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Cullen: Penguins push to six; Predators finish off Red Wings

Scott Cullen
4/20/2012 11:53:29 PM
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Marc-Andre Fleury backstops the Penguins to a win and the Predators take down an established contender.

Scott Cullen looks at the Penguins staying alive and the Red Wings dying a slow death Friday.

A FLEURY OF ACTIVITY
After an abysmal start to the series, Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury earned his keep in the third period of Game Five, when the Flyers outshot the Penguins 14-8, yet couldn't score the equalizer, despite many quality chances. For all the criticism that Fleury has received for his play in the first three-plus games (first period Game Four was iffy too), he deserves the credit for coming up big when the Penguins needed him in Game Five.

The Penguins' 3-2 win in Game Five forces the Flyers to return home to Philadelphia for Game Six, in their hopes to close out the Penguins.

And on a team that includes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin down the middle, the Penguins' best line Friday was anchored by Jordan Staal. Staal, Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke were all plus-2 and combined for five points. On the other hand, the Flyers' line of Danny Briere, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn continued to struggle. Over the last two games, that trio is a combined minus-16. While numbers can get out of hand due to the Game Four rout, that's ugly any way you slice it.

Flyers LW James van Riemsdyk played his first game since March 1 and registered no shots in 7:31, though he did have a notable shift in the third period in which he was engaged with Penguins D Brooks Orpik in front of the Pittsburgh net pretty much the entire time.

With D Nicklas Grossmann out due to a concussion, the Flyers inserted Erik Gustafsson into the lineup and he played an uneventful 11:51, but Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn both played more than 29 minutes.

On Pittsburgh's side, with Paul Martin out, Simon Despres played his first playoff game, but only saw 5:33 of action, so Brooks Orpik played 26:08, his high for the series.

Both teams are dealing with injuries and momentum has swung towards the Penguins after back-to-back wins. Both teams have plenty of skill, so it may come down to which goaltender can deliver in the last game (or two) of the series. It's not as though Ilya Bryzgalov played poorly for the Flyers in Game Five, but Fleury outdueled him and the Penguins will need that a couple more times if they are going to complete their unlikely comeback.

OVER THE HUMP
For years, the Nashville Predators have been making the playoffs and getting summarily bounced in the first round. While they managed to win their first round series last year, knocking off the Anaheim Ducks, the Predators hadn't yet exorcised the demon in their own division.

With Friday's 2-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings, the Predators eliminated their more-established, traditional-hockey-market, division rivals, sending the Red Wings into the offseason with questions to answer while the Predators prepare for another round of the playoff grind.

In Game Five, Alexander Radulov and David Legwand led the way for Nashville, with each contributing a goal and an assist. Radulov led the Predators with five points in the series, followed by Legwand and rookie Gabriel Bourque, who both had four points.

After outshooting Nashville by a healthy margin (an average of 11.8 shots per game) in the first four games, Detroit was outshot 25-22 in the deciding game, unable to sustain any offensive pressure.

As the Red Wings look to what went wrong, they can look to an offence that managed nine goals (on 160 shots) in five games. D Nicklas Lidstrom wasn't fully healthy and the result was a scoreless drought ot ten games, going back to the regular season.

While no one on the Wings scored at the level at which they're capable, veteran wingers Todd Bertuzzi and Dan Cleary failed to get on the scoresheet in five games and Johan Franzen scored one goal with no assists. It was that lack of scoring that prompted head coach Mike Babcock to send Tomas Holmstrom over the boards with the game on the line. Even though 39-year-old Holmstrom played under 10 minutes per game, his presence in front of the Nashville net was still needed when the Red Wings' season was hanging in the balance.

For the Wings, there will be changes in the offseason. Even if Lidstrom decides to return for another season, Jiri Hudler and Brad Stuart are unrestricted free agents and top prospects Brendan Smith and Gustav Nyquist seem ready to make the jump, but the Wings are in a difficult situation. So long as they have their core of Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, this is a time that can legitimately harbour Stanley Cup hopes, but only if the rest of the roster is firing on all cylinders and, against Nashville, that wasn't happening.

To no one's surprise, the Red Wings carried the territorial play for much of the series, but that wasn't enough to end up on the right side of the ledger.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

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