Clearly lacking stalwart defender Kimmo Timonen, the out-of-sorts Flyers gave a decent effort but were simply too sloppy to contend with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who came back from a one-goal deficit to beat the visiting Flyers 4-2, to lead the Eastern Conference Finals 1-0.
Pittsburgh’s Chernobyl monster Evgeni Malkin, scored with just six second left in the second period to give the Pens a 3-2 leas heading into two. The goal would end up being the game-winner as Malkin added another goal in the second period to ice the contest.
Both of the Flyers goals came in the first period off the stick of Mike Richards, who also led his team in hits with six.
The Penguins did not completely control the contest as many predicted, but simply capitalized on Flyers’ mistakes.
“We made some mistakes we don’t normally make,” said Richards. “Give them credit they are an opportunistic team and they capitalized on the mistakes.”
In the first period, Jaroslav Modry and Jason Smith became tangled up on a 3-on-2, allowing Petr Sykora to float freely on Biron’s glove side. The puck came to Sykora, who put a dazzling backhander into the Flyers net. This confusion may not have been a factor if Timonen was on the roster allowing familiar defense pairs to play together.
On Pitts second goal, Biron made a mistake attempting to play the puck behind the net. Flyers’ captain Jason Smith came barreling toward Marty to corral the puck from his goaltender. Biron mistakenly thought Smith to be a Penguin and dished the puck around the boards where a waiting Marian Hossa centered it to Sidney Crosby, who easily deflected it past bumbling Biron.
The Penguins third goal came with six seconds remaining in the first period, when a wide-open Malkin took a pass at the Flyers’ blueline. With no Philly defender in position to impede the Russian, Malkin skated to the near-side face off circle and let a wrist shot go that got through Biron. Darian Hatcher could be seen hustling to the near side in hope to catch Malkin but with no luck. A defense pair not together since shortly after the all-star break, Braydon Coburn and Hatcher were the defenders out of position, and whether it was unfamiliarity or just tired legs, it was a mistake that cost the Flyers badly.
Pittsburgh’s fourth goal came on a power play mistake by fill-in defender, Randy Jones. With the rest of the play in the Pittsburgh zone, Malkin cherry-picked at the Flyers’ blue-line. The Flyers’ forwards turned the puck over to Sergei Gonchar, who dished it up ice, past a diving Jones and to Malkin, who buried the shot. Jones attempted to recover on the play but could not. If Timonen, the normal power play quarterback, was out there, that likely does not happen.
Crashing the Net – Both of the Flyers’ goals (and some missed chances) came with Philly crashing the Penguins net. The Flyers seem to outclass the Penguins defense around the net, but they need to get there with more consistency to have more success.
Lasse Needs More Ice Time – With Modry coming in for Timonen, Lasse Kukkonen took a backseat as the sixth defender with only 14:02 of ice time, the least of any Flyer not on the fourth forward line. With his limited time however he had four hits and two blocked shots with no turnovers. Maybe it was because of his limited time to make mistakes, or maybe he elevated his game, but either way there is not much to lose playing him over Modry.
Marty Biron – Marty flat out has to play better. With no Timonen, the Flyers are lacking on the defensive side of things, but Biron could be make everyone forget about that. With only 17 saves on 21 shots, Biron will have to be better than average to give his team a chance at this series.
Pens Fans: Why So Tame? – Is there a tamer playoff crowd in hockey? The Pens fans were the antithesis of rowdy and unruly and it was a shame to see in such a venomous contest. It’s a safe assumption to say the crowd does not have much to do with Pittsburgh’s 14-game home unbeaten streak.