For months, the Flyers have been playing a dangerous game, one rarely won in the NHL. They’ve frequently allowed the game’s first goal, often before the fans have found their seats. And yet, they continue living to tell the tale. On Saturday, the Ottawa Senators scored three unanswered goals in the first period. The Flyers tied the game and left the ice with one point after losing in the shootout. On Sunday, the Penguins became the latest team to open the Flyers up early, scoring twice in the opening period before the Flyers returned fire.
Once again, the Flyers were backed into a corner. And once again, they successfully fought their way out. It was the second straight time they beat the Pens after conceding the game’s first two goals, and they’d leave the ice with a 6-4 W after a brutal and entertaining end.
How are they managing to win despite the odds against coming back, especially against one of the league’s elite teams?
On Sunday, the Penguins certainly had the better of the early attacking, but it was luck that kept the Flyers off the board early. Despite being outshot, Philadelphia did still have some good opportunities. Pittsburgh opened the scoring with a complete fluke of a goal, though good cycling and puck work led to it. Sidney Crosby had a solid opportunity that was stoned by Sergei Bobrovsky, but the Pens retained the puck and got it to Steve Sullivan in the high slot. Sullivan’s shot knuckled very oddly and popped over Bob and into the net.
A much cleaner shot by Matt Carle caught iron a minute later, then slid past a perfectly positioned Scott Hartnell on the doorstep of an open net. Sometimes the bounces don’t go your way, and the Pens had both the better luck and the better work in the early goings.
It paid off for the home side again before 5 minutes had ticked off. James Neal scored his 39th when the Penguins’ top line caught the Flyers looking. Evgeni Malkin skated under the goal line with the puck, slammed on the brakes, and fed it back to Neal. Despite Malkin being alone behind the net, the Flyers had inadequate coverage in front of it.
It appeared a rout had begun. The top scoring team in the league had drawn blood and were circling like sharks (not the San Jose variety). But anyone who’s watched the Flyers this season should know the game was just getting started. They’ve won seven of the 24 games in which they’ve trailed by two goals at any point, getting at least a point in 10 of them. In games they’ve trailed 2-0, they have either tied or taken the lead four out of five times, according to Sam Carchidi.
So let’s get on to that part, shall we?
Ten minutes after the Neal goal, the Flyers’ top line answered. Jaromir Jagr, Claude Giroux, and Scott Hartnell put a load of pressure on an outmatched Penguins unit in the Pittsburgh zone. Jagr helped keep the puck free with an active stick, and Giroux powered through a flat-footed Aron Asham. G turned inside and put it on goal, where Marc-Andre Fleury was screened by Hartnell. Exactly how this line is designed to work, complete with a #hartnelldown.
The building grew quiter, the Pens swagger tucked a bit tighter between their legs. They still had the lead, but it was a new game.
Five minutes into the second, the scoreboard was reset. The Flyers’ checking line was managing the Penguins’ top line well, with their most effective tactic being to generate offensive pressure. They worked the puck around the Pittsburgh zone, and Sean Couturier sent it into the slot, where Zac Rinaldo gloved it down, turned, and shot it toward goal. None other than former Penguin Max Talbot was open on the back door, and he chipped it home.
Remember when Dan Bylsma teased his former checker for finding a goal-scoring touch? That’s 19 on the season for Talbot, whose career best with the Penguins was 13.
Sergei Bobrovsky shook off a less-than-stellar start, just as he did against the Senators on Saturday. The Pens came close to breaking through a few times, including with a second left in the period, but Bob kept the gate shut.
The Flyers would take the lead and keep it in the third. Wayne Simmonds scored his fifth goal in four games, a power play tally quarterbacked by Giroux. G first passed to Hartnell in the highslot, where he’s had success this season, but he couldn’t convert. The Flyers kept the puck, and G again set up to lay ruin. This time he passed it to a poaching Jake Voracek, who was on the right point. Vorch sent it down low, where Simmonds was waiting on the back door.
Voracek would score the first of his two goals next, a slick breakaway off a nice touch pass from Eric Wellwood. Marc-Andre Bourdon piled an insurance goal on after that, shooting from the point after G beat Crosby in a Pens-zone faceoff. Bourdon’s shot hit Zbynek Michalek on the way, changing direction considerably to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins got on the board again with another Sullivan goal, making things momentarily interesting, but it was too little too late for the Pens.
The game was far from over though. These teams will close the season together, then very likely meet in the first round of the playoffs. As detailed, with video, here
, the Pens wanted to send a message that this game was over, but they’d be ready to swing next week. If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch Lavvy go apeshit on Dan Bylsma’s crew, with both coaches standing on the boards as their players brawled on the ice.
Anyone not ready for the next meeting?
The Flyers are now 4-1-0 against the Penguins, who are leaking goals and playing a dangerous, gambling game of their own. They’re very loose, confident their scoring can carry them. But they’re surrendering too many goals, and and MAF has been very human lately.
The Flyers played most of the game without Nick Grossmann, who took a knee-on-knee hit from Joe Vitale. No word on his status yet, but he didn’t return. Lavvy indicated in an interview that it wasn’t serious, but who knows. The Flyers can’t afford to lose him, despite today’s winning effort after his departure.
Kimmo Timonen also left briefly after blocking a shot with his knee. He returned though.
Huge props to Braydon Coburn, who was double and even triple shifted throughout the game. He played nearly 29 minutes. Matt Carle was just under 28.
Vitale was also at the center of the storm that ended the game, laying out Danny Briere with a huge, clean hit. Lavvy’s beef was that his checking line hadn’t played in the latter half of the third period, then was sent out for possibly the final faceoff. While legal, the hit was clearly a message. Lavvy called Bylsma “gutless” according to reports from the locker room
, while Crosby defended it and the Pens complained of the hit Brayden Schenn put on their captain from behind.
Schenn was clearly in violation of the rules, but no more than Malkin was when he did the same
to Hartnell after a whistle (only difference being Harts didn’t crumble to the ice like Crosby), nor when Malkin basically cross-check/tackled Giroux. He and Crosby were the dirtiest players on the ice, with even the NBC crew pointing out Crosby’s unpenalized slashes.
15 penalties were assessed on that final fracas. Peter Laviolette was tossed from the game, and he earned it. It was pretty funny to see him shatter Talbot’s stick, with part of it landing on the ice, another part in the Pens’ bench.
Among the many highlights of the game, it was particularly enjoyable to see how unfazed the Flyers’ youngins were by the stars in black and gold.
It doesn’t appear any Flyer is afraid of Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center. They’ve won all five games they’ve played there. Must be the barbecue.