[Photo caption: WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!]
You knew it was coming.
As a result, they really needed to answer in game three, and did they ever.
The Flyers never trailed on Sunday at the Wachovia Center, and despite the officials best efforts and a nearly successful comeback, the Penguins were never really in this game.
The Flyers were badly out-hit on Friday in Pittsburgh, but you would never know it by watching game three. The Flyers were physical and constantly in the Penguins' faces, and it resulted in frustrations boiling over for the defending conference champions.
The sellout crowd expected to see plenty of rough stuff, and early on the first period they were rewarded.
After making Marc-Andre Fleury look downright silly with two early goals by Mike Richards and Jeff Carter (interestingly enough, the first two Flyer shots of the game), Jordan Staal decided he would pretend to be tough by taking a run at Claude Giroux about three seconds after the whistle had blown on a delayed penalty call against the Flyers (of course).
Giroux justifiably defended himself, and in the process got tied up with Tyler Kennedy, who he absolutely owned. They each earned minors for roughing, because you could scarcely call it a fight. Somehow, Giroux ended up getting the extra two minutes for elbowing, and the Penguins had an opportunity to get back into the game.
The Flyers responded by being aggressive on the penalty kill and effectively cancelled the Pittsburgh power play. Evgeni Malkin did add a goal late in the period, and the Philly held a 2-1 lead entering the first intermission.
The Pens scored just 13 seconds into the second period to tie the score, but that goal was answered just four minutes later when Giroux tapped in a beautiful pass from Daniel Briere to retake the lead for the orange and black.
Philly's strong penalty-killing continued, as Simon Gagne added a short-handed goal four minutes later. Giroux created this play by going down low behind Fleury and forcing a turnover. A few pretty moves created some space and an easy dish to Gagne.
At this point, Dan O'Rourke and Marc Joannette began wondering "How can we get the Penguins back in this game? If they don't win, Bettman's not gonna be too happy with us..."
The answer? By letting the Penguins do whatever the heck they wanted. Shortly after the shortie goal, Malkin very clearly went offside, but they let it go. A few seconds later, Richards attempted a perfectly legal poke check, Malkin stumbled and the zebras called a slash.
"Malkin doesn't make mistakes like that...had to be a slash" the referees thought to themselves. It didn't matter, the Flyers showed an extreme amount of discipline and Marty Biron made a few good saves to end the threat.
Side note: After the obvious bad call, they played the chicken dance over the PA speakers, resulting in a rare appearance of—in my opinion—the funniest Philadelphia chant of all time. We don't like to have to bring it out, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
A few minutes later, the refs realized the error of their ways. After Carter took a slashing penalty (which was a slash, I'll admit), Malkin was guilty of an obvious hook and came out of it with an incredulous look on his face.
"Wha? Hooooo-kiiiiing? Vas ist dat? NYET! In mother Russia, anyting go! You say I perfekt. Vy de call?" Malkin screamed.
To his credit, the Flyers still don't have an answer for Malkin in this series. He notched two more goals to raise his playoff total to four. Even in a winning effort, that has to be a concern for John Stevens.
After Jared Ross scored his first career NHL goal, Malkin added his second goal, this time on the power play, to keep the Penguins somewhat close. But the Flyers were able to put the clamps on and add an empty-netter from Gagne to ice the win. 6-3 Flyers, and now this series is actually interesting.
Some things I noticed:
- Perhaps the most overlooked aspect of this win was the Flyers ability to take Jordan Staal out of the equation. The X-factor went minus-three and his name was rarely mentioned after he was whistled for the game's first penalty.
- You can't accuse Dan Bylsma of being a dumb coach. He tried everything today and the fortunes just didn't go his way. One successful adjustment he made was briefly forming an unusual line with Malkin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Maxim Talbot. It created their first goal.
- The only plus player for Pittsburgh was Hal Gill (+1). The only minus player for Philadelphia was Matt Carle (-1). Ironically, five of the Flyers' top six forwards (Joffrey Lupul, Carter, Richards, Scott Hartnell and Mike Knuble) were even.
- Speaking of Hartnell, he was nearly invisible today as well, but that might not be a bad thing. He took one penalty, a five-minute fighting major that was evened out by Chris Kunitz.
- Claude Giroux nearly earned a Gordie Howe hat trick. Had he taken a fighting penalty in his scrap with Kennedy, he would have notched the first GHHT of his career.
To recap, the Flyers came out and did what they had to do, and are back in this series. They face a tough task in game four, because this loss most certainly will not sit well with Pittsburgh.
LET'S GO FLYERS!