It was never supposed to be easy. The doubt? The stress? The potential for heartbreak? It had to happen. It was better this way.
You wanted a sweep and the Flyers wanted a sweep. Pummeling the Penguins into submission would have been fine. But the series between the two intrastate rivals was billed as a classic brawl, not a one-sided bludgeoning. That the Penguins fought back and won two games might have increased everyones anxiety around here, but it also made what happened on Sunday more gratifying, didnt it?
The Penguins didnt quit after falling behind by three games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. They didnt just take the beating and then slink off to tend to their wounds. Instead, they threw and landed counterpunches. Thats what you want in a fight to know that your opponent is dangerous, and then to learn that you were better than his best effort. There is satisfaction in that, in testing yourself against an equal.
Yes, it was better this way. Claude Giroux knew it. After Game 5, after the Penguins made the series tighter than many local fans would have liked, someone asked Giroux if the pressure was on the Flyers for Game 6.
Pressure? Giroux asked rhetorically. I hope so. I love pressure.
Evidently, they all do. The Flyers won Game 6, 5-1, at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday to advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Giroux the man who courted pressure rather than running from it scored first. It was a remarkable goal for all sorts of reasons. It came just 32 seconds into the contest. It was the first time the Flyers found the net during five-on-five play in six days. It helped move Giroux into second place in Flyers history for most points in a single series (Giroux had 14 against the Penguins; Tim Kerr had 15 points against Pittsburgh in 1989). And, most importantly, it was the first time during these quarterfinals that either team scored the initial goal and then went on to win the game.
Right off the bat, being able to get that first goal was huge just to be able to get that momentum, Giroux said.
More than once during the series, more than one of the Flyers said that they dont believe in momentum from game-to-game. They did, however, say they believe in momentum during a single game. Maybe that was spin and maybe it wasnt, but it seemed true enough on Sunday. After Giroux scored, Scott Hartnell put the Flyers up 2-0. It was a decidedly Hartnell-type goal. He face planted onto the puck in the crease and appeared to push it into the net with his teeth, no doubt to the horror of his dentist and the Flyers company insurance plan. It was the Flyers' 12th power play goal of the series, a franchise record. After that, Erik Gustafsson, Danny Briere and Brayden Schenn all scored for the Flyers. The Penguins never had a chance.
This was going to be a difficult series, Hartnell said. I dont think anybody expected wed be up 3-0. You could tell their game was really picking up. Coming in here to Philly, with our home fans, we wanted to close it out. There was a lot of build-up to the series playing them twice in the last week of the regular season. Then the way the first three games went, they were physical, they were dirty, they were everything youd want.
After practice on Saturday, after the Flyers returned from Pittsburgh and brought a two-game losing streak back to Philly with them, Hartnell spoke to the media. He was brutally candid and said it was time for our defense and our goalie to win a game. Shy of going up to Bryzgalov and shaking him and telling him to snap out of it, Hartnell couldnt have sent a clearer message. During the first three games, Bryzgalov was adequate, or at least he wasnt as bad as Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. During Game 4, Bryzgalov wasnt so hot and allowed five goals on 18 shots before getting pulled. During Game 5, Bryzgalov allowed three goals, which was one too many. The point being that Bryzgalov didnt have a game during the series where anyone really pointed to the way he played with an open jaw and awestruck eyes until Game 6. Bryzgalov was excellent on Sunday, allowing just one goal on 31 shots.
There were so many storylines from this series. Bryzgalov and Fleury. Pittsburghs hatred of Hartnell and Giroux and the rest. Phillys hatred of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and the rest. The coaches hatred of each other. The two teams hatred of each other. The two cities hatred of each other. And on and on. Its almost a shame that its over. Almost.
Theres something about Pittsburgh and the history recently and them probably being favorites in a lot of peoples minds, Peter Laviolette said. To respond the way our group did and be able to move on, I think it speaks volumes. I think its real satisfying to be able to move on against that team.
Yes, it was better this way.
E-mail John Gonzalez at email@example.com