The Sports Illustrated jinx is alive and well. Seven days after SI posed the question—“Who Will Stop the Penguins?”—on the cover of its April 15 issue the new-look Flyers provided the answer. Paced by Claude Giroux’s three-point effort and some stingy defense (40 blocked shots), the Flyers eliminated their surprisingly subdued rivals in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon before a capacity crowd at Wells Fargo Center.
For the Penguins, who hoped to become the fourth team in NHL history to rally from an 0-3 series deficit, it was a bitter end to a season filled with promise. But the black and gold fell behind the relentless Flyers early and remained a step behind throughout a long and fruitless afternoon.
“Being down 3-0, we were confident, and we remained confident, but we just ran out,” Pens center Jordan Staal said.
It was clear from the opening faceoff the home team was locked and loaded. Seconds into the contest Giroux flattened Pens captain Sidney Crosby at the Pittsburgh blue line to set the tone. Moments later, the redhead ripped the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury on the short side to stake his team to a 1-0 lead.
Taking full advantage of an interference call on Matt Cooke, the orange and black widened the gap to two at the 13-minute mark. Following an initial save, the puck trickled between Fleury’s pads. Typifying the Flyers’ intensity, Scott Hartnell dove headlong to the ice and jabbed the rubber across the line for Philly’s 12th power-play goal of the series.
While the Penguins struggled to find their rhythm, the Flyers continued to tighten the screws. At 5:25 of the second period rookie Erik Gustafsson stunned the Pens with long-range goal that glanced off Zbynek Michalek’s stick and past Fleury.
Desperate to light a fire under his sagging troops, Dan Bylsma gathered his team during a TV timeout and exhorted them to refocus. Encouraged by their coach, the Pens finally showed some life. Seconds after dodging a bullet on a dreadful Crosby giveaway, Evgeni Malkin sliced through the Philly defense and beat Ilya Bryzgalov for a power-play goal at 8:34.
Unfortunately for the locals, Fleury continued his erratic play between the pipes. On the next rush Daniel Briere slipped the puck beneath the shaky netminder through heavy traffic. Fleury sat back in an effort to smother the disk, only to propel it across the goal line.
Down 4-1 entering the final 20 minutes, the Pens had the unenviable of trying to come back against a foe that had outscored them 8-2 in the third period. Malkin made a terrific play out of the corner at 12-minute mark, but his diving shot was denied by Bryzgalov. With Gustafsson serving a delay-of-game penalty and Fleury pulled for an extra attacker, James Neal jammed the puck past Bryzgalov at 16:58. However, the referees waved off the apparent tally, citing goaltender interference.
As the Flyers’ faithful chanted, “You Can’t Beat Us,” Brayden Schenn picked Malkin’s pocket in the neutral zone and scored into an empty net to make the final score 5-1.
“We needed to play perfect hockey to stay in this series, to win this series, and we didn’t get the kind of start we needed today,” Crosby said. “We felt like we could get it back to Pittsburgh, and now we have some time to think about why we didn’t.”
Malkin (a goal) paced the Pens with a game-high six shots … Matt Niskanen registered five shots … Chris Kunitz led the way with six hits … Fleury made 18 saves … Crosby (three shots) and Brooks Orpik were minus-3 … Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang, Michalek, Staal, and Steve Sullivan each were minus-2 … Pittsburgh outshot Philadelphia (31-22) … The Pens out-hit the Flyers (33-32) … Philly controlled the faceoff circle (34-28) … Joe Vitale dressed in place of Eric Tangradi … Arron Asham, Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Richard Park, and Tangradi were scratches.
*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.