In a battle for first place in the Eastern Conference between bitter cross-state rivals, the Flyers again received clutch goals when it mattered most, in a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Wayne Simmonds led the way with a goal and an assist, and Max Talbot and Jaromir Jagr saw their old team for the first time since coming to Philadelphia.
The Flyers came out with plenty of jump, but put themselves in a bad spot early, as call-up defenseman Kevin Marshall took a delay-of-game penalty for firing the puck up over the glass at 3:42 of the first period. The Flyers easily killed the penalty with the star play of Claude Giroux and Talbot, and went on to gain momentum from it.
After the penalty, they carried the play in the first period, out-shooting the Pens 15-7, and kicking off the scoring late in the first, with a pinball like shot from Danny Briere that deflected off two Penguin defensemen and in past Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
As opposed to last night’s 3-0 deficit they had to overcome, tonight the Flyers held a 3-0 lead they needed to defend. They let up a bit allowing two Penguin goals, one in each of the final two periods, but their resilience allowed them to hold on for a 3-2 win.
“No question about it,” said Jagr. ”You always have to find a way to win the hockey game. It don’t matter if you have a lead, or you’re losing. We have to find a way to win. We did it again tonight.”
The penalty kill has struggled lately, having gone 2-for-4 against the Coyotes a night ago, and allowing four power play goals in the last four games, was strong tonight. They stopped 4-of-5 man-advantages by the Pens, allowing only one that came off a nifty play when Evgeni Malkin fed James Neal, who fired the puck up high, with Flyers’ goalie Ilya Bryzgalov down in the butterfly.
“I thought they did a really good job,” said Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette. “[They] had some good coverage.”
The strength of the Flyers’ penalty kill was no more evident than near the end of the first, when they had to kill off a 5-on-3, with two of their players dropping broken sticks on the ice, leaving Kimmo Timonen as the only effective player left. Not only did they kill off the penalty, but they frustrated the Pens into taking a needless cross-checking penalty, when Chris Kunitz leveled the veteran Timonen right in front of the referee.
The Pens continued to come in the third period, out-shooting the Flyers 14-7 in the final stanza, and Malkin brought the visitors to within one, with a rising shot that Bryzgalov didn’t have a chance on.
The closing moments were tense, as the Flyers held a one-goal lead, and Malkin looked to even things up, but the Flyers defensive presence kept the Pens from getting any quality scoring chances.
“It wasn’t our best, the last, ten-to-twelve minutes,” said Laviolette. ”But the guys really fought for it.”
On top of the penalty kill, the power play of the Flyers was on top of its game. Simmonds scored the second goal of the night on the man-advantage off a quick feed from Jacob Voracek. The Flyers have scored six power play goals in their last four games, going 6-for-19, in that time.
It was an emotional night for Talbot and Jagr playing against their old team. Jagr was scoreless, with five shots-on-goal, while Talbot had two shots, went 8-for-15 in the faceoff circle, and made some brilliant defensive plays that probably saved the game.
”It’s probably different for [Talbot], because he played there last year,” said Jagr. ”I didn’t play there for ten years. However the media makes it up this summer, I got nothing to do with it. I understand the [Penguins] fans were pretty upset for me not going to Pittsburgh.”
The Flyers now hold first place in the Eastern Conference, and are back at it this Saturday against the struggling Tampa bay Lightning. They’ve shown the ability to win in any situation, and will hopefully start getting some early leads and holding them going forward.