We can't ask for much more than that for an opening round series, can we?
Dramatic swings within games and the overall series between rivals that not only want to beat each other, but hurt each other while doing it… An underdog looking likely to pull off an upset, then ceding control of momentum, only to seize it once again and close out the series on home ice in front of a raucous crowd.
The Flyers have sent the Pittsburgh Penguins to the golf tees, finishing a six-game series with their best effort of the postseason by far. Offensively and defensively, they owned the Penguins, who never fully got going in the game, which the Flyers won by a 5-1 count.
With the series on the line, a game 7 looming without a win today, the Flyers' top players stepped up and outshined their Pittsburgh counterparts. Claude Giroux set the tone on the opening shift, leveling Sidney Crosby and scoring a goal. Ilya Bryzgalov steadily held court in his own end. Marc-Andre Fleury resumed the futility that marked his play from the first three games of the series, and the Flyers were able to roll through the Penguins.
A closer look with video highlights, below.
In his postgame presser, Peter Laviolette said Giroux told him he wanted to be on the ice for the opening shift. He wanted Crosby. Six seconds into the game, right off the opening faceoff, G put a clean, big hit on the Penguins' captain, sending #87 to the ice and getting a huge rise out of the crowd.
Message sent? Not just yet…
Later in the shift, Giroux put the Flyers up 1-0 on a blazing wrister. Jaromir Jagr pressured the puck into the zone, and when it came free to Giroux, he ripped it past Fleury. If anyone ever asks you what JAM is, you just tell them about that shift.
Despite the fast start, the Penguins weren't ready to wilt just yet (that would come later).
Pittsburgh held control of possession for a few minutes after that opening shift, setting up and cycling well in the Philadelphia end. At one point, they carried a 6-1 lead in shots, with the Flyers' only SOG ending up on the scoreboard.
The first power play of the game went to the Penguins just 2 minutes in, after Danny Briere was whistled for high-sticking. Matt Read lost his stick on the kill, but the Flyers managed to keep all danger toward the outside.
A major question before the game, with two notable blueliners injured (not including Chris Pronger), the defense muted any real danger. The Flyers grabbed their first power play of the game after Matt Cooke set a pick on Brayden Schenn. Schenn went down as easy as Crosby usually does, but didn't join Cooke in the box.
The league's hottest power play unit went to work again, setting three up high, Wayne Simmonds low, and Scott Hartnell just above him in the slot. Giroux ripped a one-timer that MAF had to stretch to stop in the low corner of the net, and he never recovered with the puck loose in his crease. Seeing this from behind the net, the ref didn't whistle play dead, and Hartnell charged in to push the puck through the pile and over the line for a #hartnelldowngoal. Sadly, no one forced him to fight and complete the Hart trick.
Assisting on the play, Giroux set a new franchise mark for points in a playoff series with 13 (he'd later add to it with another assist). The earlier goal was his sixth in as many games this postseason.
The top line set and carried the tone throughout a 2-0 Flyers first period. The Penguins appeared ready to fold, but no one was counting them as finished just yet. So much hockey left to play, such a misleading margin.
During an early second period Flyers rush, Pittsburgh's Simon Depres either lost his edge or simply wanted to halt play, crashing through his own net and taking it off it's moorings. It may have saved the Pens a goal for the moment, but it took nothing away from the Flyers' edge. Just afterward, Erik Gustafsson scored on a demoralizing shot that beat MAF. That one felt like the dagger. Fleury was clearly out of his two-game groove, and all momentum favored the Flyers.
Kimmo Timonen was whistled for a hook, mobilizing the Flyers' dangerous PK unit. They generated three dangerous scoring opportunities, outworking the Penguins with speed and forechecking tenacity. Despite nearly giving up a shorty at one end, the Pens made it a game as Evgeni Malkin scored at the other.
Up 3-0, were the Flyers playing wrong in playing for the jugular even while down a man? Nope. This whole game was about going for the jugular. Part of their success in this series was using Pittsburgh's power play set up to their own advantage.
Less than a minute later, they got it back. Danny Briere scored his fifth of the series to make it 4-1.
It was so tough not to celebrate right then. Three goals can be wiped off the board in a hurry, so we celebrated, but only the goal. The series could wait.
The two teams played scoreless hockey for the third until Brayden Schenn scored with 8 seconds left in the game. To make it even sweeter, Schenn swiped the puck from Malkin before turning up ice and flying toward the open net.
The Nah-nah-nah chants had started well before, along with "Crosby Sucks," "We don't like you," and of course, "Let's Go Flyers."
From the brink of a sweep to the brink of collapse and back again, the Flyers upset the Penguins in a tremendously entertaining series. It's almost hard to believe there are still games left to play, because for 2 weeks, this hasn't been about the Stanley Cup. It's been about beating the Penguins. That part is done, and it's time to relax for a few days before
treating the next series the same way.
Notes: Down Nick Grossmann and Andrej Meszaros, the Flyers put in back-to-back strong efforts on defense. Sunday's was a major difference in the game, as the team managed to block 40 shots.
The Penguins blocked 14.
Erik Gustafsson will remember scoring his second NHL goal, but his defensive performance was even more key to the Flyers' win. Lavvy rewarded him with big minutes, including some in tough matchups. He blocked seven shots and managed the attack of Malkin on a few key shifts.
Braydon Coburn was a beast as well, playing just under half the game. Matt Carle played 27 minutes of his own.
JVR played only 7 shifts. Wayne Simmonds played just 10. Lavvy's never been shy about playing the producers, and Simmonds has been quiet. JVR is probably still getting his legs under him, if not still a bit nicked up.
Bryzgalov played very well, with strong blocker saves made like jab punches, no weak goals, and great positioning throughout.
Sean Couturier once again put the clamps on Malkin, whose goal came on a power play. Again, Malkin seemed frustrated, at one point even slamming his stick against the dasher while on the bench. With the series now over, we can finally look at the job Cooter did on Malkin without the thought that it could still change for the worst. Cooter is the real deal. There's no better way to prove it.
Though he was reported as the new record holder on the broadcast, Claude Giroux is now actually second all-time in Flyers franchise history for points scored in a single playoff series, with 14. He sits only behind Tim Kerr, who tallied 15 against, guess who, the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1989. In a series featuring a pair of guys with MVP awards, Hart Trophies, and Stanley Cup rings, it's safe to say G does indeed enjoy pressure. He was the best player on the ice this series, though he certainly wasn't alone. Even Brooks Orpik called him the best player on the ice.
Dan Bylsma took a timeout down 4-1 with 46 seconds left in regulation. What do you think he said to his players?
There's a lot more to discuss, and we have a few days to keep looking into what amounts to as enjoyable a series as you can get if you're a Flyers fan. It wasn't always pretty, and they have a lot to work on if they hope to advance against teams that are better in their own end, but it's hard to imagine a more entertaining matchup.
We can't ask for much more than that for an opening round series, can we?