VOORHEES, N.J. – There is no shortage of suggestions, from serious to silly, for how the Philadelphia Flyers can stop falling behind so early in games.
Start the backup goalie for a period.
Spot teams a 2-0 lead on the scoreboard and knock 10 minutes off the clock before the opening faceoff.
Skate harder, come out more focused.
No matter the ideas batted around the locker room, the song remains the same. The Flyers have allowed the first goal in 12 of the last 14 games, and have trailed by multiple goals in nine of those games.
Normally a recipe for disaster and the draft lottery, the Flyers have turned the deficits into thrilling victories that have stamped them as the undisputed comeback kings of the NHL. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins blew a 3-0 lead in Game 1 of their opening-round series, and leads of 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 2 to find themselves in a deep hole. The Flyers hold a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series as the series shifts Sunday to Philadelphia.
This is one 2-zip lead the Flyers refuse to squander.
Win Game 3 and Game 4 on Wednesday and the Flyers won’t have to worry about a return trip to Pittsburgh, an idea that seemed inconceivable before the series started. Yet, here are the Flyers, back on home ice, with a combination of slow starts and fantastic finishes on their side—for now.
“It’s not the way we plan things,” rookie centre Sean Couturier said Saturday. “We seem to find a way to get back every night. It’s going to catch up with us some day. We’ve got to fix that pretty quick.”
Couturier had the game of his young career in Philadelphia’s wild 8-5 victory Friday night in Game 2.
He had a hat trick and an assist, and his four-point night tied a team record for most points by a rookie in a playoff game. Couturier was the first Flyers rookie to have a multi-goal playoff game since 2000.
So much for those pesky playoff jitters.
“It felt great, first hat trick felt pretty special,” he said. “What was more important was that it was a big win.”
What made it so big was the how the Flyers rallied. The Penguins wasted leads of 2-0, 3-1, 4-3 and 5-4 at home to a Flyers team that simply does not roll over. Claude Giroux, a likely nominee for NHL MVP, also scored three goals and the Flyers scored seven in the game’s final 35 minutes.
Sounds impressive, right? These days, it’s become the norm for the orange and black.
“They went out, they took control of a game and they fought back,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. If it were the first time it happened this year, maybe you’d be like, ‘Oh, that’s pretty cool that we can do that.’ But we’ve done it a lot.”
For all the theories, there really is no easy solution to the first-period doldrums. Playing at home is no guarantee of a quick fix, either. For all the boasting the organization does about playing in one of the most intimidating arenas in the NHL, the Flyers posted a very common 22-13-6 record at the Wells Fargo Center this season.
While the Flyers try and figure out how to stop trailing 2-0, the Penguins are working on how to stop giving away those hefty leads.
The Penguins, picked by Las Vegas as the favourite to win the Stanley Cup, hope the losses have not damaged their psyche.
“If you’re asking does it affect the mindset, I think it does,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “You can say that losing 4-3 is a 4-3 loss no matter how it goes down, and an overtime game is painful for anybody who’s losing 4-3. But I think we understand we had leads, 3-0 leads and two-goals leads, and they were able to come back.
“I think it’s difficult to deal with those loses, and at the same time, we have to put it behind us.”
There is hope they can reverse the troubling trend. The Penguins have outscored the Flyers 6-1 in the first period, Sidney Crosby has two goals and four points, and the team showed serious resolve this season en route to a 108-point season in the face of a variety of injuries.
NHL scoring champion Evgeni Malkin has yet to net a goal.
“I don’t think we need to change a whole lot,” Crosby said. “We’ve made a few mistakes. If you look at (Game 2), we gave up two goals on our power play. You can’t do that and expect to win a hockey game. Little mistakes that we have to clean up. We want to manage the puck a little bit better, hold onto it a little bit more and possess it. That’s really where it’s at, managing the puck and not allowing them to get up ice.”
Ilya Bryzgalov, who allowed eight goals in the first two games, knows the Penguins aren’t out of it yet.
“They have enough skills to get it done,” Bryzgalov said. “That’s why I’m not surprised at all they’re high-scoring games.”
The Flyers were loose after Saturday’s practice, fitting for a team with a nice cushion.
Jakub Voracek held a reporter’s tape recorder in an interview scrum and acted like he might interview Max Talbot. Couturier was heckled by teammates during his interview, broke his train of thought, and cracked up a couple of times.
“No teeth. Beautiful,” Talbot said of the rookie.
But they’re mindful that the series is far from over.
“It’s a very dangerous team over there,” said Voracek, who scored the Game 1 overtime winner. “They know it. They’re desperate right now. We’ve got to be ready tomorrow.”