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Meltdown: Flyers Blow Three-Goal First-Period Lead versus Loathsome Penguins

Mar 7, 2013, 11:16 PM EDT

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This is the definition of letting one slip away.

The Flyers jumped out to a 4-1 first-period lead over the
Pittsburgh Penguins in what was arguably the most dominant 20 minutes of hockey
they have played all season. Orange sweaters swarmed the road whites, their
dominance at both ends of the ice helping to create an 18-4 shots advantage,
while the combination of dumb penalties by James Neal and the leaky goaltending
of Marc-Andre Fleury forced the scoreboard operator to earn his paycheck.

But if you happened to catch a Flyers-Penguins tilt at any
point in the last year, you had to know there was a good chance this one wasn’t
over yet. Sure enough Pittsburgh racked up four consecutive goals – three in
the second, then the decisive tally 18 seconds into the third – which were enough
to steal a 5-4 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.

Tough to say whether the problem was the Flyers actively deciding
to sit on their lead, or if the Penguins were simply able to dial up the
pressure. Most likely it was a bit of both. Not much a team can do about a highly-skilled
opponent awakening from their slumber, but Peter Laviolette’s troops seemed
content at times to continue chipping the puck out of their zone rather than
attempt move up with it. If that was indeed the case, then a cardinal sin was
committed here.

Give the Pens their due though. As much as the Flyers
bullied them at the start, Crosby and mates finally grew a set and dominated on
the forecheck coming out of the intermission. If Philly wasn’t going on the
attack, it was at least in part because their opponent was buzzing around the
ice. Pitt turned the tables in period two, outshooting the Flyers 12-3, and
they were never quite able to regain that early momentum.

Dan Bylsma’s decision to pull Fleury following his
disastrous start, while a no-brainer, provided a boost for the Penguins as
well. He looked rattled on goal number three in particular, a soft snap shot from
the point by Kimmo Timonen that trickled through the goaltender. Tomas Vokoun
replaced Fleury after the break, faring much better than he did when the two
teams met a few weeks ago… then again, he only faced 14 shots.

Ilya Bryzgalov would join Fleury on the bench toward the end
of the second frame, although it’s hard to pin the loss on the cosmonaut’s
performance. James Neal banked his 15th goal of the season in off of Braydon
Coburn to cut Pittsburgh’s deficit to one, and Tyler Kennedy knotted the score
while Bryz was blinded by Brandon Sutter and Bruno Gervais in front. Brian
Boucher replaced Billy nonetheless, eventually surrendering the clincher on
the first shot he faced.

The Flyers opened the third period with a solid scoring
chance, but it wound up backfiring thanks to a bad judgment call by Timonen.
The veteran blueliner pinched up on a puck that likely would have cleared the
zone anyway, a mistake he compounded by whiffing on the puck. The error led to
a two-on-one the other way, leaving Boosh virtually no chance as Chris Kunitz
fired home his 14th.

It’s always difficult to stomach losses like this,
especially given the opponent. And you don’t even want to think about it right
now, but there are obvious repercussions in the standings. This is
Flyers-Penguins hockey though, and while it’s not going to sit well, crazy
things have a way of unfolding. Maybe we shouldn’t read too much into what
happened here.

Yet there was a definite turning point in this game after
the first period, and given how inconsistent the Flyers have been all season
long, it’s impossible to chalk it up under the old “just one game” excuse.
Whether it was an ill-advised change in their approach, or they simply showed
their true colors as an inferior team, the end result was inexcusable.

Notes

Jakub Voracek found the back of the net twice on
Philadelphia power plays, putting him back on top in the clubhouse with 14
tallies this season. He also led the way with seven shots.

Zac Rinaldo had his first-career two point game, slamming
home a goal and adding a helper. He finished with only two hits on the other
hand.

Nicklas Grossmann blocked five shots to extend his
league-leading total to 73.

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