Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Flyers, Penguins provide taste of old-time hockey for pre All-Star crowd

Philadelphia, PA -- For just one night, we could forget that the Flyers are a team doing the dead man's float in the Eastern Conference and we don't know what awaits on the other side of the All-Star break.

A game which featured 93 penalty minutes, five goals, three fights and 10 shots from Claude Giroux, ended when the captain poked home a loose puck in the crease on a power play with 63 seconds remaining in overtime to produce a 3-2 victory over the Penguins which fans on either side could enjoy as the best this rivalry can offer.

In a 4-on-3 created when the Penguins were caught with too many men on the ice with 2:56 left in the extra session, Jakub Voracek unloaded from the right circle and Thomas Greiss made a spectacular save.

Only problem was, as he spun around, the puck became dislodged from his equipment and dropped into the crease. Brayden Schenn was unable to work it free, but Giroux came in and his poke hit the area under the crossbar a half-step ahead of Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi's lunge to block.

Giroux's fifth career OT marker moved him into a tie with Eric Lindros and John LeClair for second on the franchise list, one away from Simon Gagne.

"I think we need to find some motivation to play like that every game, every night," Giroux said with another in a series of nightly understatements. "It's not an easy thing to do but we need to find a way to do that."

The cross-state rivals play only twice more, in a five-day span in April. Trouble is, there are 32 other games where the emotion won't be so ready to burst forth.

Philly also received goals from Luke Schenn and Chris VandeVelde, while Ray Emery rebounded with one of his finest performances of the season by picking up a 33-save victory. They'll rest for an entire week having gone 2-3-0 on a Hellish track of five games in seven days.

Giroux and Voracek will hit Columbus this weekend still ranked atop the NHL list for highest-scoring duos.

Greiss, pressed into service to rest normal starter Marc-Andre Fleury, took the loss despite stopping 37 pucks. Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett lit the lamp for the Pens, who hit the break four points back of the Islanders in the Metropolitan Division.

Bennett atoned for a costly early mistake when he rifled home a hard shot from the left circle off a Malkin dish to give the Pens a 2-1 lead at 2:01 of the third.

But VandeVelde tied the game on a slick deflection from the left circle, as Michael Del Zotto let a visiting defender close off his lanes, except for a soft toss in front, which the North Dakota product chipped by Greiss on the short side 2:01 later.

Sidney Crosby could have given his team the lead back with roughly three minutes remaining, but his shot from the left side somehow managed to stay out despite rattling off the crossbar and right post at its junction point.

The visitors staved off an earlier negative result when they killed off a cross-checking minor to Zach Sill at the third-period buzzer.

The Flyers looked passive and pensive throughout a first period in which the Pens, who really didn't need to prove anything by winning tonight, still racked up a 17-3 shot advantage.

And yet, the hosts led 1-0 after 20 minutes thanks to a seeing-eye shot from an unlikely source. Bennett won a scrum to the left of Greiss, but somehow decided to send a blind, backhand clearing attempt up the middle. The puck was gathered by Schenn at the point and his ordinary-looking chance sailed through traffic at 13:11.

"Our forwards were doing a great job of forechecking and were able to create a turnover," Schenn said. "The puck just happened to come up to the top of the blue line and the only thing I was trying to do was to get the puck through and hopefully create a rebound, but luckily it was able to find its way to the back of the net so I'll take it."

It was the club's second shot on net, with the first in dispute between a Brayden Schenn dump from the neutral zone or a legitimate Claude Giroux offering a short time later.

Of course, you can't have a Flyers-Penguins game without a physical tipping point, and it was duly provided with 4:24 remaining in the first, as Zac Rinaldo drew a major for boarding and game misconduct for leaving his feet and hitting Kris Letang right in the numbers along the right-wing boards.

"I didn't hit him from behind ... the back side of the shoulder, that's how I saw it.  If you slow it down, any hit, dissect every single detail, you're going to see something that you can criticize," Rinaldo offered. "I'm not thinking that I'm going to hurt the guy, hit him like some people think I would hit them, but we play a fast game and things happen so quickly.

But here's the kicker: "It's the way the league is going right now ... it being Letang, a star player, me with some (suspension) history, and him getting hurt doesn't help me. I'm going to take it with a grain of salt. Yeah, I changed the game. Who knows what the game would have been like if I didn't do what I did?"

Rinaldo has been offered a chance to explain himself, via an in-person hearing for his actions, at a date and time to be determined. That means he's looking at a five-game ban at minimum. 

Though the Orange and Black drew lavish praise at the end of the period and at the end of the advantage for killing it completely, the Pens struck back on a Flyers power play when Kunitz and Crosby had a 2-on-1 and the former beat Emery high to the short side with the latter sealed off at 2:59 of the second.

Things began to get testy. Just before the midway point, Scuderi worked Voracek over in his own zone to the point where the NHL's scoring leader dropped the gloves and won the fight, taking a misconduct in the process for fighting with a visor.

"I saw 'Hammer' Schultz before the game. I wanted to show him that I got something," Voracek deadpanned. His 17 penalty minutes upped his season total to 47 and his career mark to 232, well short of Schultz's NHL record of 472 in one season and 2,294 career PIMs. "Sometimes you have to find a different way to win the games. I don't know why it's like that against the Penguins every time."

Then, at the opposite end of the ice, former Flyer Steve Downie roughed up Del Zotto with no call, before Luke Schenn had to tangle with his former teammate and win that scrap.

With just over three minutes before intermission, AHL call-up Bobby Farnham and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare were involved in a series of events on the left-wing boards in the Penguins zone, paired off, and somehow were allowed to contest their bout at center ice. It lasted all of two punches, with the Frenchman making a solid connection on his opponent's face which buckled his knees.

Notes: The Flyers have won six in a row against the Penguins, their longest stretch since taking seven in a row from Feb. 18, 1985 through Dec. 22, 1985 ... Tuesday marked just the fourth time the Orange and Black unleashed at least 40 shots on goal this year, improving to 3-0-1 in such games ...  Rinaldo has tasted NHL discipline three times previously, two suspensions and one fine ... The league's last-ranked penalty-killing unit of Philadelphia was a perfect 6-for-6 against what became the sixth-best power-play unit for Pittsburgh ... Both Brandon Manning and Oliver Lauridsen were recalled yesterday from Lehigh Valley (AHL), although only Manning played, credited with three hits and one shot in 17:20 of ice time. Both players will be returned to the Phantoms for Wednesday's home game ... The Flyers compiled 59 PIM, the most they've had in a regular season game against Pittsburgh since Feb. 16, 1992 (115 PIMs in a 3-3 T) ... Crosby was held without a point for the 13th time in 50 games against Philly. 
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