Penguins Cooke up a recipe for disaster as Flyers drop another afternoon tilt

Matt Cooke recorded his first three-point game in almost four years and added a bit of history to the proceedings, as the Pittsburgh Penguins used strong short-handed play and an early third-period surge to claim a 6-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday afternoon.

“Definitely (Cooke’s best game) this year,” Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Physical-wise, skating-wise, with the puck, defensively and 5-on-5. He was solid on the wall play. His penalty killing work was exceptional.”

Hopes were high that, coming off a 7-2 strafing of the weakened Buffalo Sabres on Thursday on home ice, the Orange and Black could maintain that momentum and record back-to-back victories for the first time since January 10-12 — and consecutive home victories since January 5 and 7 against Chicago and Ottawa — but it all fell apart in a span of 92 seconds.

Pittsburgh, which tallied three times in the final 20 minutes off substitute goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, also received a goal and assist from Jordan Staal as well as scores from Dustin Jeffrey, Pascal Dupuis and James Neal to win their third game in the last four. The Pens crept into a tie for second place in the Atlantic Division with the Flyers at 71 points, but the visitors have the edge in wins (33).

Marc-Andre Fleury looked shaky at times, but did enough to grab the win by making 27 saves.

Jaromir Jagr posted his first multi-goal game as a 40-year-old, returning from a one-game absence from the flu to galvanize the crowd. Eric Wellwood and Wayne Simmonds rounded out the offense as Philly dropped its sixth game in eight tries.

Starter Ilya Bryzgalov was pulled after almost 37 minutes after he allowed three goals on just 13 shots. Sergei Bobrovsky went the rest of the way but suffered the loss after giving up three goals on 17 shots.

While Janis Joplin famously sang about the pain of a lover taking another piece of her heart, Bryzgalov is just trying find his center amidst all the furor over his play:

“I’m just trying to find peace in my soul to play in this city,” he intoned softly after the game. “It’s easy to find the scapegoat ‘We’re always losing because we have a bad goalie’ but I think it’s the wrong philosophy. It’s an easy life when you can blame one guy.”

Well, on Saturday it took two guys to help produce this little factoid: Philly has given up at least five goals in seven of their matinee contests this season, and the club fell to 4-10-1 in daylight start times.

It began at the 37-second mark as Jeffrey’s slam-dunk from the crease gave the visitors the lead for good. The sequence was aided by the fact that Bobrovsky failed to control the initial shot, and the egregious gaffe committed by the usually-reliable Kimmo Timonen’s clearing attempt which headed right back towards the goal.

Timonen was not long for the game after that, confined to the bench. He finished with two shots, one assist and was a minus-3 in 16:22 of ice time.

Dupuis then picked up an insurance score with 2:09 played when his prayer from the goal line to Bobrovsky’s right deflected off the inside of his padding and dropped home for a 5-3 contest. That score was set up by diligent work behind the net by both Staal and Steve Sullivan, who kept the puck in their possession against a struggling backcheck.

The coup-de-grace helped double the Pens’ edge at the 9:02 mark and accounted for the final margin.

Marc-Andre Bourdon, who has continually showed his rookie stripes, failed in his pinch attempt inside his own zone and the puck found Evgeni Malkin, who shuttled ahead to Chris Kunitz. Kunitz led Neal, who was streaking down the right-wing side. The first shot from distance was kicked out, but the former Dallas Star followed up and managed to flip a one-handed offering just inside the right post.

“Once it got to be 5-3 we lost all our steam it seemed to me,” admitted Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. “I wasn’t happy with that first shift. We turned the puck over when we had a chance to slow the pace of the game down. We could have been better in a lot of different areas and (goaltending) was just one of them.

The testy affair calmed down for good, with the only real tomfoolery happening with 2:03 left as both Joe Vitale of Pittsburgh and Scott Hartnell were given the gate with 10-minute misconducts.

