PITTSBURGH -- It was as if all the air had been sucked out of the CONSOL Energy Center in only about 25 minutes.
The Pittsburgh Penguins fans whod packed the arena were loud when Sidney Crosby scored the first goal of the series early Wednesday evening. They grew louder still when Tyler Kennedy added onto the lead only moments later. And when Pascal Dupuis seemingly sealed the deal for the Penguins by giving them a 3-0 first-period lead over the Flyers, it felt as though the roof of the building might blow off. It was that loud.
But then, something changed. Danny Briere spearheaded a Flyers comeback that all but silenced the sellout crowd. When Jakub Voracek scored in overtime to give the Flyers the 4-3 victory, the first win of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, the fans in attendance were too stunned to audibly react. It was suddenly that quiet.
Its truly remarkable, when you think about it, that the Flyers were able to walk away with the decision in Game 1 after playing the way they did in the first period. Its the kind of game most hockey players never take part in. Certainly not in the playoffs, and certainly not against a team with a roster that reads like an All-Star lineup: Crosby. Evgenti Malkin. Kris Letang.
Despite all that, though, the Flyers remain grounded.
Its just one game, Max Talbot said. If you lose next game, youre back to even. Its obviously a big win for us, its nice to start the playoffs on the right foot. But at the same time, its only one game and Fridays going to be a bigger challenge for us.
That sentiment was echoed over and over Thursday afternoon, when the Flyers had an optional practice back at the Penguins arena. One by one, players addressed the media excited to talk about the character they demonstrated by refusing to give up. But all the while, their bottom line remained the same:
Its just one game. It takes four to win a series, Brayden Schenn said.
And so, the Flyers focus now changes from enjoying their Game 1 rally to preparing for Game 2 and rectifying what were some very glaring errors committed Wednesday night.
Their biggest struggle was nothing new: Like they did in each of their final games of the regular season, the Flyers allowed the first goal. But beyond that, they were too hesitant for much of Game 1s first period. If there was a loose puck, it was a Penguin who put in the extra effort to grab it. When the Flyers had control, second-guessing on a pass lead to an interception too many times.
That habit, the Flyers know, must end.
Weve got to get better starts, Kimmo Timonen said. Weve got to find a way to be ready from the get-go, and that hasnt been the case the last few weeks it wasnt just yesterday, it happened a few times during the season, especially the last few weeks.
Games are getting tighter and tighter, and weve got to find a way to get better starts. Thats why I say we got lucky yesterday. It was against a really good team down 3-0. You dont usually get back after that.
Chances are, if the Flyers fall into another big hole on Friday evening, when Game 2 is set to take place here in the Steel City, they wont put together another comeback.
As recently as a few days ago, none of the players could explain why they allow themselves to fall so far behind the way they frequently have in recent weeks. Claude Giroux simply shrugged and suggested the players might need an extra cup of coffee before hitting the ice.
They seem to be gaining some perspective, though. Now, its simply a matter of execution.
I think once we get down, its kind of like we have nothing to lose, Wayne Simmonds said. And weve got to start playing like that from the start. Thats just one game. In the Stanley Cup playoffs, youre not going to win a whole ton of games like that. Weve got to fix that. Weve got to play desperate from the start.
They absolutely must, because one certainty about Fridays game is that the Penguins do not want to fall into a 2-0 series deficit on home ice.