Warning in advance: there is no way a summary of Wednesday
night’s tilt between the Flyers and Penguins could ever do the action justice – particularly the wild third period that
had fans of every allegiance on the edge of their seats literally until the final
horn sounded a 6-5 victory for Orange & Black in Pittsburgh – but you couldn’t possibly ask for more from a regular season
This was two bitter rivals – a pair of evenly-matched heavyweights
at that – engaged in a physical, high-scoring confrontation with all of the drama and
atmosphere of an Eastern Conference Final.
We jump right to the 7:36 mark in third period, where Philadelphia
appeared to have the game in hand on Wayne Simmonds’ second goal of the night.
Already responsible for a Gordie Howe hat trick [watch], Simmer’s center feed for Claude
Giroux instead tipped off of Pittsburgh defenseman Matt Niskanen’s stick, the
deflection fooling goaltender Tomas Vokoun to put the Flyers ahead 5-3.
But this is the Pittsburgh Penguins after all, for whom
12-plus minutes is more than enough time to score two or more goals –
especially when they have eight minutes of power-play time to work.
A series of unfortunate-to-thoughtless penalties put
the Pens on one- and usually two-man advantages for over four minutes straight. First Mike
Knuble caught Deryk Engelland with a bloody high stick for four,
followed a short time later by a Ruslan Fedotenko shaft to the head of James
Neal. Max Talbot shattered his stick on the ensuing
5-on-3, and it was elementary from there for Neal as he cut the deficit in half
with his 12th tally of the season, tying him for the league lead.
One minute later Talbot joined the parade to the box after not-so-subtly
covering the puck with his glove while it was on the ice – a new infraction for
2013 – and for a moment Flyers’ fans worst fears were realized.
All initial indications were Tyler Kennedy had knotted the
score from a scrum in front of Ilya Bryzgalov during Pittsburgh’s eternal
5-on-3 (Knuble is still serving for his double-minor, as is Fedotenko). The puck rested peacefully behind Ilya Bryzgalov across the goal line, the official signaled, and the
reaction inside the CONSOL Energy Center was rocking.
Replay showed Kennedy came into the fray
with a distinct kicking motion however, so that goal was disallowed. Such drama!
Even though you knew the Penguins would draw even anyway. Brandon Sutter found himself holding the pill
behind the Flyers’ net right before the two-minute warning, the defense giving chase, but the space in front of Bryzgalov vacated as
Bryz tried to block the wrap-around as Sutter powered the puck through his weak stick attempt and right into the netminder’s five hole.
That familiar sinking feeling wouldn’t last for long. The Bullies went right back on the attack. Jakub Voracek
gained the Pittsburgh zone, sending the puck along the boards as he took a
walloping from Brooks Orpik below the goal line. Giroux gathered the pass in and rewarded Jake, sending
the play right back. With Orpik continuing to harass him, Voracek whipped around so he could just throw the rubber on Vokoun – only Vokoun wasn’t tight to the post.
A shot from an
impossible angle that had absolutely no right slipping past a 36-year-old NHL veteran did precisely that, banking in off of Vokoun to give the 23-year-old Voracek his first-career hat
With 1:28 remaining, it also proved to be the game-winner. Vokoun's blank stare as he lay on the ice was priceless.
Pittsburgh mounted one last gasp with an extra skater, but
the Flyers survived to pick up an enormous two points on their Atlantic-leading foes – and it was punch-for-punch right to
Much of the talk from the players leading into the game was about Pittsburgh
being a measuring stick. If this result was any indication, Philadelphia can
still hang with the big dogs in East. They overcame an early 2-0
deficit, then refused to allow the action completely slip away from them when things
started going south late.
The Flyers have now earned 13 points out of the last 20 points
possible, going 6-3-1 in these 10 compared to 2-6 over the first eight.
That pace is no slouch.
It will be tough for the Flyers to turn around and match the
intensity and effort from Wednesday night or even Monday’s 7-0 drubbing of the
Islanders in the second half of a back-to-back on
Thursday versus the Florida Panthers. This was one hell of a way to wrap up a six-game road trip though,
from which they’ll gladly take the split, and worry about the rest of the slate one night
at a time.
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