“A series doesn’t start until after Game 1.” — Jamie Baker, former NHL player and San Jose Sharks radio color commentator on The Scott Ferrall Show (SiriusXM radio, HOWARD 101) Wednesday regarding the Penguins 4-3 overtime loss to the Flyers in their playoff opener.
Pittsburgh Penguins fans are in mourning now after their beloved team blew a 3-0 first period lead and lost in overtime to their heated rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, on Wednesday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
But don’t worry Penguins fans, this series is far from over and should be as exciting as any other this NHL postseason.
Here are seven good reasons this series will be the one to watch and must-see television for any die-hard hockey fan.
After trailing 3-0 at the end of the opening period on Wednesday night, Flyers netminder Ilya Bryzgalov and the Philadelphia defense clamped down on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the high-scoring Penguins as Pittsburgh was shut out the rest of the way.
Conversely, Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury blanked the Flyers through the first 20 minutes of play, then allowed goals in each of the next three periods, including overtime, enabling Philadelphia to steal the victory away.
Both Bryzgalov and Fleury have track records of being hot and cold so whoever can clamp down in the nets from this point forward will give his team a big advantage in winning this series.
Over the past two years, Philadelphia has been able to win in The Steel City and Pittsburgh has been able to win in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Flyers are now 3-1-0 this year and were a perfect 3-0 last season in Pittsburgh’s new CONSOL Energy Center, with the lone loss coming last Saturday in the regular season finale where winning was less important than staying healthy heading into the playoffs.
The Penguins went 1-2-0 this season and 2-1-0 last year at the Wells Fargo Center in the Philadelphia, but was without a healthy Crosby for half of those six skates.
Despite the rabid fans on both teams in attendance, the home ice means nothing here in a series where each period is a game within itself, as Wednesday’s opener clearly revealed.
If the Penguins can hold serve Friday night at home and also win Game 3 in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh will regain the home-ice advantage and the electricity in this high-energy match-up will certainly go up a couple of more volts.
The culture clash of these two Pennsylvania cities brings another element to the series as the white-collar mentality of Philadelphia fans and the blue-collar feel of Pittsburgh backers seldom see eye-to-eye.
Philadelphia sees itself as an East coast city, being a stone’s throw over the Delaware River to Camden, New Jersey, while Pittsburgh has the distinct feel of a city situated in the Midwest as it’s 134 miles from Cleveland, Ohio.
And whatever you do, don’t dare tell a Penguins fans that a cheese-steak from Geno’s Steaks is better than a Primanti Brothers sangwich. Those are fighting words in the Keystone State brother.
Granted potential New Jersey Devils-New York Rangers or Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks series’ may have some regional and historic implications, but neither can possibly rise to the level of hatred that this Flyers-Penguins first-round battle is sure to spawn.
A Devils-Rangers showdown in the Eastern Conference postseason would be exciting but likely low-scoring and would have trouble piquing the interest of hockey fans in the South, Midwest and West.
Should the Blackhawks and Red Wings meet down the line in the Western Conference playoffs this season—although an Original Six matchup—fans in the East, South and West may have trouble making those games a priority on their boob tubes and may wait until potential Games 6 and 7 to really pay attention.
Everyone, everywhere—and this especially includes Canadian fans, the truest of all hockey lovers—is in tune with the gravity of this Flyers-Penguins pairing.
And if there was just one series you could watch, and you threw out all personal biases and allegiances to your team, this would be the one. Period.
When it comes to lighting the lamp, these two teams really give the fans what they want.
After averaging seven goals per game in their six regular season meetings (Flyers 3.67 average goals per game, Penguins average 3.33 goals per game), the two teams held to form in Game 1, with Philadelphia finding the back of the net four times and Pittsburgh three times.
In the regular season these teams even had two double-digit games (Penguins 6-4, Feb. 18; Flyers 6-4, April 1) and zero shutouts.
A tough reality for goalies Bryzgalov and Fleury.
So that’s 49 goals in seven games so far. What more could fans (and over bettors here in Las Vegas) possibly want? A 5-4 game in Game 2?
If it’s going to happen anywhere, it will likely be in this series.
Philadelphia proved this point last night.
Down 3-0 after the first period, the Flyers fought their way back, starting with that crucial second period goal to make it 3-1, and showed the world why it was the best team in the NHL at rallying from three goal deficits this season.
The series’ momentum swings will occur within these individual games and not from game to game, meaning every loose puck, every mistake and every great save will add up to the eventual series winner advancing to the next round.
With Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux—career highs in points (93), goals (28) and assists (65)—and Pittsburgh’s sharpshooters Malkin (career-high 50 goals, NHL-leading 109 points) and Crosby, both teams can put up quick goals in spurts as was evident by the Penguins first two goals in the first 7:49 minutes of Game 1.
With Philadelphia rallying from a first period three-goal deficit in Pittsburgh and the unbridled excitement of an overtime game-winning goal, the tone was set for the remainder of this series on Wednesday night.
For Pittsburgh, I expect some extra motivation from this point out after a missed offside call may have cost the Penguins a win in Game 1, and with it, that coveted home-ice advantage.
And even the casual hockey fan, who knows names like Crosby, Malkin and Jaromir Jagr, will be highly anticipating what lies ahead in this one.
Quite simply, it just doesn’t get any better than this and even the Stanley Cup finals will likely pale in comparison to what will ensue in the remaining games of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
For me, this is must-see stuff and reality television at its absolute finest.
Game 2: Friday 4/13—Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBCSN, 7:30 pm ET)
Game 3: Sunday 4/15—Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBC, 12:00 pm ET)
Game 4: Weds 4/18—Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (NBCSN, 7:30 pm ET)
*Game 5: Friday 4/20—Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (NBCSN, 7:30 pm ET)
*Game 6: Sunday 4/22—Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (TBD)
*Game 7: Tuesday 4/24—Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (TBD)
* If Necessary
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