Steal City! Fortunate Pens Beat Damaged Flyers to Take 2-0 Lead.

Once again the Philadelphia Flyers are playing against a very good team and a very poor pack of refs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins capitalized twice on very questionable calls and Maxime Talbot tallied the game winner in the third period, as the Pens won the tightly fought contest, 4-2, to take a 2-0 series lead heading to Philadelphia.

“I would just like to see some consistency,” said Flyers coach John Stevens, when asked about some questionable calls against his squad. “We have some stars on our team too.”

The normally tight-lipped Stevens was clearly biting his tongue in his post-game press conference to avoid getting fined. But the stoic coach had much to be adamant about as most of the contest was embarrassingly officiated, while also feeling the frustration of losing his best “healthy” defender Braydon Coburn early in the first period, when he was hit flush in the eye area with a deflected puck. He did not return to the game.

The Penguins drew first blood on the man advantage mid-way through the first period. Sidney Crosby banked a shot from the bottom of the nearside face off circle that hit off Flyers’ defender Lasse Kukkonen and past Biron to give the Pens a 1-0 lead. The goal was less than spectacular, but may not have occured had the refs not called a penalty on veteran Flyers forward Mike Knuble, who was simply making a routine play to clear the front of his net.

After a timid, sloppy first period (likely due to the shocking loss of Coburn) the Flyers came out in the second period hitting everything that moved and taking the play to the Pens. Flyers forward Jeff Carter tied the game at one on the man advantage, receiving a nice pass from a helmetless Joffrey Lupul to tie the game at one.

The deadlock wouldn’t last long, as the refs had a different concern. Veteran defender Darian Hatcher stood up an incoming Evgeni Malkin, who attempted to put a sly move past him. Hatcher, who if anything knows how to play the body, was called for hooking on the play because his stick happened to be between Malkins legs when Hatcher used his hands to stand him up. Hatcher’s play was a textbook defensive play that coaches in all contact net sports pass on to their players, but somehow Hatchers beaufiul play was looked upon as an illegal infraction. Pittsburgh’s Marian Hossa scored on the ensuing Pens power play to get his team up 2-1 with seven minutes remaining in the second.

Hatcher again was sent to the penalty box at the end of the second period, when Pittsburgh’s Jordan Staal got as low as he possibly good and took the puck behind the Flyers’ net, in what appeared like an attempt to slam dunk a wrap around. Hatcher had didn’t plans and he pushed Staal’s closest shoulder to keep him to the outside. Hatcher was called for the phantom cross check, and again, after a solid defensive play, went to the box bewildered.

The outcome was different however, as red-hot Mike Richards stole a Malkin cross-ice pass and went in on a break away, beating Marc-Andre Fleury glove side for a shorthanded goal, to even the score at 2.

The Flyers seem to run out of gas in the third period, as a Steve Downie turnover at his own blueline led to Talbot’s goal to win the game.

Thumbs Up

Physicality – The Flyers dominated the Pens in hits, 45 – 33, and were especially mean about it in the second period. Led by Scotty Hartnell, Hatcher and Scottie Upshall, all with six, the violence the Flyers showed in the second period may be directly related to the struggles the Pens saw in the middle period before stealing momentum back via the power play.

Steve Downie before the third – Despite his game wasting blunder in the third period, Downie had a very solid game. With only 3:46 of ice time, Downie tallied three hits, no turnovers and was strong on the puck.

Jason Smith – Smith was a plus-1 with four hits and no turnovers. Who knew he had it in him?

Thumbs Down

Malkin is hurt – Malkin did not attend the pre-game skate and was late getting dressed before the game. He was also invisible during the game and has been since he took a hit from Richards in game one. Something is definitely wrong with him but he’s okay enough to skate, which usually means concussion.

Vinny Prospal – After flashing brilliance with Danny Briere in the Capitals series, Prospal has been non existant since the opening round.

RJ Umberger – After lighting the world on fire against Montreal, Umberger has faded into oblivion like he does every so often. Umberger had no shots-on-goal, one turnover and only two hits. For those counting that’s one hit less than Briere, who had three.

VERSUS announcers – Terrible and almost unlistenable. After completely denouncing Hatcher’s penalty against Malkin by calling it good defending and a tough penalty to call, they quickly changed their minds after a commercial break and tried to say it was a good call. Not sure who told them to never speak bad about the refs, but they surely listened.

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