PITTSBURGH – The Philadelphia Flyers took out the Montreal Canadiens in the second round the NHL playoffs with a bend-don’t-break style that frustrated the Habs to no end.
Outshot and outchanced in most of that series, the Flyers still prevailed in a short, five-game set in large part because goalie Martin Biron was terrific and the Canadiens couldn’t finish.
If Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final was any indication Friday night, that Flyers won’t get away with that this time around. Unlike the Canadiens, the Pittsburgh Penguins polished off their scoring chances.
“We did a great job of capitalizing,” star centre Sidney Crosby said after a 4-2 victory over the Flyers.
Evgeni Malkin had two goals and an assist while Crosby and Petr Sykora also scored for the high-flying Penguins, who took advantage of defensive breakdowns by Philadelphia.
“You turn pucks over and give up rushes against Crosby and Malkin, that’s a game you can’t play,” said Flyers head coach John Stevens. “Every time you get an odd-man rush error … it favours them. Those are things we can’t do.
“When we turn pucks over in the neutral zone, they come with too much speed, and they get you on the rush.”
Malkin got them twice in that fashion, breaking open a 2-2 game with a pair of high-end goals. First, it was a blistering wrist shot with 6.5 seconds to go in the first period that beat Flyers goalie Martin Biron stick side, Malkin allowed to walk in from the side boards. There’s nothing a coach hates more than giving up a goal late in the period.
“That’s a huge moment in a hockey game,” said Penguins winger Marian Hossa. “That was a huge goal by Malkin, it’s the kind of goals that kill a team.”
Malkin’s second goal, and the real back-breaker, came on a short-handed breakaway, the Russian centre blasting a slapshot from the hashmarks right through Biron. A little unconventional, but it worked.
“At the last second I just decided to shoot that puck as hard as I can,” Malkin said through an interpreter. “I didn’t think about where to shoot or to make any moves. Just (shoot) as hard as I can.”
And that was the game.
Moments later, for good measure, Malkin clobbered Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn with a clean but thunderous hit. The sellout crowd of 17,132 at Mellon Arena was loving every minute of it.
“One of the best hits was Malkin on Coburn, and that shows just the character of the players,” said Therrien.
Malkin and Crosby and the rest of the Penguins fought back all night long. They won’t be pushed around by the rugged Flyers.
“Our good players, you know, they play hard,” said Therrien. “They’re not going to back down.”
Mike Richards scored both goals for the Flyers, who didn’t look at all, at least for one game, like they could cope with the loss of Kimmo Timonen. The Flyers’ top defenceman was lost for the series to a blood clot.
Timonen is Philadelphia’s backside general, directing traffic while making smart plays in his own zone. The Flyers will need to find a way to tighten up defensively without him or this will be a short series. The Penguins have too many offensive weapons to be giving up odd-man breaks.
“We know if we can put lots of pressure on our their D, we’re going to get the puck back,” said Hossa. “We did that much better in the second and third periods.”
Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 stops for the victory, including a flashy glove save early in the third period on Flyers forward Jeff Carter. There would be no Flyers comeback on this night.
Philadelphia showed promise in the early going, buzzing around in the Penguins zone in the first period and knocking at the door. But it was the Penguins that scored first, on only their second shot of the game, Sykora taking a nifty cross-ice pass from Ryan Malone and beating Biron with a backhand deke at 6:19.
But the Flyers continued their excellent first-period forecheck and it paid off when Richards beat Fleury on a wrap-around at 8:30. It was Richards again that gave Philadelphia its only lead of the game at 12:50, flipping a loose puck over a sprawled Fleury.
“I thought we had a kind of slow start,” said Therrien. “We know how they’re going to score their goals. They throw a lot of pucks to the net. And not playing in a week, the competitiveness level wasn’t there for us at the beginning.”
But then defensive mistakes began to happen and the Penguins smelled blood. Marian Hossa intercepted a Biron clearing attempt in the corner and fed Crosby in front, No. 87 deftly re-directing the puck through Biron’s legs to tie it 2-2 at 14:11. They would never look back.
Notes: With Timonen out, veteran blue-liner Jaroslav Modry was reinserted in the Flyers lineup instead of Ryan Parent … Forwards Steve Downie, Denis Tolpeko and Riley Cote were healthy scratches … Penguins checking centre Maxime Talbot missed his third straight game with a foot injury. Head coach Michel Therrien said he was day to day … Forwards Kris Beech and Jeff Taffe and defenceman Darryl Sydor were healthy scratches for Pittsburgh.