Once it was determined that the Flyers and Penguins would play each other in the first round of the NHL playoffs, all of the eyes in the hockey world looked at the series as a potential bloodbath of epic proportions. I mean we’re talking about a Platoon like series that makes you remember where and when you watched it, but with more emotion than what the bloody and gory 80s’ Charlie Sheen movie provided. If last night’s first game was just the opening act, then we’re in store for one of if not the best first round series in the history of the NHL.
Make no mistake about it these two teams flat out hate each other and not in a sibling rivalry way where in the end they make up. From the first drop of the puck you could just tell how much this series means to the city of Pittsburgh. It was one of the most jacked crowds I’ve ever heard come across on a television broadcast of a hockey game. It was like the crowd that was there for the now infamous PHI/PIT game 11 days ago that featured a brawl/Laviolette-Blysma screaming at each other/Hartnell telling the fake Hulk Hogan Watchya gonna do brother when Philly comes back from 2-0 on the road!!!!, but instead of giving out hand towels to wave around, five hour energy drinks were given to everyone to make sure that they were as loud as possible for the 7:30 start. I mean seriously I could barely hear what Pierre McGuire was saying during the first period (not that I really wanted to hear him repeat a thought in three different ways, but still I could barely make out what he was saying).
The Penguins fed off of that energy early on. They beat the Flyers to every loose puck, their passing was crisp, they avoided big hits and simply outworked their cross state rivals. The worst possible scenario for the Flyers began with Sidney Crosby scoring the first goal and sending the Consol Energy Arena into an early frenzy. It was a classic Crosby play; a falling down backhand over the glove hand of Bryzgalov who had lost sight of the puck for just a second. It was the 11th time in 13 games that Philly allowed the first goal. A low level “damnit” was said in my apartment.
Four minutes later a two-on-one odd man rush occurred; Jordan Staal found Tyler Kennedy on a sloppy one timer that fooled Bryzgalov. A “FUCK!” was said in my apartment, but the line that takes the cake was said by Flyers radio broadcaster Tim Saunders “Flyers down 2, welp they’ve got ‘em right where they want them”. He couldn’t have been more right (it was the 8th time in 13 games that the Flyers stared at a 2-0 deficit).
Pascal Dupuis made the deficit three after he hit the puck over Bryzgalov’s shoulder, there was no chance in hell for Bryz to make a save (for the record I thought the play should have been blown dead on an icing call). If the Flyers didn’t feel at home being down 2-0, then they must have decided to stay in and watch a movie when the score reached 3-0. A “well they didn’t need that…FUCK!” was said in my apartment. Anytime that there is a sentence, a pause, and then an explicative you know the situation is bad.
Sure the Flyers have made 3-0 deficits look easier than dealing with Courtney Love on a daily basis, but being down 3-0 in the playoffs really means that you’re down somewhere around 5-0 and being down 3-0 on the road in a place where the fans despise you means that there are just no chances of coming back. Hell I was already looking forward to game two because maybe that would be the game that could be stolen on the road. Even though I turned my back on the team because there was just no conceivable way that a comeback seemed feasible, I did not change the channel and good thing I didn’t make that mistake as well.
Early on in the second period Claude Giroux was called for a legitimate boarding call. At that point in time I said to my roommate there’s the death card. Down 3-0, on the road, facing the most dangerous power play in the league, can we just fast forward to Friday please? Instead of just taking their gear and going back to the hotel (Laviolette would have snapped a stick over someone’s head if that happened) the young guns played one hell of a penalty kill. Sean Couturier (a 19 year old rookie), Matt Read (a 25 year old rookie), and Max Talbot (not a young gun, but a young Flyer), shut down that potent Pens power play and began to change the tone of the game.
Danny Briere joined the list of most hated Flyers in the city of Pittsburgh last night. He scored the first Philly goal of the game just after that all important penalty kill (the replay showed that Briere was clearly offsides). He would then score the second Flyers goal halfway through the third period. It’s said that having a 3-0 lead is the worst possible advantage you can have in the NHL because the team with the lead begins to take their foot off of the gas, while the opposition keeps trying to chip away at the lead. Having a 3-0 lead in the first period is even worse because that gives the team two whole periods to claw their way back.
Last night was different though, the Penguins didn’t take their skates off of the collective gas pedal. They were still playing with the same intensity that was on display in the first period, yet the Flyers began to outwork the Penguins with sharp passing and smart puck movement that swung the momentum. Before the game started it seemed that every analyst said the same exact thing, “if the Flyers are able to get inside the heads and under the skin of the Penguins with after the whistle checks and smack talk then they’ll have a chance, but they can’t matchup to the skill of the Pens,” and on paper that is a fact, but if games were played on paper the Vancouver Canucks would have won the Stanley Cup last year. The Flyers did the unthinkable last night, they bested the Penguins at their own game and it culminated on the game tying goal.
Scott Hartnell, a player known for falling down (hartnelldown.com has his current total at 352 for the season) and scoring goals (career high 37 this season) found Brayden Schenn, another Flyers rookie, on a drop dead gorgeous slap pass one timer that Schenn converted. Pittsburgh’s former second favorite adopted son Jaromir Jagr set the play up by being patient entering the zone with the puck. He drew the defense’s attention which allowed Schenn to skate freely towards the net. While the Consol Energy Center let out a collective “NO!!” a “YEAHHH!!” was let out from my apartment, it was so loud that I’m sure that people in the surrounding area could have heard it.
That YEAH!! yell would fail in comparison to the celebration that took place after Jakub Vorachek put the game winner past Flurry early on in the first overtime. My roommate and I jumped in the air and I laughed hysterically (partially because I was drowsy from being sick for two days, mostly because of what just happened), we couldn’t believe what just took place. This was a team that was in a death hole of 3-0 on the road in PITTSBURGH and they came back and beat the highly touted Pens at their own skill game. Part of me still can’t believe what took place.
My buddy Jeff texted me saying “the Richards trade scored the tying goal; Carter’s trade scored the winning goal”. I then watched the replay of the winning goal and saw how hard Vorachek worked to keep the play alive and then blow past Jordan Staal to get position in front of the net for the eventual rebound. That is something Jeff Carter would have never done, especially in the playoffs.
The sky is the limit for this team and maybe that is just me being blinded by what took place last night, but how many teams could come back from that deficit in that kind of atmosphere? I’m waiting…
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