PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Jaromir Jagr rubbed the stubble on his still-developing playoff beard and mulled the question.
Was Philadelphia’s 8-5 comeback win over Pittsburgh in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Friday one of the wildest games he’s ever seen?
“I’ve been playing 20 years you know,” Jagr said with a laugh.
He might need to play another 20 to see the kind of fireworks produced by two of hockey’s most dynamic teams.
Sidney Crosby scored 15 seconds into the game. The Penguins built an early 3-1 lead. And still it wasn’t nearly enough to put away the NHL’s most resilient team.
Claude Giroux had three goals and three assists to set a franchise record for points in a playoff game, rookie Sean Couturier had a hat trick of his own and the Flyers took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Giroux isn’t sure the Flyers are in the Penguins’ head after beating them for the fourth time this season after spotting Pittsburgh two goals, but it’s hard to argue otherwise.
The Penguins had leads of 2-0, 3-1, 4-3 and 5-4 at home and still couldn’t fend off Philadelphia.
“When you’re able to come back in a game like that again it speaks volumes about character in the room,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. “Fighting back like that is not easy.”
The Flyers did a little bit of everything, scoring a pair of short-handed goals, adding one on the power play and throwing in an empty-netter to push a Pittsburgh team considered a Stanley Cup favourite to a 2-0 deficit.
“I don’t know how many times we’ll be able to do comebacks like that,” Giroux said. “We’ve got to have a better start.”
At this point, why bother?
Philadelphia scored seven goals in the game’s final 35 minutes, responding every time it appeared the Penguins were finally ready to take control. Jagr and Max Talbot—both Cup winners in Pittsburgh—also scored for the Flyers, who host Game 3 on Sunday.
“This team can always score goals,” said Jagr, who gave Philadelphia its first lead in regulation in the series midway through the third period. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can score goals.”
Including the 19-year-old Couturier. Assigned to slow down Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin, Couturier outscored the Russian instead for the first hat trick by a Philadelphia rookie since Andy Delmore in 2000.
Couturier admitted to feeling some jitters before the series opener. Funny, he hardly looked nervous when his third goal of the night sewed it up with 1:49 remaining before Giroux’s empty-netter completed the scoring.
“He’s 19, but he plays like he’s 28,” Giroux said.
Ilya Bryzgalov overcame another shaky start to stop 23 shots for the Flyers, who never blinked after getting down by multiple goals for the ninth time in their past 14 games.
“You have a choice to win the game or give up,” Bryzgalov said.
Chris Kunitz had two goals for Pittsburgh, and Crosby and Tyler Kennedy scored for the second straight game, but the Penguins again failed to close out the Flyers.
The Penguins tried to downplay their collapse in the opener, insisting there was plenty of hockey to play.
Perhaps, but there might not be much left after another stirring comeback by the Flyers. Philadelphia is 17-0 when it wins the first two games of a series.
“We’ve got to find a way to be better with the lead,” Crosby said. “We know they’re going to keep coming.”
The Flyers proved it in the third period after Kennedy’s goal put the Penguins up 5-4.
It took Philadelphia just 17 seconds to respond, as Couturier created a turnover and broke in alone on Marc-Andre Fleury.
The score seemed to sap all the energy out of the Consol Energy Center and what little remained disappeared when Jagr put the Flyers in front for the first time with less than 11 minutes to go.
“We need to limit our mistakes, that’s really what it comes down to,” Crosby said. “The mistakes we’ve made have ended up in our net.”
The ending was in stark contrast to another electric start by the Penguins.
Crosby needed all of 15 seconds to give Pittsburgh the lead, working a give-and-go off the opening faceoff with Steve Sullivan and ripping a one-timer by Bryzgalov.
The goal tied Pittsburgh’s franchise mark for fastest goal to start a playoff game, set by Greg Malone against St. Louis in 1981. It also was the quickest allowed by a Philadelphia opponent in playoff history, breaking the mark of 21 seconds set by Chicago’s Jim Pappin in 1971.
The lead grew to 3-1 by the end of the first period.
Yet just like Wednesday—when the Penguins led 3-0 after the first 20 minutes—it wasn’t nearly enough.
The Flyers rallied to tie it at 3 behind Giroux, who scored on the power play then beat Fleury with a wrist shot for Philadelphia’s second short-handed goal of the night.
The tie lasted all of 6 seconds, or as long as it took Kunitz to pounce on a rebound and slide the puck into the open net.
Still, the Flyers wouldn’t back down. Couturier tied it at 4 just before the second intermission, erasing all of Pittsburgh’s momentum and setting the stage for another stirring finish.
NOTES: Philadelphia defenceman Marc-Andre Bourdon was scratched after sustaining an upper-body injury in Game 1. … The Penguins scratched defenceman Matt Niskanen because of an upper-body injury. … Viewership for the first two days of the playoffs is up 22 per cent over 2011, according to the NHL. … Crosby’s goal was the 32nd playoff tally of his career, tying him with Ron Francis for fourth on Pittsburgh’s list. … Bylsma has coached in 46 playoff games, tying Eddie Johnston for most post-season games in franchise history.