Erik Christensen twice scored tying goals in regulation, then teamed with Sidney Crosby to win it in the shootout and the Penguins swept a season series from Philadelphia for the first time by winning 4-3 on Sunday.
Pittsburgh won all eight games against a once-dominating opponent. Coming into the season, the Flyers were 125-64 with 30 ties and one overtime loss in the last 40 years against their Pennsylvania rivals.
The Penguins nearly didn’t win, falling behind 2-0 on goals by Mike York and Braydon Coburn in a sloppily played first period. But Gary Roberts, with the Penguins less than a week, scored once and set up their other two goals in regulation and Pittsburgh won for only the second time in five games after getting points in 16 consecutive games (14-0-2).
This is exactly why Pittsburgh traded with Florida to get the 40-year-old Roberts – his ability to lead and to help win big games down the stretch in playoff races.
“Right now in the Eastern Conference, you can be third one week and eighth the next, so you’ve got to make sure you don’t let any game slip away,” Roberts said.
Crosby decided a shootout for the second time in four days, following up Christensen’s successful shot against goalie Martin Biron by stickhandling the puck down the slot before going to his backhand to end it.
Both Flyers shooters, Martin Ruzicka and Scottie Upshall, failed against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after Christensen began the shootout by beating Biron. The Penguins are 7-5 in shootouts and the Flyers are 1-6, last winning on Oct. 26.
Some fans tossed hats onto the ice after Christensen scored in the shootout, even though shootout goals don’t count in individual totals.
“I knew it wasn’t a hat trick but I will take it,” said Christensen, who leads Pittsburgh with a 6-of-10 conversion rate in shootouts.
Crosby is 3-of-11 in shootouts, but also decided the Penguins’ 4-3 victory against the Rangers on Thursday by scoring the only goal of the shootout.
“If you keep Crosby off the score sheet, you have a better chance of winning,” the Flyers’ Simon Gagne said. “It means defensively you’re doing something right. But when you get into shootouts you don’t know what’s going to happen, and we’re not very good in shootouts right now.”
Crosby, the NHL’s scoring leader with 98 points, was held without a point after getting 30 points in his first 15 career games against the Flyers. Crosby has two goals in his last 17 games overall.
Pittsburgh got back into the game the same way the Flyers took their 2-0 lead, by capitalizing on unnecessary penalties and controlling the puck in the opposing end for long stretches.
“The first half of the game looked like a nightmare,” Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. “Nothing was going on, we were not moving the puck well, we took a lot of penalties, there was no rhythm to the game.”
The Flyers might disagree, but they couldn’t build on that 2-0 lead partly because they were 0-8 on the power play.
“If you get that third goal, you don’t say you’ve closed it out but it makes it really tough to come back,” Gagne said.
Instead, the Penguins cut it to 2-1 in the second period on Roberts’ first goal in three games with Pittsburgh – off a Sergei Gonchar rebound three seconds after a power play created by Geoff Sanderson’s slashing penalty ended. The Penguins tied it late in the period on a power play, this time with Roberts setting up Christensen on a give and go.
The Flyers didn’t score again until R.J. Umberger’s tip-in from along the side of the net about 7 minutes into the third, his 16th goal and fourth in three games. Christensen tied it with about five minutes remaining on a hard wrist shot from the low slot off Michel Ouellet’s excellent pass from behind the net, for his 12th goal.
Notes: The Penguins were 1-of-8 on the power play and are 2-for-24 in their last four games. . . . The Flyers were outscored 38-17 in the season series. . . . Pittsburgh played its third game within 72 hours following games Thursday at the Rangers and Friday at Carolina. The Penguins are playing a league-high 17 games in March. . . . Biron made his second start since being traded by the Sabres. He beat Pittsburgh 4-2 with Buffalo on Nov. 17, even though Crosby scored twice.