At the end of the day, this game means exactly as much as the fairly boring 3-1 win the Pittsburgh Penguins won on opening day a month ago in Philadelphia.
Does that make this feeling feel any better right now?
No, I didn't think so either.
Many people consider Pens/Flyers to be the best rivalry going in the NHL these days, and even if you're not a fan of either team how could you not, given how entertaining and passionate they always seem to be.
This one started out all Penguins, in terms of shots and eventually goals as Matt Niskanen and Evgeni Malkin struck within the first 7:15 of the game. In fact, it appeared Malkin's wrister beat Ilya Bryzgalov into the net (with the puck in/near Bryz's glove) but replays could not confirm it. A fair call, considering no decisive evidence could be found to over-rule the "no goal" call- even if it probably did roll in. Regardless, Malkin would bury a puck later in the power play to leave no doubt and earn a temporary measure of revenge.
Then, the tables shifted. Nicklas Grossmann and Wayne Simmonds would score for Philly to knot things at 2-2 at the end of the first. Then Jakub Voracek scored the game's only goal in the second to make it 3-2 Flyers. Voracek would strike again just 18 seconds into the third to ake it 4-2.
Tyler Kennedy, of all people, made it 4-3 before Simmonds got credit for a goal that deflected off a Pittsbugh skate to keep it a two goal Flyer lead. The Pens would dig deep and tie the game at five on goals from James Neal and Brandon Sutter. With just a few minutes go it appeared things had shifted back in the Pens favor.
Until Voracek, with no angle behind the net fired the puck out and it somehow found it's way through Tomas Vokoun and in. Truly a stunning event.
But, as mentioned, it's one game in a long season. And really, this game is what the players make of it. For Philly, it's a boost in what's been a mediocre and inconsistent season so far- as it should be. They fought hard tonight, stood toe-to-toe with the Penguins and once again came out on top, much like the playoff series of this past spring.
For the Pens, it's another chance to learn a lesson. Don't engage after the whistles. The Flyers thrive on it, and the refs always call the retaliation. It's Philly's gameplan to throw the Pens off their game, and Pittsburgh is all to willing to assist them. Best to move past and go on, but again, this Pens team is presented with an important learning opportunity.
Some more thoughts on the game:
- Gordie Howe hat-trick for Simmonds, who'd probably be an all-star if he got to play 82 games against the Penguins. Dude knows how to bring it and always seems to have that perfect mix of skill and agitation.
- Well, notorious Penguin killer Mike Knuble didn't score a goal. That's gotta be a moral victory, eh?
- Welcome to a real rivalry, Tomas Vokoun. Tough one for the veteran, who apologies to a Nashville-Detroit game, has probably never, ever seen as intense and emotional type of blood rivalry like this. Vokoun, though a vet, has spent almost all of his career in anonymous and low pressure NHL cities like Nashville and Florida. And he has only five career NHL playoff games under his belt. Obviously he's better than he looked tonight, but tonight he was pretty bad. To be nice.
- As TSN's Bob McKenzie pointed out- Vokoun was the only Penguin played not in the crease or net for a goal against. I've been watching hockey for as much as my 28 years on this earth as I can remember, and I have never remembered seeing something like that.
- Both teams ended up with 32 shots on goal, but the Penguins drove possession numbers winning a very impressive 67% of the faceoffs, and out-attempting the Flyers in shots 60-50. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way, as evidenced tonight by Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz (6 shots on goal, 0 combined points, an a +/- of -6 together).
- Paul Martin with a three assist night has to be one positive takeaway from the game. He's making great decisions with the puck and playing smartly in defending away from it. And after the year he had last season, and the criticism he took, that deserves to be pointed out every time it happens.
- Malkin was very engaged in the game- getting denied the goal on the close call seemed to ignite him, then he definitely scored later in that PP. All in all Malkin attempted a game high 11 shots on goal and was good on the power play, where he found Neal for a goal.
- Sidney Crosby won 21 out of 28 faceoffs. Just sick numbers. They ended up putting him on the ice just to win faceoffs and then skate to the bench. Crosby didn't earn the result he wanted, but there's no doubt he was a key factor in the game. Next time he probably needs to make another play or two (or more likely- be a little selfish and shoot the puck), but if you have to bet it's good to bet on 87.
So that is that. It definitely didn't end pretty, and though an entertaining game, it still counts just as much as the next game against Florida or that last game against Buffalo. It's two points in the standings to win or lose and tonight Philly won it. So it goes and we'll see next time if the Pens have finally learned their lesson.