Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Flyers stun Penguins with OT decision in Game 1

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor

If the NHL playoffs are a series of psychological battles as well as physical confrontations, chalk up Head Game #1 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Despite a lack of power plays, a lack of energy early on which resulted in a 3-0 deficit and a hostile environment -- and pile on top of it the honor of opening the 2012 postseason on the
road -- the visitors rallied to claim a 4-3 victory on Wednesday's Eastern Conference Quarterfinal opener at CONSOL Energy Center.

Jakub Voracek provided the dagger at the 2:23 mark of overtime, picking up a loose puck at the right side of the crease that Pens defenseman Kris Letang accidentally cleared there when trying to get rid of a Matt Carle rebound.

For the 22-year-old Czech, it was his first career playoff score. It also helped push Philly's record to 6-1 all-time in the Penguins' new arena.

"Even though it's almost impossible to come from that far behind, we knew we could do it," said Voracek. "We stuck to the game plan, came back. We had to wait it out, spend the energy for the whole 60 minutes. We came back against them three times already and it shows how hard we work for every goal."

Danny Briere scored twice and Brayden Schenn tied the game late in the third for the Flyers, who had never before won a postseason game when trailing 3-0 after one period of play.

Ilya Bryzgalov shook off some early rust and earned the win with 25 saves. The 31-year-old Russian snapped a personal five-game losing skid, dating back to a Game 6 win for Phoenix over Detroit in the 2010 Western quarters.

"It took a lot of work to win this game," Briere admitted. "We can't dwell on it. You celebrate for a few minutes but we have to get ready for Game 2. We have a chance to take both here and then be up 2-0 coming into our building. We might as well go for it."

Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis lit the lamp in the opening 20 minutes for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on 26 shots for the loss.

"I'm not so sure the pace can't be sustained. It's a conscious decision with puck management to be able to play at that speed," said Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, who bristled at the suggestion his team failed to show aggressiveness to close out the game with a large lead. "We weren't as good as the game got later. It's not a matter of sitting back."

Nonetheless, it was the second time in less than a month Pittsburgh couldn't hold down a multi-goal advantage against their rivals early in a game. On March 18, the Pens were up 2-0 before a roaring comeback was completed on Scott Hartnell's score with less than a second remaining in OT.

We can't know for sure where or how that information was stored as the series kicked off, but the hosts played like they wished to bury that memory.

Channeling the jump displayed in a season-ending 4-2 win last Saturday, the Pens got on the board less than four minutes in, when a Dupuis shot was blocked by Philly defenseman Nicklas Grossmann, but Crosby flipped it into the top-right corner on the backhand.

It was 2-0 at 7:49 when Kennedy finished off a 2-on-1 break with a successful forehander from the left side off a rolling dish by Jordan Staal.

Ex-Pittsburgh star Jaromir Jagr had a breakaway just prior to the midway point of the first but missed the net wide right -- a killer missed opportunity.

Pittsburgh seemed to assume an iron-clad 3-0 advantage with 36.9 seconds remaining. Bryzgalov badly misplayed a Steve Sullivan centering feed from behind the net, allowing the puck to trickle behind him and over the goal line thanks to a swat from Dupuis.

After killing off a penalty early in the second and seeing Fleury stone Scott Hartnell in front, Briere tallied at 6:22 of the second off a lead pass by Schenn. The visitors were down two after 40 minutes.

"Big goal there from Briere to get them back...they're a good team. They don't stop," Byslma added. "The second half of the game we didn't get to our game the way we wanted to play it."

For once, the zebras appeared to tip one in the visitors' direction as Schenn's pass to Briere hit the veteran several steps inside the Pittsburgh zone. Immediately after the game, the goal scorer acted as cagey as Sgt. Schultz from "Hogan's Heroes."

"I know nothing and I can't really say what happened there."

On a Penguins power play early in the third, Bryzgalov made a glove stop on a Sullivan chance from the slot to keep it a two-goal contest, and a minute later Staal rang a shot off the post.

Fleury responded in kind as he flashed leather to rob Carle's wrister from between the circles with just under nine minutes gone, but Briere scored on the short side from the left-wing boards less than a minute later to make it 3-2.

It was all even with 7:37 to play on Philly's lone power play of regulation, as Hartnell sent a slap pass from the right point and Schenn redirected it home from the high slot.

Notes: Voracek's OT score was the first for the Flyers in Pittsburgh since Keith Primeau's winner in the fifth overtime on May 5, 2000 in Game 4 of the Eastern Semifinals...Wednesday marked just the second time in six playoff matchups with the Penguins that the Flyers have won Game 1, following an opening-matchup decision in the 1997 ECSF...Briere increased his postseason output to 98 points in 98 games...Jagr's assist on Schenn's goal gave him 182 points in 170 lifetime playoff games...Schenn, who added two assists, set a career high for points in his initial postseason appearance...Dupuis extended his point streak to 18 games...Voracek posted one assist in 2009 as Columbus suffered a four- game sweep at the hands of Detroit in a Western quarterfinal...The Flyers welcomed Briere and Grossmann back from three-game absences...Philadelphia holds a 3-2 advantage in all-time playoff meetings, but Pittsburgh has won the last two (2008-09)...Flyers defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon left the game late in the second period with an upper-body injury and was listed as day-to-day.

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