Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
The Pens had a slow, sloppy start, but they prevailed when they buckled down and played hockey rather than extracurriculars.
The Pittsburgh Penguins learned a valuable lesson in the benefits of sticking to the game plan instead of playing a losing game against the Philadelphia Flyers. These two teams always bring a heated rivalry with a more heated narrative and this game didn't disappoint.
Pens started sloppy, with bad giveaways and an unlimited issues maintaining consistent possession time in the offensive zone. But other than that, it was an oddly quiet game. A little too quiet. It wasn't until the period neared the halfway mark of the first that the Pens had a shift in the offensive zone that lasted more than 10 seconds. Luckily, Marc-Andre Fleury was very good early, especially on a few chances from Matt Read.
Then all hell broke loose.
James Neal took an elbowing penalty (looked more like interference to me, but whatever) and 33 seconds later, it's in the back of the net, courtesy of Penguin killer extraordinaire Jakub Voracek. If the Flyers played the Pens a few more games a year, Voracek would win the Richard. As Neal left the box, Scott Hartnell started his usual shenanigans and Neal got sucked right in. To the box they went, only the Pens were a man up because Hartnell was tagged with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Chris Kunitz continued his magical season and the Pens were tied up, one power play goal a piece.
Another play, another penalty, this time, it was Matt Niskanen headed to the box. Pens kill the penalty, but horror of horrors, Zac Rinaldo beat Deryk Engelland and put it behind Fleury. Then a minute and a half later, with just 8 seconds left in the period, it was Kimmo Timmonen's turn. A harmless-looking shot hit Fleury in the chest and trickled behind him. Frustrating doesn't begin to describe it, and the Flyers weren't done yet. With 15 seconds left in the period, Neal took another penalty but that was plenty of time to Voracek to strike again. A few yards from the blue line, Voracek put the puck on net and it pinballed off some Penguins and in. The period ends and Pens fans felt nauseous at the thought of having to go through that two more times.
Tomas Vokoun relieved Fleury and the second period started with a four on four. At first, I thought it was the extra ice giving the Pens more room to make plays, but whatever Bylsma said to the Pens during the intermission, worked. The Pens started to heat up. Their forechecking had returned which led to a Pascal Dupuis goal from a great dish pass from Sidney Crosby. From that play alone, you could feel the momentum shift. Less than three minutes later, Neal sends the puck on net, it hits a skate and goes through Ilya Bryzgalov's five hole. Suddenly, the Pens are only down by one and they could smell blood. And in keeping with the consistency of the period, the Pens pushed forward and played hockey. However, we've seen it all before with the Pens/Flyers games. I was wondering just when things would go bad again.
Then, Tyler Kennedy, almost on the blue line, sent a laser by Bryzgalov. Huh? Tie game and Bryzgalov was replaced by Brian Boucher. The second, miraculously, ended quietly. The change from the first period to the second was of Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll proportions, a staggering shift to say the least. It is a bit distressing that the Pens can have such a period despite the turnaround. We all know they don't happen often.
The third period was uneventful after seeing the first two periods. Of course, we can't forget Kunitz crushing the game winner in a two on one with Crosby just 18 seconds in. The Pens kept with the tone for the remainder of the game and managed to stave off the Flyers for a huge comeback win and did that win feel good. Unbelievable turnaround for the Pens, but they still need to find a way to make stretches of hockey like that disappear.
Now for some numbers:
- At the end of the first, Flyers had four goals and the Pens had four shots. Voracek had 6 shots.
- Niskanen had no penalties in 22 games. Now has two penalties in two games.
- According to Dave Molinari, Penguins had three goals on 11 shots, Flyers had four on 20.
- In the last two Pens/Flyers games, goalies have been pulled three times.
- Kunitz has goals in the last six of seven games. In that stretch, he has 8 goals, 4 assists.
- Pens tale five penalties in the first and four goals are scored against them. The Pens take one penalty in two periods and score five goals. Imagine that.
- And for my stat of the night: 20 goals have been scored in the last two Pens/Flyers games. Crosby and Claude Giroux have none of them. This is staggering.