Simmonds provided the final margin on a nifty backhander inside the final 20 seconds.

In the old days, the annual home game the day before the Carnival began at 11:05 AM, and even though the schedule this time dictated a 1:05 PM faceoff, the Flyers came out with unusual verve despite their prior woes.

Nonetheless, it was the newly-docile Cooke who opened the scoring on a wrister from the left wing just 3:17 in. The feisty winger gained possession in the neutral zone thanks to a miscommunication between partners Andrej Meszaros and new addition Nick Grossman, flew up the left wing and scored from the circle.

Things heated up thanks to the former Penguin, who set the crowd alight with his short-range sniper abilities.

First, during a 4-on-4 with Craig Adams and Simmonds in the box, Jagr cradled the puck for a second, faked a pass and ripped a wrister over Fleury’s glove at 15:16.

Then, after the Simmonds minor expired and Staal off for a hold, he was left alone in almost the same spot on the right side and scored on a similar shot roughly two strides above where he stood on the first tally. Thus, it was 2-1 for Philly with 4:26 showing.

The Penguins committed five minors in the second period to two for the Flyers, but that didn’t seem to matter as Staal and Cooke tallied while a man down in a span of roughly two minutes.

Before the offense came to light, Staal made his presence known physically,  guiding a defenseless Braydon Coburn into the end boards prior to the midway point. For his actions, he got a boarding minor — which looked more like a major to most but was killed off — and was later issued a $2,500 fine by the NHL.

“It was very frustrating. I score those two goals, we’re up 2-1, then we have a power play and they score both times on the same power play and changed the momentum,” Jagr said. “It doesn’t matter (if they were ‘good’ or not) when we have a power play we can’t let them score. We have to be very careful. Maybe we were pushing too hard to try and score goals.”

On the score which tied the game, 2-2, Claude Giroux made an inexplicable pass after winning the puck off the boards but it slid right to Adams, who found Staal on the left wing. Bryzgalov appeared to unnecessarily lean forward before the shot, and without the benefit of a screen, a wrister from between the circles rippled the back of the net at 15:14.

The ensuing Penguins’ tally sent Bryzgalov to the bench, but you’d be hard pressed to pass on all the blame. Despite room on a 5-on-3 power play, Giroux’s dish back to Timonen at the left point got past the Finn. Cooke, already in full flight, managed to overtake his checker, hang onto the puck once Timonen caught up, and flipped the puck inside the left post.

Thus, the 33-year-old became the first Penguins player since Mario Lemieux back in February of 1988 at Los Angeles to score a goal while skating two men short.

“It was a strange period with the types of situations we were in,” Bylsma noted. “The second period was unique in a lot of ways. Penalty-wise and giving up one in the first, finding ourselves down so much.”

The strangeness continued less than two minutes later. Pens rearguard Deryk Engelland peeled out in front of the crease and went down in the slot, allowing the alert Wellwood to chip the loose puck home for his milestone goal with 1:19 on the clock.

Notes: Cooke’s three points were a season high, and the most he’s recorded in one regular-season game since March 3, 2008 with Washington in a 10-2 defeat of Boston…Neal reached the 30-goal mark for the first time in his career and continues to set a career high in goals, first set two years ago in Dallas (27)…Prior to Saturday, the last player to record a 3-on-5 goal against the Flyers was Benoit Hogue, who did so into an empty net during a 4-2 Islanders’ win at Uniondale on March 9, 1993…James van Riemsdyk returned to the lineup for the first time since January 12, recording an assist in 14:43 of ice time…Jagr has scored 39 goals in 39 games against the Penguins thanks to his fourth multi-goal effort this season, and upped his career total to 661, seven behind Luc Robitaille for 10th place all-time…This marked the seventh time the Flyers have allowed five goals or more in an afternoon start this year…Grossman ended up a plus-one in 18:26 TOI…Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik ended up with a game-best plus-4.