During the first four games of their incendiary opening-round series, the Penguins and Flyers provided enough fireworks to rival any Fourth of July pyrotechnics display. On Friday night Marc-Andre Fleury stole the show with a goaltending effort for the ages. In perhaps the most brilliant performance of his career “Flower” made 24 saves—including 14 to blunt a ferocious third-period Flyers surge—to pace the Pens to a 3-2 victory in Game 5.
“He won them the game, plain and simple,” Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell said.
Desperate to slow the avalanche of goals (a record 45 in Games 1-4), Pens coach Dan Bylsma and his counterpart Peter Laviolette each made adjustments. While the visiting Flyers occasionally lined up in the famed “Tampa T,” the Pens favored a modified left wing lock.
The stab at better defensive play had the desired effect as the high-octane rivals combined for a comparatively paltry three first-period goals. However, Philly continued to torture the Pens’ overmatched penalty killers. With Deryk Engelland serving a roughing minor, Matt Carle beat Fleury with a bomb from the point at 11:45.
Three minutes later the Pens countered with a power-play tally of their own. Kris Letang faked a shot from the slot and slipped the puck to Steve Sullivan on a back-door play. The peppery Pens forward beat Ilya Bryzgalov from the left-wing circle to knot the score at 1-1.
Much to the dismay of the CONSOL Energy Center faithful, the Pens continued to take undisciplined penalties. Moments after Evgeni Malkin was given the gate for roughing Brayden Schenn, Craig Adams drew a slashing call. Hartnell cashed in from the side of the net for the Flyers’ 11th power-play goal of the series.
Philly nearly widened the gap to two early in the second period. But Fleury—flashing the form that earned him All-Star honors in 2010-11—made a dazzling left-pad save on ex-Pens great Jaromir Jagr.
Inspired by No. 29’s big-time stop, the black and gold went to work. Borrowing a page from the Flyers’ book, Letang bounced a long stretch pass off the sideboards to Tyler Kennedy. “TK” nudged the puck ahead to a breaking Jordan Staal, who beat Bryzgalov to the glove side at 6:15 for his sixth goal in three games. Firing on all cylinders, the Pens snatched the lead midway through the period when Kennedy gathered in a pass from Matt Cooke and ripped the puck past Bryzgalov from the top of the right circle.
Held to only a dozen shots through 40 minutes of play, the Flyers appeared to be dead in the water. But at 7:37 Kennedy slashed Hartnell along the boards to open the door for Philly.
Licking their collective chops, the Flyers descended on Fleury like a pack of hungry wolves. With their lethal power-play humming at maximum efficiency, the visitors pelted the Pens’ goalie with a wicked seven-shot salvo. Displaying remarkable coolness under fire Fleury responded with some spectacular saves, including huge stops on Jakub Voracek and the ever-dangerous Daniel Briere.
After stoning Hartnell and Jagr in the closing minutes, Fleury greeted his victorious teammates with a fist pump as they gathered around his net to celebrate.
Fleury was voted No. 1 star … Staal (a goal and an assist) earned the No. 2 star … Kennedy and Letang registered two points apiece … Sidney Crosby won 16 of 22 faceoffs … Chris Kunitz paced the Penguins with six hits … Philadelphia outshot Pittsburgh (26-23) … The Pens have outscored the Flyers (17-11) even strength … Adams and James Neal returned from one-game suspensions, replacing Richard Park and Joe Vitale … Arron Asham, Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Park, and Vitale were scratches.
The Penguins and Flyers clash in Game 6 at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday afternoon. The Pens have overcome 2-3 deficits five times in their history (’91 and ’99 vs. New Jersey; ’92 and ’95 vs. Washington; and ’01 vs. Buffalo).
*Be sure to check out Rick’s new book, “100 Things Penguins Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die” at TriumphBooks.com. It features 296 pages of bios, stories, anecdotes and photos from the team’s colorful past in a compelling, easy-to-read style. Whether you’re a die-hard booster from the days of Jean Pronovost or a big fan of Sid and Geno, this book is a must have for any true Penguins fan.
Don’t forget to check out Rick’s first book, “Total Penguins,” at TriumphBooks.com. A complete and comprehensive book on the team’s rich and storied 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.