Flyers finally put away Penguins

Flyers forward Scott Hartnell (centre) scores on Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during Game...

Flyers forward Scott Hartnell (centre) scores on Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury during Game 6 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn., April 22, 2012. (TIM SHAFFER/Reuters)

Rob Longley, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:38 AM ET

PHILADELPHIA - For the notoriously tough Philadelphia crowd, the Broad Street Bully element of the Flyers first-round upset of the Stanley Cup favourites was a crowd pleaser.

But in the end, matching the speed and skill of the Pittsburgh Penguins was the deciding factor in a riveting series you didn't really want to end.

On their third chance to clinch, the Flyers managed to close out Sidney Crosby and the Pens Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center with a decisive 5-1 victory to wrap up the best-of-seven series in six games.

In the end, the Flyers stars, especially Claude Giroux, outshone the best of the Penguins, a team that with a healthy Crosby seemed poised to make a deep post-season run.

Instead, they were eliminated in the first round for the second consecutive April, once again by a team seeded lower.

"There was a lot of buildup to this series and the way the first three games went ... they were physical, they were dirty, they were everything that you want in a playoff game," Flyers forward Scott Hartnell said. "The amount of goals that were scored were a little ridiculous. But we're moving on and that's all that matters now."

While the tempers that boiled over in Game 3 cooled with the series on the line, that fight-filled contest certainly was a flashpoint. It turned all of Philadelphia against Crosby. Many couldn't resist derisive chants at the Penguins star as the clock wound down Sunday.

So too was the opener back in Pittsburgh. At the end of the first period, of the first game, the Penguins were making it look like it wasn't going to be much of a series at all. Crosby opened the scoring in the first two minutes and by the intermission, his team had blitzed to a 3-0 lead.

The Flyers stormed back to win in overtime and, functionally, the series was never the same.

While players like Giroux, Jaromir Jagr and Danny Briere were doing their thing for the Flyers, the Penguins power brokers couldn't match them.

Crosby didn't register a point in the final two games and the NHL's leading regular-season scorer, Evgeni Malkin, never had a truly dominant game either. Still, the Penguins might have been able to get by without big totals from those two if goalie Marc-Andre Fleury had been within shouting distance of adequate.

"We knew we were going to score goals, it was a matter that we didn't keep it out of our net," Penguins forward Pascal Dupuis said. "The potential was there. You can have the best player in the game (Crosby), but if you don't execute, you don't battle, you don't keep the puck out of your own net, you're not going to win."

The Flyers certainly won the battles in the Game 6 clincher, starting from the opening shift. Giroux's rocking hit of Crosby was followed by a goal just 32 seconds in. This time, it was the Flyers who would open up a 3-0 lead and, with their best defensive effort of the series, never let the Pens within two goals the rest of the way.

With the Penguins surging to try and stay alive in a third consecutive elimination game, the Flyers paid the price, blocking a whopping 40 shots. With Fleury struggling mightily once again, the Flyers were never in doubt despite being out shot 31-23.

A strong finish to the season, which allowed them to get the No. 4 seed, had the Penguins confident heading in. But drawing the Flyers was no bargain, especially since their division and intra-state rival had captured the regular-season meetings by a 4-2 margin.

"Even before the series started, I felt like we had the confidence to play head-to-head against them," Flyers forward Jagr said. "We played pretty good against them during the regular season. The confidence was here."

The confidence was certainly with the Penguins as well, which led to even higher expectations. As gallant as their effort to get back into the series was with wins in Games 4 and 5, too many defensive miscues in too many of the games were their undoing.

"To get (Crosby) back with 14 games (left in the regular season) and have a full complement of players given what this group," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said, "it maybe even sets the expectation even higher."

And makes the disappointment that much greater.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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