Facing playoff extinction, the Philadelphia Flyers managed to hang on for dear life.
Joffrey Lupul opened and closed the scoring and Jeff Carter's late first-period goal proved to be the winner as the Flyers fended off the favoured Pittsburgh Penguins 4-2 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final at the Wachovia Center.
"It was pretty simple, win or go home," Lupul said. "We didn't have to do that much thinking before the game."
Lupul, Daniel Briere and Carter staked the sixth-ranked Flyers to a 3-0 lead in the first period.
Scott Hartnell had three assists and Martin Biron impressed with 36 saves, standing tall as Pittsburgh mounted an inspired comeback late in the third period.
"It is frustrating to hear Pittsburgh this and Pittsburgh that," Flyers forward Mike Richards said. "We have a good team, and we wanted to come out and prove it tonight."
Jordan Staal scored twice in an 11-minute span of the third, but Lupul's empty-netter with 33 seconds remaining secured the win for the Flyers and handed the second-seeded Penguins their second loss in 12 playoff games.
Rookie Tyler Kennedy and Maxime Talbot had two assists apiece, and Marc Andre-Fleury made 30 saves with Flyers constantly trying to crowd the crease.
"They threw a lot of pucks on net," Staal said. "I think we had a tough time containing them in front [because] they're strong players."
Sidney Crosby, who shares the lead in playoff points with 19, failed to figure in the scoring for the first time in the series as he was shadowed — and often frustrated — by Flyers captain Jason Smith.
"We really believed we would come back," Crosby said. "We came up a little short."
Philadelphia still trails the best-of-seven series 3-1.
Game 5 goes Sunday (CBC, 3 p.m. ET) at Mellon Arena, where the Penguins remain perfect in seven playoff games, including identical 4-2 wins in Games 1 and 2.
"There is no panic here," Penguins enforcer Georges Laraque said. "We know we can beat them.
"It is not going to be easy. But it will be nice to be at home."
"We will play to our strengths and that is our skating and our speed and our skill and being physical in a disciplined way," Crosby said.
Only two teams in NHL history have erased a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series — the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942 and New York Islanders in 1975.
Potent power play
Philadelphia's power play, which sputtered in the first three games (1-9), provided two goals in four opportunities.
It was a spirited start to the contest as both teams had scoring chances, with Richards firing wide of the left goal post on a breakaway, Biron extending his right pad at the last moment to deny Marian Hossa on a partial breakaway, and Carter losing control of the puck as he swept inside on Fleury.
"We had some success on our forecheck and stayed on top of them," Richards said.
The Flyers had been outshot 11-3 when Lupul opened the scoring 8:27 into the first period on a soft slapshot that struck the stick of Penguins defenceman Hal Gill and fluttered over Fleury's left shoulder.
It was Lupul's third goal of the playoffs.
Briere, shifted from centre to wing in an effort to generate offence, put the Flyers ahead 2-0 with a power-play goal at 11:48, swatting in a rebound for his ninth.
Carter increased it to 3-0 as he spotted a loose puck in front of a sprawled Fleury, pulled it to his backhand and flipped it into the net for his sixth with 70 seconds left in a stellar first period for the Flyers.
"We came out and initiated the contact instead of waiting to see what they had," Richards told CBC Sports.
"You never want to put yourself behind the eight-ball like that," Crosby said. "I think we all believe in ourselves, if we play the right way for 60 minutes, no matter how it starts off, that we give ourselves a chance to win."
Fleury sparks Penguins
Biron kicked away a dangerous shot from Pascal Dupuis in a scoreless second period and snared a low slapshot from Crosby, who used the defencemen as screens.
Fleury fended off a flurry from the Flyers in the final minute of the period, stacking the pads for a sensational save on Briere and that seemed to spark the Penguins heading into the third.
Forechecking in the offensive zone, Staal worked a give-and-go with Kennedy and chipped the puck between Biron's pad and the right post for his fourth at the 3:15 mark.
Staal later converted Talbot's pass from the corner for his fifth, trimming it to 3-2 with 5:49 remaining.
"After the second period, I thought we brought our game to the level that I was looking for," Penguins head coach Michel Therrien said. "We have got to make sure we play that same level at home Sunday."
With neither team wanting to give an inch in the Pennsylvania rivalry, several players engaged in scuffles in the final minute, including Crosby and Richards with 13 seconds to go.
"Sid is a competitive player and so am I," Richards said. "I think he thought I tried to slash him and didn't, and he was probably angry at losing the game."
Although the Flyers hadn't fallen behind 3-0 since being swept by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1997 Stanley Cup final, they have rallied to beat the Penguins in the past.
Philadelphia trailed 2-0 to Pittsburgh in the 2000 conference semifinals, only to win the next four games.
The Penguins reached the conference final in 2001, but haven't competed in the championship final since capturing back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991 and 1992.