Sunday, April 22, 2012

Giroux sets tone as Flyers finally ice Penguins

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

In a return to classic playoff hockey on a rainy Sunday afternoon, the Philadelphia Flyers finally iced the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 5-1 count in Game 6 of this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal.

Claude Giroux led the way with a goal and two assists, setting a new team record for most points in a six-game playoff series with 14 (6G, 8A).

Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere, Erik Gustafsson and Brayden Schenn also lit the lamp in the clincher.

"We weren't too happy about Games 4 and 5, the way we played. Today, it was a full team effort,"said the best player in the series for either side. "Usually we never get off to a good start, but I was trying to fire the team up, get them going.  You want to put forth a total effort. Whether it's scoring goals or blocking shots, it doesn't matter. Guys were paying attention to the little details and that's what you need to win."

The Orange and Black snapped a two-series losing streak to their Western neighbors, and await their opponent in the conference semifinals.

"I think winning all series, is what it's all about," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "At some point you have to go through really good teams. There's something about Pittsburgh, their history recently, but for our team to move on speaks volumes for it. It's real satisfying to be able to move on against a team that a lot of people picked."

Helped along by a defensive effort which blocked an incredible 40 shots, Ilya Bryzgalov didn't need to steal the game, but only to stop 30-of-31 pucks fired his way to pick up the key win.

"Everybody was sacrificing themselves to win this game, it was not just all me," the humble netminder said in his usual understated fashion. "They all have to pay the price to win the game and the series. This was a very dangerous team. There was no personal pride at all. It's a total team effort."

Despite half a roster which took home the franchise's third Stanley Cup title just three years ago, there simply wasn't enough talent or drive remaining to overcome an 0-3 series deficit.

Evgeni Malkin tallied the lone goal for the Penguins, whose other big guns -- Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Jordan Staal and Steve Sullivan -- were all held without a single point.

Failing to build confidence from a stellar effort in Friday's narrow win, Marc-Andre Fleury looked shaky again, letting in four goals on 22 shots.

"No matter what you're season looks like, the expectations for this group were high," said Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma. "We were lucky to get Sid there back at the end of the season. I thought these six were his best of the season. There's not a lot of words to describe what we thought about this complement of players."

After two close short-handed opportunities by Giroux and Matt Read on Kimmo Timonen hooking penalty, Malkin fired away through a screen in the right circle for the visitors' first of the day, coming at 8:34 of the second period.

If there was any doubt amongst the sellout crowd that the tide was coming in, they were washed out just 34 seconds later.

That's when Briere's sharp-angle try off a Jakub  Voracek dish hit Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik in the leg, dribbled through Fleury's pads and slid just over the line to restore the three-goal margin. It didn't take much effort from the war room in Toronto to call a good goal, and the Flyers were in command at 4-1.

With several slick moves along the goal line, Malkin was able to draw a holding penalty on Braydon Coburn just after the eight-minute mark of the third, but the best chance of that minor came when Giroux was pulled down just shy of squeezing off a shot in the slot.

Fleury was sent to the bench for an extra skater with 3:27 to go and the Pens got a break when Gustafsson was called for shooting the puck over the glass. Neal managed to flip one home while Bryzgalov was pushed into the cage, but the score was quickly wiped out due to obvious interference.

Schenn was then able to hit the empty net in the final 10 seconds to seal it.

Giroux stoked the home crowd's fires on the first shift, laying a brutal hit on Crosby, then got the opening goal only 32 seconds in, pulling up at the inner edge of the left circle and beating Fleury with a high wrister.

"Getting that first goal was huge, to steal the momentum right away. I wanted to go out on that first shift and do something to get the boys going," he said.

Laviolette called the 23-year-old's game "monstrous," and added something which will be retold in team playoff lore by revealing Giroux practically demanded to play the first shift of the contest. That trust was repaid and then some.

Briere drew the game's first penalty, and the Flyers escaped with one close chance against as Matt Niskanen hit the post late on the advantage.

It was 2-0 with 6:59 remaining on a power play created when Matt Cooke interfered with Schenn. Giroux ripped one from the left circle that deflected off Fleury's arm and trickled behind him. Joe Vitale tried to push the puck back out into play, but it only reached far enough for Hartnell to shove it back over the goal line while he crashed the net.

Gustafsson tripled the advantage at 5:25 of the second period on a shot from below the circles that an unscreened Fleury simply missed. It was the first career playoff tally for the 23-year-old, called up late last week as one of the Phantoms' Black Aces.

Malkin rang one off the crossbar from a tight angle to the right of Bryzgalov just before seven minutes elapsed, just prior to his goal.

'We were going to have to get players and pucks to the net to score a goal," Bylsma added. "We couldn't just rely on our power-play chances. The Flyers took better advantage of that. We gave them too much respect on their power plays. That and short-handed play were the decisive factors in the series."

Notes: Hartnell's power-play score in the first gave Philly 12 such goals in the opening round, setting a new franchise mark originally accomplished in the 1989 Patrick Division Finals against the Penguins, a series won in seven games...Bill Barber, 12 in 1980 Semifinals, and Briere, 12 in 2010 SCF previously held the six-game series record, while Tim Kerr (10G, 5A) holds the all-time mark for a full seven-game course, in 1989 against the Penguins...There were 56 goals in the six-game set, third-most for any best-of-seven series in NHL history...Gustafsson was credited with a game-high seven blocks, while Coburn, Matt Carle and Andreas Lilja recorded six blocked shots...Sunday's win marked the 10th time in 10 chances the Orange and Black have won a series when up three games to none...The 40 blocked shots was the most in playoff action for any team since Montreal blocked 41 at Washington on April 28, 2010.

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