Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pens pull rug out from under Flyers with third-period burst

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

Matt Cooke tallied twice and added one assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins used some penalty-killing acumen to stay afloat, and a quick burst early in the third period to break a tie and surge to a 6-4 victory over Philadelphia.

"Our penalty-killing was huge,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “To come out of special teams a plus-1 with a couple shorthanded goals was a big part. And this was definitely (Cooke's) best game) this year. Physical-wise, skating-wise, with the puck, defensively and 5-on-5. He was solid on the wall play."

Named first star, the thorn in everyone's side managed to slip a little history into his performance, netting the first two-man disadvantage goal against the Orange and Black in nearly 20 years.

Jordan Staal picked up a goal and one helper, while Pascal Dupuis, Dustin Jeffrey and James Neal also lit the lamp for the Pens, who have won eight of their last 10 games in Philly over the last three-plus years.

Marc-Andre Fleury was as solid as he needed to be down the stretch, snagging the win thanks to a 27-save performance.

Jaromir Jagr tallied twice in an 18-second span in the first period, Eric Wellwood netted his first NHL goal and Wayne Simmonds added a late, meaningless tally for the Flyers, who fell to 4-10-1 in afternoon starts this season.

Ilya Bryzgalov was pulled after Cooke's goal, charged with three goals on just 13 shots in almost 37 minutes of action. Sergei Bobrovsky didn't fare much better, also giving up three scores, but making 17 stops for the remainder of regulation.

Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center was supposed to be about a reversal of fortune; about forgetting the Flyers' horrible record in matinee starts, about forgetting goaltending issues, about a lineup which was as healthy as it's been in weeks; and about competing with division foes with more on the line as the regular season wound down.

Instead, each and every problem reared its ugly head in domino-like fashion in a jaw-dropping third period.

"Once it got to be 5-3 we lost all our steam it seemed to me," admitted Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "I wasn't happy with that first shift. We turned the puck over when we had a chance to slow the pace of the game down. They kept that cycle going and it just wasn't a good start to the third."

It began at the 37-second mark as Jeffrey's slam-dunk from the crease gave the visitors the lead for good. The sequence was aided by the fact that Bobrovsky failed to control the initial shot, and turned into a Marx Brothers routine when usually-reliable Kimmo Timonen's clearing attempt came right back towards the goal. There were only two white jerseys in the vicinity and one slapped the puck home.

Dupuis then picked up an insurance score with 2:09 played when his prayer from the goal line to Bobrovsky's right deflected off the inside of his padding and dropped home for a 5-3 contest.

The coup-de-grace helped double the Pens' edge at the 9:02 mark.

Marc-Andre Bourdon, who has continually showed his rookie stripes, failed in his pinch attempt inside his own zone and the puck found Evgeni Malkin, who shuttled ahead to Chris Kunitz. Kunitz led Neal, who was streaking down the right-wing side. The first shot from distance was kicked out, but the former Dallas Star followed up and managed to flip a one-handed offering just inside the right post.

The testy affair calmed down for good, with the only real tomfoolery happening with 2:03 left as both Joe Vitale of Pittsburgh and Scott Hartnell were given the gate with 10-minute misconducts.

Simmonds provided the final margin on a nifty backhander inside the final 20 seconds.

It wasn't such a somber start in the final contest before the annual Carnival, as the Flyers came out with unusual verve.

But Public Enemy No. 1 opened the scoring on a wrister from the left wing just 3:17 in. Cooke gained possession thanks to a miscommunication between partners Andrej Meszaros and new addition Nick Grossman, flew up the left wing and scored from the circle.

Things heated up thanks to the former Penguin, who set the crowd alight with his short-range sniper abilities.

First, during a 4-on-4 with Craig Adams and Simmonds in the box, Jagr cradled the puck for a second, faked a pass and ripped a wrister over Fleury's glove at 15:16.

Then, after the Simmonds minor expired and Staal off for a hold, he was left alone in almost the same spot on the right side and scored on a similar shot roughly two strides above where he stood on the first tally. Thus, it was 2-1 for Philly with 4:26 showing.

The Penguins committed five minors in the second period to two for the Flyers, but that didn't seem to matter as Staal and Cooke tallied a man down in a span of roughly two minutes.

"It was very frustrating. I score those two goals, we're up 2-1, then we have a power play and they score both times on the same power play and changed the momentum," Jagr said. "It doesn't matter (if they were 'good' or not) when we have a power play we can't let them score. We have to be very careful. Maybe we were pushing too hard to try and score goals."

On the score which tied the game, 2-2, Claude Giroux made an inexplicable pass after winning the puck off the boards but it slid right to Adams, who found Staal on the left wing. Bryzgalov appeared to unnecessarily lean forward before the shot, and without the benefit of a screen, a wrister from between the circles rippled the back of the net at 15:14.

The ensuing Penguins' tally sent Bryzgalov to the bench, but it wasn't all the goaltender's fault. Despite room on a 5-on-3 power play, Giroux's dish back to Timonen at the left point got past the Finn. Cooke, charging at full speed, managed to overtake his checker, hang onto the puck once Timonen caught up, and flipped the puck inside the left post.

"It was a strange period with the types of situations we were in," Bylsma noted. "The second period was unique in a lot of ways. Penalty-wise and giving up one in the first, finding ourselves down so much."

But the karmic wheel managed to spin the Flyers' way before the end of the second as Pens rearguard Deryk Engelland peeled out and went down in the slot, allowing Wellwood to chip the loose puck home for the milestone goal with 1:19 on the clock.

Notes: Cooke's three points were a season high, and the most he's recorded in one regular-season game since March 3, 2008 with Washington in a 10-2 defeat of Boston...Prior to Saturday, the last player to record a 3-on-5 goal against the Flyers was Benoit Hogue, who did so into an empty net during a 4-2 Islanders' win at Uniondale on March 9, 1993...James van Riemsdyk returned to the lineup for the first time since January 12, recording an assist in 14:43 of ice time...Jagr has scored 39 goals in 39 games against the Penguins thanks to his fourth multi-goal effort this season...This marked the seventh time the Flyers have allowed five goals or more in an afternoon start this year...Grossman ended up a plus-one in 18:26 TOI.
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