PHILADELPHIA - A little more than two years ago, coach Michel Therrien - 11 games into his tenure behind the Pittsburgh Penguins bench - ripped his club for its evident indifference to defense.
Now, one win away from the Stanley Cup finals, the hard-nosed taskmaster looks back fondly on the night his club bought into the rough message he sent.
"When I came to Pittsburgh, the team was in last place," Therrien said yesterday. "When you're in last place, there is a reason. They had good players, but the commitment, not only defensively, but the all-around commitment was not there.
"If you want to have some success, we had to change everything: the attitude, work ethic, and commitment, because we were going the wrong way."
Not anymore. The Penguins are a stunning 11-1 in the playoffs and own a 3-0 lead for the third straight series. They can wrap up the Eastern Conference finals as early as tonight when they face the Flyers again in Philadelphia.
No one could have imagined a team boasting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa, would concentrate on playing a system based on forcing mistakes and protecting its end.
They even put the trap to good use. Pittsburgh cradled a 2-1 lead in the third period Tuesday before stretching it to a two-goal edge after another costly turnover by Flyers rookie Steve Downie.
Therrien might have been the biggest disbeliever in January 2006 when the Penguins were beaten by Edmonton for their eighth loss under his brief watch.
"It's a pathetic performance," he said then of his inherited club, that had allowed an NHL-worst 166 goals and got coach Eddie Olczyk fired. "Half of the team doesn't care. . . . They're doing the best job to be the worst defensive squad in the league. They turn the puck over, they have no vision. The guys don't care. They pretend to care, but I know they don't."
They surely do now.
"Defense wins championships," said 6-foot-7-inch defenseman Hal Gill, brought in at this year's trade deadline.