Trailing 3-0 after 20 minutes, the Philadelphia Flyers embarked on a comeback for the ages, rallying for a 4-3 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins to open up this Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series on Wednesday.
Jakub Voracek displayed hard work, and received some luck, on his game winner which halted the action 2:23 into the fourth period.
The Flyers carried the momentum gained from their monstrous third period into the extra frame, as Voracek found himself in the corner of the Penguins’ defensive zone to start the series of plays that led to the deciding score. With a wrap-around pass through the crease, Voracek started a sequence of plays that led to a Matt Carle shot from the point. Carle wristed the biscuit towards Marc-Andre Fleury, who had 22 saves in the loss, but the rebound kicked out to Kris Letang. Fortunately for the Flyers, Letang fumbled the puck backwards toward the right side, where Voracek slammed it home.
“It was a lucky bounce to me,” Voracek said about his first career playoff tally.
Danny Briere kicked off the comeback with a two-goal performance, while Brayden Schenn posted a goal and two assists in his first playoff game in the NHL. Schenn also had four hits, two of which were of the punishing variety in the first period with checks on Paul Martin and Matt Cooke just seconds apart.
Ilya Bryzgalov shook off early troubles to pick up his first Philly playoff win by making 25 saves.
Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis lit the lamp early on, but the hosts slipped to 1-6 against the Flyers in their new digs.
A problem the Flyers needed to fix before they reached the playoffs was their habit of giving the opposition early leads. Philly didn’t address that issue tonight, as the Flyers put themselves in a three-goal hole before the first period ended.
An obstacle Philly didn’t anticipate entering the series, but should have definitely expected, were the generous one-way calls from the officials. In the final week of the regular season, Crosby stated he hoped the refs’ views wouldn’t change due to statements from Peter Laviolette and New York Rangers’ head coach John Tortorella. No worries for Crosby, as the refs still gave his club some favorable calls.
Following a missed icing call late in the first period that led to Dupuis’ goal, Crosby flopped at center ice to draw an interference minor early in the third period. Luckily for Philly, the refs missed a blatant offsides call on Briere’s first of the night.
Although he allowed three goals in the first period, Bryzgalov proceeded to stop all 15 shots he saw in in the final 42:23 of the tilt. With his team down 3-1 in the middle stanza, Bryzgalov made several saves on the penalty kill to keep it a two-goal game to start the third.
“Our penalty kill gave them nothing,” Schenn said. “When it’s 3-0, power plays can be game-changing goals but the PK stepped up for us and Bryz had a good game.”
Although they controlled play for the first few minutes, the Flyers found themselves fending off Pittsburgh scoring chances for most of the opening stanza. The Pens outshot the Flyers 13-6 in the first 20 minutes, as the most hated man in Philadelphia opened the scoring.
Crosby made an accurate backhanded shot from the bottom of the circle at the 3:43 mark to give Pitt the 1-0 advantage. Nick Grossmann did his job, as he blocked a Dupuis shot from the point, but Crosby managed to sneak in behind the towering d-man and chipped it over Bryzgalov’s glove and into the top-right corner.
Just over four minutes later, the Pens were up two. Jordan Staal led a 2-on-1 with Kennedy and carried the puck into the offensive zone on the right wing before he slid a pass between Andreas Lilja’s legs to Pitts’ #48. Kennedy’s shot beat Bryzgalov to put the home fans on their feet for a second time in the game’s first eight minutes.
Later in the period, after Jaromir Jagr missed a pair of chances to cut the deficit at one — including a breakaway where he missed the net wide right — an awkward play led to Pittsburgh’s third and final goal of the opening stanza.
Steve Sullivan apparently beat Braydon Coburn out for an icing call and gained possession of the puck behind the goal line. The forward then sent a blind backhanded centering feed. his shot popped up over Bryzgalov, hit the nub of the goaltender’s stick and dribbled over the goal line thanks to a whack by Dupuis at the 19:23 mark of the first period.
Philly successfully killed off Claude Giroux’s questionable boarding penalty against Brooks Orpik to start the second period, and received their first goal of the game minutes later thanks to an officiating gaffe.
After Schenn caused a turnover in the neutral zone, he threw the puck to the Pens’ blue line for Briere. Although it seemed as though the veteran winger was a couple strides offsides, the refs let play continue before the Flyers’ forward roofed a shot by a sprawling Fleury at 6:22.
Briere’s goal was the only tally of the period, as the Flyers were only out shot by three in the middle stanza.
In the third period, the Flyers fought back to tie the game.
In the opening minutes, Crosby appeared to dive to draw an interference minor on Jagr. The Flyers managed to kill off the penalty, despite Staal ringing a shot off the pipe to nearly restore Pittsburgh’s three-goal lead.
After the successful penalty kill, the Flyers started to put pressure on the Pens before Briere potted his second goal of the game.
During a cycle down low, Schenn eventually gained control in the left corner and passed the puck along the boards to Briere, and the veteran ripped a wrister that zipped through Crosby’s legs in front before it beat Fleury off the far pipe at 9:17.
Another Briere breakaway chance led to Orpik’s interference minor and Schenn’s game-tying goal.
Near the end of his shift, Scott Hartnell gained possession of the puck at the point in the offensive zone. With a slap-pass from the right point, he led Schenn for a perfect deflection that found the back of the net with only 7:37 left in regulation.
“Sometimes things like this happen. At the end of the day, they won,” Crosby said. “It doesn’t matter what the score was, whether it was overtime or we lost 10-0. It doesn’t matter. We lost. We’ve got to fix the things that need to be fixed here and make sure we’re ready for the next one.”
Although they continued to dominate for the rest of regulation, the Flyers couldn’t find the game-winner, as the contest extended to overtime.
The Orange and Black carry their Game 1 win and the momentum gained from it into Game 2 on Friday night.
Notes: The Flyers improved to 35-37 all time in overtime playoff games…This is just the second time ever the Flyers have won Game 1 of a series against the Penguins. The first was in the clubs’ 1997 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals meeting, when John LeClair had the game-winner and Jagr was the lone Pen to score in the 5-1 affair…Wednesday also marked the Flyers’ fifth overtime playoff game against Pittsburgh and the fourth in the Steel City…The Flyers came back from a deficit of two goals or more to earn at least a standings point a whopping 10 times during the regular season, winning seven of those games..The Flyers came back from a 3-0 deficit for at least a point three times this season…Philadelphia upped its mark to 31-36 all time in Game 1 of a series…The Orange and Black are 22-8 all-time in playoff series when winning Game 1…Per the Elias Sports Bureau, this marks the sixth time in franchise history that the Flyers have come back from a three-goal deficit to win a playoff game. The others: Flyers 4 BOS 3, 5/14/2010 – Game 7 ECSF, Flyers 5 WSH 4 (OT), 4/10/1988 – Game 4 Patrick Division Semifinals, Flyers 5 EDM 3, 5/22/1987 – Game 3 Stanley Cup Final, Flyers 6 TOR 5, 4/17/1977 – Game 4 Quarterfinals, Flyers 4 ATL 3, 4/14/1974 (OT) – Game 4 Quarterfinals…With his win tonight, Bryzgalov snapped his five-game losing streak in the playoffs…Tonight was Briere’s fourth two-goal game in the playoffs for Philly and his first since Game 6 of last year’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Buffalo Sabres…Briere now has 31 goals and 30 assists for 61 points in 58 playoff games for the Flyers, and moved past Rick Tocchet into eighth place on the Flyers all-time playoff scoring list.