Staal giving Flyers hell

Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers battle...

Jordan Staal #11 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Claude Giroux #28 of the Philadelphia Flyers battle for the faceoff in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 11, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Justin K. Aller/AFP)

Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:03 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - The Philadelphia Flyers are running out of chances to close the door on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

In large part it is because they have not been able to have an answer for a Penguins centre who is now second in playoff scoring.

Jordan Staal is tied for the lead in goals with six heading into Game 6 of the Penguins' opening-round series against the Flyers.

It's a series the Penguins once trailed 3-0, but now have an opportunity to tie up Sunday afternoon in Philly.

Staal, who is often overlooked on the Penguins in the wake of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, just might be the Penguins' most consistent forward so far this post-season.

Along with his six goals, which ties him with Philly’s Claude Giroux for the lead going into Saturday’s games, Staal also has three assists.

Five of his six goals have come at even strength, an area where Staal has helped the Penguins grab the momentum in this series.

“We have approached the last two games with the mentality of just that one game. It’s been working us,” Staal said. “We’ve just got to take it five minutes at a time and keep chipping away, keep trying to climb the hill.”

An issue for the Flyers now is that since early in the third period of Game 3 they have been outplayed by the Penguins at even strength. The Flyers scored their last even-strength goal 27 seconds into the third period of Game 3 -- it was by Claude Giroux -- had haven’t scored one since.

Their last seven goals have come on the power play.

They've been outscored 9-0 at even strength since that Giroux goal.

The Flyers have been outstanding on the power play -- 11-for-20 (55%) -- but in Game 5, the Penguins came up with a huge kill in the third period as they protected a one-goal lead.

The key to the improved Penguins penalty kill is obvious: goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. He was outstanding in Game 5 and particularly so during that Flyers power play in which they had seven shots.

Staal was a part of that kill, too. He was second on the Penguins in short-handed ice time among the forwards with four minutes and 48 seconds, behind only Matt Cooke (4:57).

“(Staal) was a huge part of it (Friday) night. We needed a big play and his line stepped up,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “He gets the tying goal at a point in the game where there wasn’t a lot in the game. Huge goals and huge plays especially at a point in the game when we were behind and the period wasn’t much better than 50-50 and there wasn’t a lot going either way.”

Staal is the best third-line centre in the league. Having that kind of depth is one of the reasons why the Penguins are back in this series.

Consider that the Penguins won Game 5 without Crosby or Malkin getting a point and combining for just six shots. Malkin has also been playing dangerously on the edge and picked up a couple dumb penalties in Game 5.

Staal said he doesn’t worry about being lost in the shuffle behind Crosby and Malkin.

“We’ve got a good team with a lot of good players,” he said. “Different players are going to step up at times and that’s what good teams need to have if you’re going to win in the playoffs.”

The Flyers, shorthanded on defence, probably figured a centre or two was going to give them trouble in this series.

Turns out it’s Staal, the third line guy who can take advantage against the other team’s top players: In Game 5, Staal’s line scored its two goals against Flyers forwards Brayden Schenn and Daniel Briere (Jaromir Jagr was on with them for Staal’s goal and Wayne Simmonds for Tyler Kennedy’s game winner).

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette will have the last change for Game 5.

Staal is giving him yet another matchup to worry about.

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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