PITTSBURGH - At least in the past, Sidney Crosby knew what hit him.
It sure looked like it was going to be the Sid Show Wednesday night at the Consol Energy Center, a triumphant return to the playoffs for hockey’s biggest star after concussion-like symptoms kept him away from the intensity of the sport’s best forum for almost 23 months.
For 20 minutes all was going according to plan.
The Penguins captain had opened the scoring, added an assist for a 3-0 first-period lead and the Stanley Cup favourites were threatening to make a mockery of the intrastate rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers.
Then came not a blow to the head, but a full body shot to Crosby and the rest of the Pittsburgh roster.
Two goals by the Flyers’ own playoff ace Daniel Briere started it and Jakub Voraceck ultimately finished it 2:23 into overtime to complete the upset and a 4-3 Philly win.
“We got away from our game,” said Crosby with the understatement of the night. “We started great, had a lot of energy, went hard at them and we slowly got away from things and let them get back in it.”
Slowly but surely, it turned out.
After Crosby opened the scoring 3:43 into the game and added an assist on Pascal Dupuis’ goal in the final minute of the first period to bump the lead to three, it looked like game over.
The Flyers were hardly moving -- “too much standing, too much watching,” Philly coach Peter Laviolette described it -- and suddenly the much anticipated No. 4 vs. No. 5 Eastern Conference quarterfinal seemed like a mismatch.
Then came Briere, who took advantage of an officiating blunder to allow the Flyers to check into the series 6:22 into the second. At least two feet offside, Briere scooped up the puck and flew in alone to easily beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Another Briere goal at 9:17 of the third -- for his 98th playoff point in 98 games -- and suddenly the sold out arena was a nervous place to be.
Playoff rookie Brayden Schenn, who already had a pair of assists on Briere’s goals, finished off a Scott Hartnell pass with a power-play goal at 12:23 to tie it and you could see where this one was headed.
Familiar territory, it turns out, for the eventual winners. The Flyers had staged 10 comebacks in the regular season where they trailed by two or more to at least earn a point. There won’t be a night the rest of the way where they won’t believe they can win.
“I wish I had an easy answer for why we could come back like that,” said Briere, who was a game-time decision after missing the final three regular-season contests with back spasms. “It’s happened all year for us. We never quit. We always battled back. I don’t want to get used to it. It’s not something we should be planning on doing every night.
“I’m just glad I could contribute. With my back the way it was, I had no idea if I could be effective.”
For one thing, the Flyers can probably plan on the Penguins tightening up defensively when the series resumes here on Friday night.
Besides the offence in the first period, they had completely shut down the sluggish Flyers, limiting them to just four shots on net in the first 11 minutes of the game.
But as the lead grew so did the Penguins' comfort level, and with it sloppiness.
A team loaded with offensive firepower -- including NHL leading scorer Evgeni Malkin, who didn’t register a point -- suddenly couldn’t find the killer punch. Three times they had power-play opportunities to pad the lead and each time they came up short as Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov dug in while making his playoff debut for his new team.
It made for a crazy night in what is expected to be an eventful series.
“Playoffs are like a loaf of bread, slice to slice,” Laviolette said. “Some you like, some are mouldy and rotten and one doesn’t have anything to do with the other.”
Both the Flyers and the Penguins had a taste of each on Wednesday night giving both plenty to digest over the following 48 hours.