PITTSBURGH – The Philadelphia Flyers were determined and desperate, angry at themselves for being on the brink of elimination against the team that embarrassed them while ending their season a year ago.
The Pittsburgh Penguins might want to go looking for that same desperation, now that they’ve let the Flyers back into a series that appeared to be over.
Arron Asham and Claude Giroux, role players on a team filled with goal scorers, got the first two goals and the Flyers avoided elimination by beating the Penguins 3-0 Thursday night to force Game 6 in the Eastern Conference first-round series.
“There’s no more excitement and challenge to be down in a series and know there’s no tomorrow,” said Flyers goalie Martin Biron, who made 28 saves in his second career playoff shutout.
After winning 2-1 in Philadelphia despite being outshot 46-26 on Tuesday night, the Penguins were in position to finish off the Flyers in Game 5 on home ice for a second successive season, just as they did by winning 6-0 to decide the Eastern Conference finals last season.
Not so fast – and the Penguins weren’t, their speed and skill negated by the Flyers’ desperation and a clampdown defence led by Biron.
“That was the message before the game, that we needed Marty to be great,” coach John Stevens said.
The Flyers still have a huge challenge, as they are 0-13 in series after trailing 3-1, and they haven’t forced a Game 7 since losing to Edmonton in the 1987 Stanley Cup finals.
But they can do that if they win Game 6 on Saturday in Philadelphia.
“We had an opportunity to get that fourth win. It’s something we wanted to do as quickly as possible and we had a chance to do it at home,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
“We knew they were going to be battling for their lives.”
Should the Flyers win Saturday, the pressure shifts back to Pittsburgh, which hasn’t blown a 3-1 series lead in 34 years.
“We’re still down in the series,” said Mike Knuble, who scored the Flyers’ final goal in the third period. “All we can do is force another game in Philly.
“We achieved that goal, but they’re going to be ready for us. Maybe they’ll feel a little more threatened. Maybe they didn’t feel threatened up 3-1.”
The Flyers managed to keep it scoreless despite being outshot 15-5 in the first period, then got the all-important first goal when their fourth line outworked the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby-led first line for Asham’s goal.
They put it away when Giroux and the Flyers’ third line took advantage of another Pittsburgh mistake, a poor pass by defenceman Philippe Boucher, for Giroux’s second of the series early in the third period.
“We were more excited to win than nervous to lose,” Giroux said. “That’s important. When you work hard, you get rewarded.”
Marc-Andre Fleury, so strong in goal while making 45 saves in Game 4, couldn’t save the Penguins in this one with their stars, Crosby and Malkin, shut down by the Flyers in a game that saved Philadelphia’s season, at least for one more game.
The Penguins spent much of the first period pressing for the first goal that would have made their 110th consecutive sellout crowd even more of a factor, but couldn’t get it despite taking the final eight shots of the period.
Instead, the Flyers did.
Bill Guerin tried to make a drop pass to Crosby as the Penguins’ top line opposed the Flyers’ No. 4 line.
Daniel Carcillo intercepted and fed the puck ahead to Asham for a slap shot just inside the blue line that eluded Fleury to the glove side, at 6:32 of the second.
“He (Asham) was asked to go out and play a certain role and he gets a goal on a great shot,” Biron said. “That really gives the guys a boost when you see that, the energy and emotion to keep the game going.”
The Penguins sensed the momentum from the first period slip away when the Flyers got a goal not from one of their six scorers with 25 or more goals, but a fourth-liner. Each player on that line – Asham, Carcillo and Jared Ross – has a goal in the series.
“Nobody told us it was going to be tonight,” Penguins defenceman Sergei Gonchar said. “After the first goal, they were concentrating on playing well defensively.”
Malkin appeared to have tied it less than two minutes later when he put in a rebound of Gonchar’s slapshot from centre point, but the goal was waved off because Malkin kicked the puck toward the net.
The Penguins didn’t argue.
That might have been the break the Flyers needed to finally win in Mellon Arena, where they had lost their last five playoff games, and they took advantage of it to make it 2-0 when their third line scored.
Notes: The Penguins made two lineup changes, playing F Miroslav Satan and Boucher and benching F Petr Sykora and D Kris Letang. Satan hadn’t played for Pittsburgh since being sent to the minors March 4. … Biron is 3-7 against Pittsburgh in playoff games. … Of the 229 teams to trail 3-1 in an NHL playoff series, only 20 rallied to win. Pittsburgh lost a 3-1 lead when it won the first three games against the Islanders in 1975, then lost the next four.