Just when it seemed as if the Penguins might never lose another game, the bottom fell out against the archrival Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on Sunday. After piling up a two-goal lead (not to mention a 27-10 advantage in shots) through 40 minutes of play, the Pens watched as the Flyers roared back to snatch a 3-2 victory on Scott Hartnell’s dramatic overtime winner.
While you can’t win ‘em all, losing to Philly in such inglorious fashion had to be particularly galling for the Pens. Especially when a victory would’ve vaulted them into a first-place tie for Eastern Conference supremacy with the New York Rangers.
Befitting a matchup of two of the league’s hottest teams, the contest opened on fairly even terms. After swapping chances during the first 13 minutes the Penguins drew first blood, thanks to a gritty play by Craig Adams. The rugged winger knocked Wayne Simmonds off the puck with a stiff check along the left-wing boards. Pascal Dupuis relayed the loose rubber to Kris Letang, who uncorked a blast from the right point. The puck deflected off Adams and Philly defender Brandon Manning before squirting through Ilya Bryzgalov’s five-hole.
The Pens totally dominated their hosts in the second period. Indeed, Philly failed to register a shot on goal until the 15-minute mark, when Claude Giroux tested Marc-Andre Fleury from the side of the cage. If not for Bryzgalov’s rock-solid play between the pipes, the “Peskies” might have busted the game wide open.
However, the resurgent Russian netminder was no match for countryman Evgeni Malkin. With 53 ticks left in the period “Geno” spun off a check by Giroux and cut through the slot. In a singular display of brilliance, the NHL scoring leader stickhandled around the sprawling Flyers’ goalie and tucked the puck under Bryzgalov’s right pad for his 41st goal of the season.
Any thoughts of an easy black-and-gold victory evaporated during the early stages of the third period. After Kimmo Timonen rifled the puck past Fleury for a power-play tally in the opening minute of play, Hartnell knotted the score on a sharp-angle shot at 4:47. As the ice tilted in favor of the Flyers, it was Fleury’s turn in the hot seat. “Flower” rose to the occasion, snuffing out chances by Eric Wellwood, Jakub Voracek, and Giroux to force overtime.
The Pens had a golden opportunity to put the game on ice with two minutes remaining when Sidney Crosby burst into the Flyers’ zone and cut diagonally into the slot with a sensational move. Unfortunately, “Super Sid” misfired, sending the puck wide of the net. With 0.9 seconds to go Hartnell gathered in a pretty feed from Daniel Briere and beat Fleury to the glove side to cap an emotional win for the Flyers.
Letang (two assists, plus-1, six shots) was named the No. 2 star … Adams (a goal and an assist) enjoyed a two-point afternoon … Chris Kunitz paced the Pens with eight shots … “Kuny” tussled with Hartnell during a third-period scrum … Jordan Staal’s 10-game assist streak was snapped … Pittsburgh out-shot Philadelphia (40-27) … The Penguins trail the Conference-leading Rangers by one point (95-94) … Arron Asham returned to the lineup after missing Saturday’s game with an illness … Dustin Jeffrey, Brent Johnson, Ben Lovejoy, Richard Park, and Joe Vitale were scratches.
The Penguins (44-21-6) return to the friendly confines of CONSOL Energy Center for a matchup with Winnipeg (34-29-8) on Tuesday night. The Pens lead the season series 2-1.
*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.