Three years ago, the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Penguins began to change when they earned the right to select Sidney Crosby.
Now, the Pens are just two wins away from their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final since 1992.
Maxime Talbot broke a 2-2 tie with 11:09 remaining in regulation and Marc-Andre Fleury (30 saves) made the lead stand up as the Penguins took a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night at Mellon Arena.
Crosby scored the game’s opening goal and also chipped in with an assist, but it was Talbot’s crucial tally that ultimately decided Game 2. While it’s players like Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marian Hossa who receive most of the credit, Crosby understands the importance of depth at this time of year.
“That’s huge for us,” Crosby said. “That’s been the story for the playoffs so far. Those guys have stepped up. They create a lot of momentum for us. They’re going to make the difference between losing and winning a lot of the times. For Max to come up big in his first game back like that … I’m definitely proud of him.”
Skating on the fourth line with Georges Laraque and Gary Roberts, Talbot capitalized on a horrid turnover by Steve Downie deep in the Flyers’ zone. After Downie failed to get the puck across the blue line, Talbot – who missed the past three games with a foot injury – stood alone in front of the net and one-timed a nice feed from Roberts past Martin Biron (34 saves) as Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead.
“We had a good shift going,” Talbot said.
“That’s our role – we try to get momentum. I called for the puck and Roberts saw me. It was a great pass, and it went in. When the fourth line gets a goal like that, it definitely feels great.”
“That turnover can’t happen,” Flyers coach John Stevens said. “Move your feet. I’d like to see him roll into that puck instead of putting his butt on the wall. Now you’ve got to reach across and get that puck. It’s a costly turnover there. But he’s a good kid and he’ll rebound from it.”
Penguins coach Michel Therrien was pleased to see Talbot and his linemates get rewarded for their diligence.
“He seems to score all these big-time goals,” Therrien said of Talbot, who had 12 goals during the regular season. “We try to rotate four lines as much as we can. It’s nice to have contributions from different players. It’s good for those guys to be able to contribute to the success of the team. I was pleased to see them get rewarded for their hard work. It’s nice to see that.”
The Flyers, who were already without defenseman Kimmo Timonen due to a blood clot in his left foot, lost blueliner Braydon Coburn less than two minutes into the game after the latter was struck near the left eye by a shot from Hal Gill. He did not return and his status for Game 3 is unknown.
''He got a really bad gash in his forehead across his eye,'' Stevens said. ''It's pretty swollen and we'll have to reevaluate him when we get home.''
Less than 10 minutes later, the Penguins took the lead. After Mike Knuble was whistled for cross-checking, Crosby took a pass from Sergei Gonchar (three assists) and let go a shot off the boards that managed to beat Biron to the near side for the game’s opening goal.
Pittsburgh nearly went up by a pair later in the first. With the teams skating in a 4-on-4 situation, Gonchar’s backhand shot went off both Biron and Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher and nearly over the goal line. Crosby immediately put up his arms in celebration, but replay officials determined there wasn’t conclusive evidence that the puck had completely crossed the line.
“I think it was inconclusive, from what I heard,” Crosby said. “They couldn’t see the puck cross the line from the angle they had. I thought we did a good job of staying focused after that. That’s a close one to call and it didn’t go our way, but we kept going.”
Jeff Carter evened things up for Philadelphia with a power-play goal at 5:46 of the second period. With Pascal Dupuis in the box, Carter one-timed a gorgeous feed in front from Joffrey Lupul past Fleury to make it 1-1. It was only Carter’s second goal in the last 10 games.
With the Penguins on another power play, Hossa put Pittsburgh back in front with 6:17 remaining in the second. Just nine seconds after Hatcher was whistled for hooking Malkin, Gonchar fired a slap shot from the left point that was denied by Biron. But Hossa was there to collect the rebound, and the star forward whacked it past the Flyers’ netminder to make it 2-1. It was Hossa’s sixth goal of the playoffs.
But the pesky Flyers stayed in the game and wound up tying the score at 2-2 when Mike Richards scored shorthanded at 19:36 of the second period. Richards was able to intercept a cross-ice pass by Malkin and snapped a wrist shot past Fleury on a breakaway for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
After Talbot gave the Penguins the lead, Jordan Staal iced the victory with just 29 seconds to play. The tally also assured that the Flyers would go home down two games, as they now find themselves in a must-win situation when the series resumes in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
''We've played in a Game 7 where if you lose, you go home,'' Biron said. ''Game 3 isn't like that, but it's as close as it's going to get. I think we played pretty good, but we can play better. ... It's all about desperation and urgency.''
Material from wire services and broadcast media was used in this report.