Statement Made: Flyers Defeat Penguins
No one needed to explain why Tuesday night's game against the Pittsburgh Penguins was so important for the Flyers nor was there any need to explain just how important it was. If the Flyers wanted to win the division, then tonight's game was the biggest game of the season.
The pace to start the game was tremendous. The building was electric as you could feel the playoff-like atmosphere. It was not any old regular season game. This was a battle for the Atlantic Division. For the Flyers, it was time to make a statement and avoid disaster. For the Penguins, it was a chance to tie the Flyers in the division and show just how incredibly they have handled much adversity this season.
The game started off with a couple of early penalties. First the Flyers got their shot at the power play and then the Penguins got theirs. Neither team capitalized on the man advantage so the flow and non-stop action returned.
The Penguins would draw first blood. Kimmo Timonen failed on the gamble of a pinch and the puck went the other way. When a guy like Alex Kovalev is going in one on one against your goaltender, there is not much you can do. He is that good. Sergei Bobrovsky had no chance on stopping the perfect shot from Kovalev who is well-known for being a Flyers killer. No one scores against the Flyers quite as much as he does.
One of the traits of this Flyers team that has not disappeared from them despite recent struggles is their ability to fight back in games and not let anything faze them. Down 1-0 on the road is not a deep hole by any means, and the Flyers came back from that hole before the first period ended.
Just above the right face-off circle, Braydon Coburn fired a bullet of a shot in the dying seconds of a power play. the puck went off of Jeff Carter's stick, off the cross bar, and dropped in the crease. Marc Andre Fleury kicked the puck into the net as he tried to recover. At the time it was thought to be a Braydon Coburn goal, but the goal was later given to Jeff Carter. While it was not technically a power play goal, it still resulted from the Flyers being set up on the PP.
The first period ended with the score tied at one.
The Flyers are known for their second period magic. That magic was made evident tonight. The period started with some great end to end action as both teams had their chances. Unfortunately, the Penguins regained the lead just about halfway through. Kimmo Timonen was beaten off the boards by Tyler Kennedy. He carried the puck into the offensive zone and let one rip. It was a goal that Sergei Bobrovsky would have liked to have back. It managed to just sneak under his right pad and into the net.
A lot has been made about the Flyers power play struggles and rightfully so. But tonight it seems like those misfortunes have turned around. The Carter goal as the Niskanen holding penalty expired in the first period sparked something.
Scott Hartnell played an absolutely perfect shift on the power play. He was physical, won battles on the board, and worked for puck possession. He simply drove to the net as Ville Leino got the puck to him and he fired the puck beating Fleury top shelf. Hartnell paid for his efforts getting drilled by Orpik as soon as the puck went in the net. but no harm no foul. He'll take the goal and the rough stuff with it.
Less than a minute later, the Flyers took their first lead of the game. Claude Giroux had a give and go with Sean O'Donnell that started in the defensive zone. Then O'Donnell got the puck back to Giroux in the offensive zone. Claude made the move on all star defenseman Kris Letang and shot the puck beating Marc Andre Fleury. The Flyers had stormed back to quickly take a 3-2 lead.
Third periods have been scary for Flyers fans to watch. With so much on the line tonight, the third period was going to be even more important. The Flyers had done a perfect job in the first two period out-shooting the Penguins 16-13. There would be no third period collapse this time around. The Flyers did the exact opposite. For the first time in a long time, the orange and black added to their lead.
The Penguins came out flying blanking the Flyers in shots to start the period, but Peter Laviolette showed no panic and simply called a timeout to bring the guys in and get them back on task. Just seconds later, the Flyers responded.
The Hartnell, Briere, Leino line simply took over, playing their best game together in a long time. Scott Hartnell fired a shot that went off of both Leino and Fleury to make it a 4-2 game with five and a half minutes into the third period. It was the first shot for the Flyers in the period.
Three minutes later, Ville Leino would get on the board again. Briere and Leino battled hard behind the net. Leino came out in front with the puck and chipped at at until he got it past Fleury to make it 5-2.
The Flyers went on to win the game 5-2, never letting their foot off the gas pedal. They finally put in a full 60 minute effort doing exactly what they set out to do. They proved every cliche to be correct. They were a different team and a more determined team. The game was the biggest game of the season and it turned into the biggest win of the season to make the final steps to a divisional title all the more likely. Not only that, but a solid effort that the Flyers put in eased many, if not all doubts about them headed into the playoffs.
There was, however, a bit of a scare in the third period. Kimmo Timonen did not go out for any shifts and was not on the bench. Word got out that it was a lower body injury and that he would not return. After the game, Paul Holmgren said that it was basically a precautionary measure and that he should be good to go on Thursday. He could use the rest, and should not rush back. The injury can most likely explain why Kimmo was playing so poorly tonight.
The list of positives to come out of this game goes on and on. Sergei Bobrovsky was solid, the offensive depth was evident, the power play clicked, and the Flyers never stopped playing. They now have 102 points to hold them at the top of the Eastern Conference and of course atop the Atlantic Division. The Flyers are now 3-0 at the Consul Energy Center. Tonight's victory was also a franchise record 25th road win of the season with three road games still remaining in the season.