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Penguins playing at championship level in playoffs against Flyers

The Penguins are playing superior hockey to the Flyers in every way this series.

The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t look this good during the regular season.

They didn’t even look this good in any of the four regular season games when they swept and outscored the Flyers, 20-11.

They weren’t this fast. They weren’t this strong along the boards. They weren’t this sharp between the pipes.

They weren’t this successful on the penalty kill or the power play – OK, scratch that last one.

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The point is, the Penguins don’t look like the same team that finished just two points ahead of the Flyers in the Metropolitan Division during the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s an easy explanation as to why, too.

It’s what championship teams do.

They coast, for the most part, through the regular season. Then, once the puck drops on the postseason, they find another gear.

“After the last two years, we have won two Cups, and that gives us so much confidence,” said Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, who has five points in the series. “We know how to play. We know we have a great team. We know we need to rise to the moment when we get to the playoffs.”

Think of the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James over the last couple of seasons. The NBA superstar is no longer concerned with winning 70-plus games. He wants to be healthy and fresh for the playoffs – and has gone on to make the finals the last seven years.

Ditto the approach for the two-time defending Stanley Cup winners, who own a 3-1 series lead and can eliminate the Flyers in Game 5 on Friday in Pittsburgh.

“We have had certain games during the regular season where we have played like this but obviously not every night,” Penguins forward Carl Hagelin said. “The playoffs are a different story.”

Even without one of their top forwards, the Penguins didn’t miss a beat on Wednesday in Game 4. Patric Hornqvist, who tallied 29-goals in the regular season and had a goal and two assists in the series, was unavailable with a lower-body injury. In his absence, though, other stars like Kris Letang, Phil Kessel, Sidney Crosby, and Malkin put the puck in the net during the lopsided 5-0 victory.

Meanwhile, the Flyers’ stars – Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds – were once again silenced on the score sheet. The Flyers, who have seven first- or second-year players playing in their first postseason, were blanked for the second time and have just six goals in the series.

“We lost to a better team [Wednesday],” Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth said.

Sean Couturier, named a finalist for the Selke Trophy – awarded to the league’s best defensive forward – before Wednesday’s game, did not play due to an injury suffered at practice on Tuesday. However, it’s hard to imagine his presence would have made that much a difference, though.

The Penguins have looked that good and appear primed to make a run at a third straight title.

“Obviously, they can draw on a great experience the last few years,” Flyers defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “They have won back to back Cups and know what it takes.”