Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Voracek the hero as Flyers outgun Penguins

by Bob Herpen
Phanatic Hockey Editor 

Just breathe.

Despite a harrowing late-game sequence which saw the hosts have not one, not two, but three separate cracks at a 5-on-3 power play, all was eventually right in the hockey world -- at least from a local perspective. 

Jakub Voracek completed his first career hat trick  thanks to  recording the game-winning goal with 1:31 left in regulation as  the Philadelphia  Flyers gutted out a 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at CONSOL Energy Center.

Wayne  Simmonds added two  goals and one assist for the Flyers, who avenged an opening-day  3-1 home  loss to their bitter rivals and completed a season-long six-game road trip with two straight wins to finish at 3-3-0.

"It'll be good to get home," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette in a bit of prescience prior to the contest. "It's been a lot of time away from home and a lot of games in a lot of nights. In some of those games I've liked what we've done and in a lot of them we needed to be better, but getting back home and getting the schedule set up in our favor and knowing you're going to see guys on the ice that have not been on the ice due to injury -- all that adds up to a positive."

Nicklas Grossman also tallied, while Claude Giroux posted a pair of assists as Ilya Bryzgalov picked up the victory with 27 saves as Philadelphia improved to 6-1-0 in the regular season in the Pens' new arena.

Matt Niskanen, James Neal, Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Sutter and Tyler Kennedy for the Penguins, whose three-game win streak came to a halt.

Tomas Vokoun was shelled in defeat for six goals on 32 shots.

Ahead by a 5-3 count and having failed at their own four-minute advantage after Pens winger Tanner Glass was sent off for high sticking, a double minor to Mike Knuble plus another high stick call to Ruslan Fedotenko 41 seconds apart threatened to make things very interesting.

Neal  made it  5-4  with 7:14  to  play on  a far-side  blast  from the  right circle  to end the  first portion of the two-man edge, and Talbot was whistled for closing his hand on the puck during an attempted clear, lengthening the 5-on-3 even further.

Pittsburgh's  Chris  Kunitz had a potential  tying goal with 5:39 on the clock wiped  out  when replay  revealed he  used a distinct  kicking motion, then he tried  to  sneak a stuffer past  Bryzgalov at the  left post and failed on his next shift.

Though  the Flyers  managed to  survive  the remainder  of their  short-handed situation,  Sutter  walked out in  front and tied the  game, 5-5, with 2:03 to play. That set the stage for the young Czech to steal the show and pull the rug out from under another possible comeback by the revved up hosts.

Only  32 seconds  after Sutter tied the game on a wraparound, Voracek's sharp-angle  try from  the goal line to  Vokoun's left managed to sneak off his body and over the goal line for a 6-5 game with 91 seconds to play.

The  extra attacker was called upon with 1:07 to go but the home team couldn't squeeze out one more quality chance from their offense.

"He  just shot it  from behind the net, and I knocked it in my own net. That’s tough," said Vokoun about the deciding score. "I think we deserved a point, but by my mistake we didn’t get it."

What a way to return to the comforts of home ice, where the club will begin a five-game stand on Thursday against the Florida Panthers.

Aware of the meaning in this Keystone State collision, both teams came out with bundles of nervous energy.  The best chance in the first four minutes for either side was a 3-on-1 break led by Philly's Sean Couturier, which was muted by Vokoun on the right wing. Talbot also nearly scored on the rebound, but his spinning chance slid wide.

Pittsburgh  hit  the scoreboard at  the 5:07 mark  when Niskanen fired away on a rolling puck and it zipped past Bryzgalov inside the left post.

The  Pens  received the  game's first  power play on  the following shift, and though  Bryzgalov  gloved down Malkin's  shot from  the right circle, the puck appeared to have crossed the goal line inside the webbing.

A  review  proved to  be inconclusive,  but Malkin  made the  most of his next chance,  potting  a rebound  at the right  post with five  seconds left on the advantage for a 2-0 game at 7:15.

It  was  2-1 with 8:11  remaining on a  bizarre sequence. A goalmouth scramble around  the  Pens' net --  which featured  two near-scores by Philadelphia and half of all players on the ice either within or near the crease -- was allowed to  endure  for more than  10 seconds  without a whistle. Grossmann eventually
lifted a shot over the mass of humanity for his first of the year.

Only  60 seconds later,  the game was tied as Simmonds accepted a Danny Briere pass,  worked from the left circle to the top of the crease and slipped a shot past Vokoun's pad.

Vokoun's  poke check  halted  a Max  Talbot breakaway  within  the first  five minutes  of the  second  period,  and a  relatively  calm  middle stanza  that featured 18 combined shots ended with the visitors up 3-2.

On  a  power play in the  final 10 seconds,  Voracek was standing alone on the right  side -- as he did to tally the overtime winner in Game 1 of last year's Eastern quarterfinal -- to corral a Simmonds rebound and lift it home over two bodies.

The  Flyers went up 4-2 with only 18 seconds played in the third period. After Fedotenko worked a puck loose from underneath Vokoun, the disc squirted to  the right  side, where  Voracek  alertly followed  up and  beat a  sliding defender  with a  soft shot.

It marked  the eighth time this season the Orange and Black scored within the first minute of a given period.

“The big thing for me right now is his skating,” Laviolette said. “He’s really moving his feet and that’s when Jake was at his best last year. He’s fast and he’s quick and that’s a dangerous combination. I think once he got through the first eight games or so and got to the speed he needs to be at he’s been a real dangerous player."

Kennedy  pulled the hosts within one at 5:29, getting a puck home at the right post  before  Bryzgalov could close  off the  space, but Simmonds was credited with  another  score, at 7:36, when  his attempted cross-crease pass to Giroux rolled up Niskanen's stick and into the net.

“It was an entertaining game, that’s for sure," Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It was fun at times and not so fun at times, but obviously not the result we wanted.”

Notes:  Voracek  upped his total  to eight points (3G, 5A) in the last three games...His hat trick was the first for Philly in Pittsburgh since Bobby Clarke did so in a 6-5 win on December 13, 1980...The  Flyers improved to 6-1-0 all-time in the regular season at Pens' new home arena,  and  8-2-0 including playoffs in  the venue which opened in October of 2010...Malkin's goal gave Pittsburgh at least one power-play goal in each of the  last  nine games, and snapped  Philadelphia's streak of 21 straight power plays  killed  off...Flyers  defenseman  Kurtis  Foster missed  his  second straight  game due  to the birth of  his second son on Tuesday in Philadelphia...The Penguins fell  to 3-4-0 at home this year...In 21 career home games
against  the  Flyers, Pittsburgh  captain Sidney Crosby  has tallied 37 points (14G,  23A), including  points in nine of  his past 10 home games against them...Malkin's  tally was  also  his  first in  six  games,  since Feb.  7  vs. Washington...Flyers forward Matt Read suffered an upper-body injury reported to  be a  puck to the chest, left  the game after the first period and did not return...Grossman  recorded his first score since Jan. 21, 2011 ... Kennedy produced  his first  goal  in 15  games,  since  Jan. 20  at  the Rangers...Simmonds'  three points tied a career high ... Penguins defenseman Paul Martin registered three assists in defeat.

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