In a battle for Eastern Conference supremacy, the Flyers rallied from an early one-goal deficit to down the Penguins 5-2. The loss snapped the Pens’ four-game winning streak as they fell four points behind the front-running Flyers with five games to play.
Despite the lopsided score, it was an entertaining game befitting the cross-state rivalry. The Pens got off to a rousing start thanks to a goal by Alexei Kovalev at 12:22 of the opening period. Skating down the right side of the Flyers’ zone on a two-on-one, “AK 72” beat goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with a bullet of a wrist shot for his second goal since returning to the Steel City.
Determined to atone for a sluggish performance in Philly five days earlier, the Flyers immediately responded. Three minutes after Kovy’s tally, Jeff Carter deflected a Braydon Coburn shot past Marc-Andre Fleury to knot the score.
The Pens regained the lead midway through the second period on the prettiest goal of the night. Gathering in a pass from Brooks Orpik in the neutral zone, Tyler Kennedy turned the Flyers into a collection of orange-and-white pylons and snapped the puck through Bobrovsky’s five-hole for his 19th goal of the season. Moments later Chris Kunitz had a golden opportunity to extend the lead, but his wrister glanced off the stick of Philly captain Mike Richards and sailed over a wide-open net.
Unfortunately, things quickly unraveled for the home team. Steady Paul Martin drew an interference penalty at 13:03 to hand the Flyers a power play. Forty-two seconds later, Scott Hartnell drove to the net and jammed the puck past Fleury for the equalizer. On the ensuing rush, Mark Letestu coughed up the puck at the Philly blue line. Veteran Sean O’Donnell poked the rubber to Claude Giroux, who steamed down the middle of the ice and zipped home the go-ahead goal.
Entering the third period down 3-2, the Penguins swarmed to the attack. However, Bobrovsky blunted the Pens’ best chance with a big save on Kris Letang from the left faceoff dot. Former Red Wing Ville Leino countered with a pair of lucky-bounce goals to put the game on ice for the visiting Flyers.
“We let them off the hook,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said afterward. “We turned the game into a little more freewheeling [affair] than we needed it to be.”
The Penguins dropped the season series with Philadelphia, 2-4 … The Pens are 10-9-3 against their Atlantic Division brethren; 35-15-5 against the rest of the league … Mark Letestu returned to the lineup after missing five games with an “upper body injury” … Mike Comrie, Deryk Engelland and Eric Godard were healthy scratches … An MRI revealed damage to Dustin Jeffrey’s knee.
In a possible preview of their first-round playoff series, the Penguins travel to Tampa Bay to take on the Lightning Thursday night. The Bolts currently reside in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, five points behind the Pens.
*Be sure to check out Rick’s book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and colorful history, it’s filled with season-by-season summaries, player profiles and stats, bios on coaches, general managers and owners, photos from the “Post-Gazette” archives, and much, much more. A must have for any true Penguins fan.