April 15, 2012
Flyers make Pens pay for circus act
By Chris Stevenson, QMI Agency
PHILADELPHIA - There was a carnival atmosphere Sunday afternoon with root beer and corn dogs in the press box at the Wells Fargo Center.
You could imagine a carnival barker: “Step right up and see the sudden-death defying Penguins and Flyers, squint at the incredible shrinking save percentages, marvel at the two best forwards fighting, the two best defencemen thrown out, see Arron Asham putting his stick to Brayden Schenn’s head like it was a martini olive, cringe at the Penguins’ breakout and see Ilya Bryzgalov drop a puck out of his butt for a goal against and still be the better goalie!”
In an opening-round playoff series that abused convention like the Philadelphia Flyers abused Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, the Flyers took a 3-0 series lead in their opening-round, best-of-seven series with an 8-4 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
Hey, the 1980s called and they want their goals against averages back.
In the other seven playoff series combined, there were 67 goals scored as this game ended.
The Pens and Flyers have combined for 32 on their own.
The first period Sunday was almost a series on its own.
There were six goals, four by the Flyers.
“I thought the first two games in Pittsburgh were crazy,” said Flyers forward Danny Briere, who had another two goals Sunday and now has four this post-season. “But this one was even wilder.”
There were 72 minutes in penalties in that first period, most of them coming after Penguins captain Sidney Crosby jabbed at the glove of Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Crosby ended up dropping the gloves for a minor skirmish with Flyers star Claude Giroux.
“I thought it was great. In the end, that’s really playoff hockey, isn’t it?” said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, whose club can complete an unlikely sweep Wednesday. “A couple of the best players in the world dropping the gloves and going at it? Would I rather have (Giroux) keep his gloves on? Sure. But when he’s fighting Sidney Crosby, that’s the playoff hockey. That’s this series. In the end, that’s probably what it’s about. You get guys out there and they want to win on both sides and they’ll do anything to do it.”
On the same stoppage, Penguins defenceman Kris Letang swung on Flyers defenceman Kimo Timonen and they both wound up getting game misconducts for a second fight on the same stoppage (a little sketchy given the Crosby/Giroux pillow toss was hardly a real fight).
A couple of minutes after that, it took a seriously ugly turn when Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham crosschecked and punched Philly rookie Brayden Schenn in the head after Schenn blew up Penguins defenceman Paul Martin along the boards.
Schenn got a charging penalty and Asham a match penalty.
Now the Penguins, a team many tabbed as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, are one loss away from a long summer. They were done in Sunday by the same uncharacteristic patterns as the first two games: Fleury couldn’t give them a timely save and they couldn’t hold a lead if you put handles on it. They gave up another short-handed goal, their third of the series.
“No one is quitting here. No one is showing any signs of giving up in here,” said Crosby. “You can’t look at it as having to win four. You have to look at it as having to win one.”
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma replaced Fleury with Brent Johnson to start the third and he got beat on the first shot he faced 27 seconds later.
“I know Marc-Andre Fleury is going to the guy in our net for the next four games,” said Bylsma, triggering a bunch of Tweets along the same line: “he’s got his starter for the Penguins pre-season games figured out already?”
An already nasty game got worse at the end when Neal hit Philly’s Sean Couturier with a clearly late hit after the puck had left their area. It left Couturier stunned and led to another incident that saw Crosby grab Flyer Scott Hartnell. Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams jumped in and fought Hartnell.
That left the Flyers fans chanting “you can’t beat us.”
Sounds like they’re right.
National Hockey Writer
Sun Media/QMI Agency