Fleury-shing in Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh Penguins held serve at home and defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in overtime thanks to inspired offensive efforts by veteran forward Bill Guerin and outstanding young forward Evgeni Malkin, but none of that would have been possible without the impressive performance by Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had 38 saves but none more important than the one that came late in the third period, the one save that could change the outcome of an entire playoff series.

With the Flyers up 2-1 in the third period, the Penguins were on thin ice as they were slowly running out of ideas to penetrate a solid Flyers defense and an equally solid goalie in Martin Biron. Meanwhile, the Flyers were shifting into “Holy crap we can steal Game 2!” mode as they felt stronger and counterattacked with conviction whenever possible.

With 11 minutes to go in the third period, the Flyers caught Pittsburgh distracted on defense and had a 2-on-1 situation with forward Jeff Carter commanding the puck. Carter played it perfectly as he dished off to a teammate near the goal, but Fleury deflected the shot, a shot that came back to Carter that had an empty goal in front of him with Fleury out of position and the chance to put the Flyers up 3-1.

It was meant to be, right? Not quite. Don’t ask me how, and he may not even know, but Fleury managed to turn around and deflect Carter’s shot with the tip ofhis right skate as he stretched out his leg like a ballet dancer. That was the save of a season, the save that goes right alongside the word “clutch” in the NHL Playoffs dictionary.

The save not only kept the Penguins in the game, but it also revived a Pittsburgh crowd that had been dormant for much of the third period, as they all started waving their terrible towels once again.

Six minutes went by, and the Penguins were desperately looking for the tie. They had shot on goal over 40 times and had scored only one goal. They were like a person crashing into a brick wall over and over again because they refused to try anything different. They just kept trying to overpower it instead of going around it.

Enter Malkin, who seemed to be the Penguins’ catalyst all game long. Malkin was standing around the goal with three minutes to go as he deflected a long shot by defenseman Kris Letang with his right knee. That was the answer all along, who needs to shoot the puck with a stick when you can just score soccer-style to tie a pivotal playoff game at two? That is what I call thinking outside the box.

The tying goal seemed to deflate the Flyers completely, as they steered away from their opportunistic and smart gameplan to promply lose their heads along with their legs late in overtime.

The Flyers had had a staggering amount of penaties during Game 1, highlighted by Scott Hartnell’s 16 penalty minutes, but that seemed to be in check last night, at least until 17 minutes into overtime.

First, right wing Mike Knuble commits a dumb cross-checking penalty to negate the Flyers’ power-play opportunity with three minutes left. Thirty seconds later, right wing Claude Giroux is penalized with two minutes for slashing. The ensuing 5-on-3 for the Penguins resulted in Pittsburgh passing the puck around patiently until Malkin found Guerin alone in the right corner next to the goal for the game-winner, Guerin’s second goal of the game and Malkin’s second assist.

The Penguins would have gotten the win much sooner if it wasn’t for Flyers’ goalie Martin Biron, who had 46 saves and single-handedly kept Philadelphia in the game. For a guy that has a sub-.500 career playoff record at 9-10 and is seen as a shaky playoff goalie by some fans, he was clutch last night as he laid it all out on the line to protect his team’s 1-0 and 2-1 leads.

The play that was most impressive came late in the third period when a Pittsburgh player was chasing down the puck in a breakaway opportunity and Biron strayed far away from his goal and risked his head diving for the puck before the opponent could get to it. If Biron keeps playing the way he did last night, the Flyers are far from being out of the series.

The series now goes on to Philadelphia, where Philadelphia will try to win both home games to even the series up at 2-2 with suspended forward David Carcillo probably back in action for Game 3.

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