What a comeback win for the Pittsburgh Penguins over hated rival Philadelphia on Thursday evening.
That's mainly because the Penguins seemed doomed after the first period. They got absolutely dominated by the Flyers, who entered the first intermission with a 4-1 lead and a staggering 18-4 advantage in shots.
But there’s a reason games are 60 minutes, not 20.
The Penguins came out for the second period a completely different team, roaring back to tie the score 4-4 and outshoot the Flyers 12-3 in the frame. They played with energy, emotion and heart, working for every goal they scored. And the Penguins didn’t stop there.
They came out for the third period the same way they did for the second, dictating and controlling the game instead of the other way around as it so often is. As a result, Chris Kunitz scored his second goal of the game 27 seconds in to put the Penguins up 5-4 – which would stand as the final score.
That's because the Penguins just shut it down. They clamped down defensively to protect their one-goal lead, with the defensemen blocking shots and closing off the middle of the ice and the forwards circling low to help out. The Penguins’ penalty killers came up with a crucial kill with 9:47 left in the frame and it got even hairier with under a minute left and Brian Boucher pulled for the extra attacker, but the Penguins dug deep and won the key battles to earn a backbreaking win over the Flyers.
An ugly first 20 minutes, but a beautiful remaining 40.
“It was a bad first,” captain Sidney Crosby said with a sigh. “I think for whatever reason, we didn’t have enough emotion. We weren’t getting into the forecheck, we weren’t physical. We really didn’t do anything that well. It was pretty easy to improve off of that, but I think we all bounced back great. We knew we had a lot of time. We put the work in and got rewarded for it.”
Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and Tyler Kennedy also scored for Pittsburgh. Both starting goalies – Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov – got replaced. Tomas Vokoun started the second period in goal and was brilliant during the remaining 40 minutes of play, saving all 14 shots he faced. Boucher relieved Bryzgalov after he allowed the fourth goal late in the frame.
What Vokoun did tonight – going in cold against the team's biggest rival into arguably the most hostile building in the league with his team down three goals and keeping them in it – was incredible.
"He did a really good job, showed a lot of leadership," defenseman Brooks Orpik said of Vokoun. "He was really vocal in there. He was moving the puck well for us. Just really stabilized the game and kind of took a lot of their emotion and the crowd out of it. I thought he did a really, really, really good job for us."
TALE OF TWO PERIODS
What did the Flyers do that made them so successful in the first period? Apart from the Penguins just looking lifeless, the Flyers won the key faceoffs and had strong gap control – not allowing Pittsburgh to gain the zone and forcing them to play defense.
But what they excelled at – and always have – is frustrating the Penguins. The Penguins got sucked into taking inadvisable penalties and letting the Flyers get under their skin. The frustrating part about that is the the Penguins expected that, but didn’t skate away. And as a result, the Flyers scored a pair of power-play goals.
"We just came out really flat," Orpik said. "I think we got beat in every aspect of the game. There were some funny bounces, but the funny bounces were because we were playing in our zone the whole time. Probably took some penalties we shouldn’t have taken. But I don’t think you can point to one or two things. I just think we came out flat.
"But I really, really liked the way we responded. Last year in the playoffs, if we went down 4-1 or 3-1 in this building it probably would have snowballed on us and gotten a little fragile. I thought we did a good job of just keeping our composure here. We knew there was a lot of time left."
Forty minutes is certainly a lot of time, but it took the Penguins just half that to mount an epic comeback and tie the score 4-4. The Penguins came out flying with a few strong shifts, working the puck in the offensive zone and sustaining pressure there. They were especially relentless around the net, and got rewarded for it.
All four of the Penguins’ lines just didn’t give up on any pucks. They scored their second (Dupuis, assisted by Crosby) and fourth goals (Kennedy, gorgeously set up by Matt Cooke) because they swarmed the blue paint, forcing the Flyers to scramble, and made calculated, patient decisions when they had possession. That’s something that the Flyers did better than them the last time they met.
"No, I think it’s just the recognition of us not playing well," Kunitz said when asked if anything was said during the first intermission. "Knowing the outcome wasn’t going to be a very good one if we didn’t go out and start working, that they were going to just keep rolling on us. They’re a team that can score goals at will.
"Thank God we regrouped in the second and came out with a better effort. The first and second period were completely different games."
Crosby, Kunitz and Dupuis led the comeback effort, as they combined for three goals and eight points in the contest.
Kunitz scored twice – including the game-winner – and added an assist to extend his career-long point streak to seven games, Dupuis finished with a goal and an assist and Crosby helped set up all three of those tallies.
Tonight was a perfect example of why this line complements each other so well. They all have the same strong work ethic, create time and space for each other and are able to capitalize on opportunities in the offensive zone.
"We knew we needed to go in on the forecheck, put pucks behind guys and play that way," Kunitz said. "It worked out."
Crosby looked especially strong tonight, making the types of plays that leave one marveling at just how elite of a talent he is. On Pittsburgh’s first goal, the Penguins were inches away from turning the puck over on the blue line before Crosby stretched out, used one arm to poke the puck out of harm’s way and into open space to hold the zone. He recovered it and carried in, getting it to Evgeni Malkin who passed over to Kunitz for the goal.
On Dupuis' goal, the three of them were wreaking havoc in front of the net and making the Flyers scramble. Crosby collected the loose puck, patiently backed up behind and around the net before hitting Dupuis with a pass. He didn't miss for the score.
19 WITH 71 AND 18
Before tonight, Beau Bennett had practiced with and played shifts alongside star forwards Malkin and Neal, but never skated with them for a full 60 minutes.
Well, Bennett got the opportunity to play three full periods on that line on Thursday in Philadelphia – and he looked good.
It isn’t always easy to play with elite talents like Malkin and Neal, but Bennett is a crafty player who thinks the game similarly. He worked well with Malkin and Neal, with the three of them complementing each other well in the offensive zone. Bennett may be a young kid with a baby face, but out on the ice he looks like an experienced NHLer with the plays he is making.
His best sequence came on the Penguins’ third goal that cut Philly’s lead to 4-3. The play started when Bennett stripped Wayne Simmonds of the puck in the slot. Bennett wheeled around with it while protecting it from a swarm of orange jerseys and found Neal by the wall. He got a shot to the net that went off a skate and into the net. Great read by Bennett to force the turnover and get the puck over to Neal.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo