For a game that was meaningless in terms of its impact on the standings, Saturday afternoon’s contest between the Penguins and Flyers sure caused a stir. In the wake of last weekend’s brawl-marred Philly victory, neither team was letting its guard down. This would explain why the Pens summoned heavyweight Steve MacIntyre from their Wilkes-Barre farm club.
While the hulking 6’6”, 250-pounder provided a reassuring presence, the black-and-gold’s big guns did the heavy lifting. Paced by two-point performances from Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz, Jordan Staal, and MVP candidate Evgeni Malkin, the locals bounced the Flyers 4-2 in a preview of their opening-round playoff series.
Anticipating fireworks, Pens coach Dan Bylsma ushered MacIntyre onto the ice at the earliest opportunity. Two minutes in “Big Mac” and Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley had ringside seats as Joe Vitale lit up Philly’s Harry Zolnierczyk in a brisk middleweight tilt.
With the hostilities out of the way, the bitter rivals concentrated on hockey. In a typical display of passion Arron Asham made a diving pass out of the corner to Pascal (Super) Dupuis. Catching Philly flat-footed, the hustling winger ripped his 25th goal past Sergei Bobrovsky to extend his NHL-best points streak to 17 games.
The Flyers evened the score after killing off a questionable major penalty to feisty Zac Rinaldo. Brayden Schenn—one of the chief antagonists in last Sunday’s battle—banged the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury from the slot at 19:07.
The game morphed into a crisp, close-checking affair as each team flashed its playoff form. It proved to be the calm before the storm. At 7:15 of the second period Kunitz scooped up a short pass from Malkin and drove a hard shot on net. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the puck slipped between the rangy Russian’s pads and trickled over the goal line.
Electing to give Brent Johnson some work, Bylsma inserted the veteran backup at the 12-minute mark. The Flyers promptly cashed in on the power play, as Jaromir Jagr wheeled from behind the net and beat “Johnny” for his first goal in 16 games.
This time the Pens refused to buckle. Taking full advantage of a hooking penalty to Jagr, Crosby whipped a backhander off Bobrovsky’s glove following a goal-mouth scramble. A dozen seconds before the buzzer Malkin stoked the record CONSOL Energy Center crowd into a frenzy when he cut into the slot and beat Bobrovsky to the stick side for his 50th goal. As No. 71 dropped to a knee and celebrated with a fist pump the adoring throng chanted, “MVP, MVP.”
“I am glad, this is a great season,” Malkin said afterward.
With the aforementioned MacIntyre seeing more ice time than Sid and Geno combined, the grinders shut Philly down in the third period to send the Pens sailing into the postseason on a three-game winning streak.
“We wanted to make sure we finished strong and I think that’s what we did the last few games,” Crosby said. “The real season starts now.”
Malkin, Crosby, and Staal were awarded the three stars … Geno became the ninth Penguin (and sixth Russian-born player) to score 50 goals … Kunitz set new career highs in goals (26) and points (61) … Staal reached 50 points for the first time … The Penguins recorded 108 points, the second-most in franchise history … The Pens beat Philly for the first time in six tries at CONSOL Energy Center … Dustin Jeffrey, Ben Lovejoy, James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Steve Sullivan, and Eric Tangradi were scratches.
The Penguins (51-25-6) host Philadelphia (47-26-9) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at CONSOL Energy Center. The Flyers hold a 3-2 series edge in playoff competition.
*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.