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Letang's quick start negated by bad finish

by Alan Robinson

PITTSBURGH -- Kris Letang isn't always the most orthodox defenseman. His positioning can be awkward, and he occasionally relies on his instincts rather than making the safer or the textbook play.

But his creativity, speed and passing ability put him in a rare class among NHL players, and those qualities were very much on display as he assisted on the Pittsburgh Penguins' first two goals against Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Wednesday night.


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However, Letang – stationed in front of the net – couldn't get his stick on the Matt Carle shot-pass that set up Jakub Voracek for the game-winning goal in overtime that sealed the Flyers' comeback from a three-goal deficit and a 4-3 victory at Consol Energy Center.

Sometimes, as the Penguins were reminded during a very disconcerting loss, is that Letang can giveth, and he can taketh away.

Only four Penguins players talked to reporters after the game, and Letang wasn't one of them.

Sidney Crosby was, and he knows what went wrong: The Penguins stopped playing their game after the first period and allowed the Flyers to start playing theirs. And with predictable results, given this was the third time in less than a month that Philadelphia surged back from at least a 2-0 deficit to beat Pittsburgh.

"We started good, and had a lot of energy," Crosby said. "We went hard at them, but then we started getting away from things."

The start couldn't have been much better.

Less than four minutes into the game, Letang collected Crosby's back pass off the boards and put a strong shot on net from the left point that deflected first off teammate Pascal Dupuis and next off defenseman Nicklas Grossmann. Crosby, who had skated to the net, found the rebound and put a backhander past Ilya Bryzgalov.

Crosby scored the opening goal six times during the Penguins' Stanley Cup run in 2009. They open there's an omen there, even if there certainly wasn't one in this game..

Just over four minutes later, Letang was the catalyst of the goal that put the Flyers into a 2-0 hole. Letang made a perfectly placed stretch pass into the Flyers' end to Jordan Staal, who in turn made a backhand pass that found Tyler Kennedy a step ahead of Jaromir Jagr for a wrist shot that beat Bryzgalov inside the right post.

The Penguins were faster and quicker than the Flyers throughout the opening period, an advantage that lasted only the first 20 minutes, and Letang, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had much to do with that. So did Pascal Dupuis, who scored in the final minute of the period to make it 3-0.

But they were far less visible from that point on as the Flyers quickly got up to speed.

"When you're up 3-0, it doesn't mean they're not going to score," Crosby said. "We had chances at 3-1 that we didn't put in, and they had a lot of hockey left. We probably made it too easy on them. We can't get away from our game like that."

And while the Penguins went from very good to very bad, the Flyers did exactly the opposite as Danny Briere scored twice, his 43rd and 44th goals in 98 playoff games.

"The playoffs are like a loaf of bread," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It's slice by slice. Some slices you really like, and some are moldy and rotten."

No matter how you cut through this loss, there wasn't much for the Penguins to take out of it for Game 2 on Friday except that dominating first period.

"We know how we need to play with that three-goal lead in the situation we were in," Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. "They're very good off the rush, very good at transition offense, and any opportunity to do that leads back to them being able to showcase what they're good at. And that's a game we have to stay away from, regardless of the score."

And, Crosby said, "It doesn't matter if we lost in overtime or lost 10-0. We need to fix the things that need to be fixed."

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