Underrated moments of the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia series to date

Jagr's salute

Photo courtesy thescore.com

Ilya Bryzgalov

After two games, Bryzgalov’s numbers stand here: an .857 save percentage and a 3.93 goals-against average — which, though ugly, look significantly better than Marc-Andre Fleury’s .804 SV% and 5.45 GAA — but he has come up with timely, momentum-changing saves and stood tall when he needed to do so. He’s proving himself capable of being the goalie the Flyers have been missing for years and is slowly shaking off his reputation as a poor playoff performer.

Bryz was not to blame for many of the goals that went in on him and he faced significantly tougher, early offensive onslaughts from the Penguins before seemingly tiring them out and allowing the Flyers to take control of the game by the second period.

Jaromir Jagr’s “No salute for you”

Jaromir Jagr was, in large part, responsible for the consecutive Stanley Cups won by the Penguins in 1991 and 1992 and dominated the league throughout most of his tenure in Pittsburgh — shy of the moments he was up against the ultimate thorn in his side, Chris Therien, that is.

In many way, Jagr earned the undying respect of Penguins fans, something he no longer gets.

When he signed with the Flyers this off-season, Pens fans quickly turned on him and called him a traitor, backstabber, and a cancer.

Through the first two games of the postseason, Jagr was greeted with undeserving boos that rained down from the CONSOL Energy Center stands every time he touched the puck. He responded by refraining from his traditional goal celebration, “the salute.” It was the ultimate slight, a quiet and subtle but stinging retort to his former fans and a poignant reminder the 40-year-old is simply out to win, no frills included.

Claude Giroux’s Game 1 power play control

While Brayden Schenn stood out as one of the team’s top players in game one, he owes his game-tying power play goal to Claude Giroux.

Giroux, who was playing the point at the time, dropped to the ice to block two shots and retain puck possession in the offensive zone, which generated momentum and, ultimately, Schenn’s scoring changes. It was a pivotal point in the series.

Kimmo Timonen’s ice time

In recent playoffs, Timonen’s ice time has decreased. In the ’09 and ’10 playoff season, Timonen averaged over 26 minutes per game. Last year, he played over 24 minutes per postseason game. This year, his average TOI dropped into the 21-minute range.

It’s not just his age and the increased depth on D that are factors here. Timonen is routinely the most banged up defender in the playoffs. Limiting his ice time and using him wisely allows him to remain healthier and play at a higher, more effective level.

The Flyers are in this for the long haul and, if they make it all the way to the Finals, this move will pay off in spades.

Philadelphia’s depth threats

Bill Meltzer astutely pointed out that current iteration of Pittsburgh’s defensive core is easier to expose than the ones that featured the physical, shot-blocking presences of Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi.

As a result, the Penguins are not as capable of shutting down all of Philly’s offensive threats. When they focused on the top line of Giroux, Jagr, and Scott Hartnell, Danny Briere in Game 1 and Schenn were allowed to roam the ice freely. When they focused on shutting down Briere and company, the ice was open for Giroux and Couturier.

At this point, it’s only a matter of time before Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read join the scoring parade too.

Nicklas Grossmann’s defense

After coming back from an injury incurred by a knee-to-knee hit from the Penguins’ Joe Vitale at the end of the regular season, Grossmann made no attempt to shy away from big hits or shot blocks. He currently sits second in the league with eight blocked shots through two games and is eighth on the Flyers in hits at four.

Grossmann has been consistently targeted by the Penguins, and was on the wrong side of multiple big hits, none of which deterred him from playing his game to its fullest extent.

Sean Couturier’s presence of mind

Much has been made about Couturier’s offensive outburst. His defensive abilities have also been mentioned but this aspect of his game deserves more credit. The 19-year-old forward has effectively eliminated arguably the league’s best forward, Evgeni Malkin through the first two games of the series. With last change on Philly’s side for the upcoming home games, Pittsburgh may have an even more difficult time finding open ice for their top scorers.

Additionally, Couturier’s pass to Giroux that allowed him to score an empty netter and complete a Game 2 hat trick showed just how mature the teenager is. Not many players at that age would ever have considered giving up an easy shot for a fourth goal in a playoff game to dish the puck off to the team’s star for a chance at a hat trick.