As the series shifts to Philadelphia, the Penguins knew they would encounter a fired up crowd. That energy seemed to spark the Flyers and enable them to out-gun, out-hit and out-play the Pens, earning a 6-3 win.
--In an ominous sign of things to come, Jeff Carter swooped into the Pens zone with the puck just three minutes in and was hardly touched as the Pens defensemen. The back-checking forwards generally waived sticks in his vicinity too, offering little resistance. Carter went backhand and flipped one by Marc-Andre Fleury. Feeding off the energy just over two game minutes later, Mike Richards would make it 2-0 in the power play.
--The Penguins would roar back; Max Talbot played the body on a Philly defenseman and Ruslan Fedotenko made a great cross-ice pass for a sensational one-timer by Evgeni Malkin in the dying seconds of the first period. Martin Biron stood little chance on that goal. Then, in the opening seconds of the second period, Sidney Crosby won a faceoff, beasted into the Flyers zone and found Rob Scuderi. Scuds threw a quick shot to the net that went in, no small part because Bill Guerin was driving the net. It was 2-2 and a new game.
--It wouldn't stay tied long, four minutes later Claude Giroux slammed one home to give the Flyers the lead for good.
--Fittingly, the eventual game winner was scored shorthanded by the Flyers. After some lackadaisical play by Sergei Gonchar and Kris Letang (and not much back-checking help), Giroux had a great effort to get the puck to Simon Gagne who put it by a fairly helpless Fleury to make it 4-2 Flyers.
--Rookie Jared Ross would pretty much erase all doubt when he pushed the lead to 5-2 early in the third. The Pens would still battle and fight back, Malkin tallied a power-play goal to make it 5-3 and get several chances before Gagne tacked on the empty netter to seal the deal.
There's your cut and dry recap, here's some things I noticed:
- It always starts with the goalies, and while Fleury did surrender 5 goals, I thought only the Ross goal was a bad one. His team in front of him just didn't skate enough, didn't win the puck battles. Philly did well to push the issue and take the play to the Pens, something we hadn't really seen in extended stretches so far this series. MAF made several really good saves, but simply not enough.
- To his credit, Biron was good. Malkin's shots were about as unstoppable as they come, and the other goal was a screened effort. Biron clamped down and made several good saves that, quite frankly, he doesn't consistently make. The key for the Pens will just to be to keep chipping, keep working. It'll come.
- Chris Kunitz (who laid one of the more devastating hits you'll ever see on Kimmo Timonen) still played a sloppy game. Kunitz took an ill-advised goalie interference penalty halfway through the third and then didn't see the ice for the rest of the game. The broadcast never mentioned if he was hurt, but I suspect he was benched.
- A lot will probably be made of the increased physicality and uptempo style of hockey that the Flyers played. And for good reason, they were a lot better than they had been. But the Penguins didn't shy away, and I don't think lost because they shied away or because they got too pre-occupied.
- I think the Pens lost because guys like Claude Giroux, Jared Ross and Darroll Powe played better and found the scoreboard while Penguins counterparts like Tyler Kennedy and Matt Cooke did not. While none of those players are expected or counted on to find the scoresheet consistently, in a game where one team's support players play such a bigger role, it's going to show in the result.
- Not to pile on, as I'm sure there will be a lot of coverage on this, but Petr Sykora is playing brutal. I heard that on Pittsburgh talk radio there's whispers Sykora is playing injured. If so, he should take a seat in the press box, it just seems like every time he touches the puck nothing positive is coming out of it.
- Brooks Orpik got hit in the face/nose by an accidental stick, but no worries he's tough, he's a hockey player. Good to see Orpik not miss too much time to get repairs and you'd have to imagine he'll be able to press on for Game 4. Even though the Pens have some depth with Philippe Boucher, they can't afford to lose Orpik's physical play on the blueline--especially in a series against the Flyers.
- Philly looked like a team that KNEW they would fall in a 0-3 hole if they lost today. The played more desperate and fired up, thanks in large part to the home cookin'. The Pens effort, at times, was lacking--look no further than the shorthanded goal debacle. Now that things are 2-1, hopefully the Pens will understand they're gonna have to step it up a notch in order to take the Flyers to the brink of elimination by getting that third win.
As if Penguin fans and players needed a reminder: it's not going to be easy. It never is to defeat a good team four out of seven times. Using my series strategy, you try to make sure to take 1 of the first 2 away games in addition to holding home ice. Under that train of thought, the Pens are still in great shape in this series if they come out and win Tuesday night.
Easier said than done, of course, but as always you can't let the highs be too high, nor the lows be to low. It sucks to lose a playoff game, but the Pens can take some lessons from what they didn't do well and have it well within themselves to come out with a stronger effort on Tuesday.
To end this with good news, here's some food for thought. Though the data is extremely limited to show how the Pens have bounced back from losses under Dan Bylsma. There's only been, to this point, three times the Pens have lost by multiple goals. The Pens have won the next time out following all three of those games after losing by more than a goal under Byslma. Maybe even better: two times they've shut out the opponent in the next outing after losing by 1+.
Take it for what it's worth, but let's see what adjustments Byslma makes and how it translates on the ice before everyone really starts freaking out.