie parallels to their 1996 first-round series against Washington.

That year, Washington unexpectedly won the first two games in Pittsburgh, and the Capitals seemed primed for an upset. But the Penguins won twice in Landover, Md., including a 3-2, four-overtime game that, at the time, was ... yes, the third-longest game in NHL history.

The Capitals never won again in the series, as the Penguins quickly closed them out by winning the next two games, one in each city. Just as the Flyers hope to close out the Penguins by winning Sunday, then again Tuesday at Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena, where the Flyers claimed one of the storied victories in their history in Game 4.

Asked if the Penguins can't help but be devastated after emerging from so long a game with nothing but a footnote in the record book, the Flyers' John LeClair said:

"I would think so. Who knows what they're thinking, but I think every one of us would have been disappointed to lose a game like that."

Penguins star Jaromir Jagr, held scoreless in Game 4 after scoring five goals in the first three games, remembers how easily the Penguins finished off the Capitals in 1996.

"It's very tough when you play that long and that hard and lose," he said.

Even worse, he said, the Penguins now have sacrificed the 2-0 lead they worked to get by outscoring the Flyers 6-1 in the first two games in Philadelphia.

"We had a 2-0 advantage and two games at home. We didn't take advantage. It's kind of hard," Jagr said.

Especially on Penguins coach Herb Brooks, who, asked how he slept following the Marathon on Ice, said, "Like a baby. I'd sleep an hour and cry an hour."

The Penguins tried putting the longest, and one of the most disappointing, nights in franchise history behind them as they practiced briefly Saturday before flying to Philadelphia.

But the fatigue they felt Friday no doubt will still be there Sunday -- doesn't it take marathon runners months to recover from a race? -- and, unlike the Flyers, they won't be coming off a victory. Or playing at home.

To the Penguins, those first two games in Philadelphia now seem as if they were played weeks ago. Maybe it's because it seems this series should be over, even if they have played only four games.

Correction, make that 5' games, since Game 4 was the equivalent of 2' games.

"It's already been a seven-game series. Now, it will be like a 10- or 11-game series," said Penguins forward Matthew Barnaby.

Still, Barnaby doesn't concede any edge to the Flyers, even if two of the final three games would be in Philadelphia.

Remarkably, the road team has won every game in a series where the home team has traditionally dominated. The Penguins once went 42 games in Philadelphia without winning; the Flyers had won three of their previous 22 games in Pittsburgh prior to this series.

"It's not going to matter if we play in Russia," Barnaby said. "It doesn't matter anymore."

Still, to the Flyers, it matters greatly that they are tied 2-2 rather than trailing 3-1.

That's one reason why fourth-line center Kent Manderville, aware of how fatigued his teammates were, kept reminding the Flyers that Game 4 meant the difference between being tied or being down two games.

Of course, the Flyers who needed intravenous fluids between periods just to keep playing might not have fully comprehended the message he was preaching, even if they do now.

"I could not imagine losing that game," said Flyers forward Mark Recchi. "It would be devastating for us if we were own, 3-1. It might be a little different for them. Now, it's 2-2. They had the opportunity, obviously, to bury us, and they didn't."