What a start.
What a finish.
After 20 minutes, the Flyers were in the teeth of a Penguins buzzsaw.
“After that first period, we sat in the room and said we had a decision to make,” said Flyers centre Daniel Briere, a playoff stud whose two goals got his team back in the game. “We could either pack it in and get ready for Game 2 or we could make it hard on them. It was an easy choice.”
It is one of the wonderful things that when two good or maybe even great teams hook up, it is difficult for one to impose its will and dictate the tempo for an entire game, particularly in the 4-5 seeding where two legitimate Cup contenders meet in both conferences.
The Penguins raced out to a 3-0 first-period lead and this looked like it had rout all over it. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby looked geared up and scored the first goal on a dainty backhander. Tyler Kennedy converted a 2-on-1 and Pascal Dupuis made the most of a couple of lucky bounces with 37 seconds left in the first period.
The Flyers barely touched the puck in that first 20 minutes.
“Once you give them the puck,” said Flyers veteran Jaromir Jagr, “they’re too dangerous.”
There had been the sense this was a Penguins team, and a player in Sidney Crosby, that was waiting to burst from the gate.
A lot of things created that sense of energy and purpose and simple desire were pent up, despite Crosby’s sombre downplaying of this opportunity. Over the last quarter of the season, the Penguins had worked hard for individual achievements, making sure Evgeni Malkin got his second scoring title, making sure James Neal got to 40 goals and getting the reformed Matt Cooke to 20 (they came up one short).
It was a luxury the Penguins could afford themselves after scrambling to make the playoffs in other years.
They say in hockey a 3-0 lead is about the worst there is, especially against the Flyers, apparently. The Flyers came back from being three down to earn at least a point three times in the regular season.
“They didn’t stop and in the second half we didn’t get to our game the way we needed to,” said Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma after the Penguins players quickly evacuated their dressing room. “They’re also a good team and they’re not just going to let us come at them.”
“It’s a little frustrating, but the game is over and we have to move on,” said Kennedy.
Could the way this loss came about inflict a lasting wound?
“I don’t think so. Especially in the playoffs,” said Kennedy. “Tomorrow is a new day. We have to move on and forget about what happened.”
The Flyers kept plugging away and benefited from a missed offside call as Briere made it 3-1 and then pulled the Flyers to within one halfway through the third.
Those two goals gave him 42 post-season goals since the lockout, second behind only Detroit Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg.
The Flyers needed a response from one of their top players and they got it from Briere.
Jagr was in a playful playoff mood after the game. He said he noticed a number of fans showed up in bear costumes after Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov said he wasn’t afraid of Penguins, but he was afraid of bears in the woods.
“There were like seven in arena. Who got them ticket?” asked Jagr. “I was scared, too.”
Are the Flyers loose and confident now?
Does a bear sit in the Penguins’ hood?