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No Penguins lead is safe against Flyers

by Alan Robinson

PITTSBURGH -- With their six high-contribution rookies and their ability to come back from almost any deficit, the Philadelphia Flyers truly are the NHL's Comeback Kids. The Pittsburgh Penguins, who own a decided advantage in playoff experience in their cross-state series against their big rival, know better than anyone.

The Flyers surged back from a 3-0 deficit and the Penguins' clear-cut dominance in the first period to beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in overtime Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center and grab a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Game 2 is Friday night.

That's a pretty short period of time for the Penguins to push aside such a troubling loss.


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"It's hard to come back," said Jaromir Jagr, who at age 40 is by far the most playoff-tested of all the Flyers.

Not for this team.

"I definitely think we can move forward now, we had a lot of first-time experiences and we persevered," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, referring to his overly large crop of rookies.

Afterward, the few Penguins who answered questions from reporters were asked how it could possibly happen. Perhaps the question should been this: How does it keep happening?

Four times since March 18, the Penguins have held a lead of two goals or more against the Flyers – and three times they've lost. The only time they won was last Saturday, in a game that meant almost nothing.

The Flyers are 6-0-0 at Consol in games that really do matter, and games don't matter much more than Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"That's rough. We were up by three, you know," said goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, as if the fans wouldn't remember. "We came out the way we wanted to and it was a tough one tonight. But it's a best of 7 and there's a lot of games to play. We can't panic right now."

Pittsburgh also led 2-0 after two periods in Philadelphia on March 18, and lost 3-2 in the final second of overtime to end its 11-game winning streak. The Flyers pulled off another comeback April 1, surging back from another 2-0 deficit to win 6-4 at Consol.

"It's no shock," Penguins forward Craig Adams said. "They've done it against us this year a couple of time. . .. They're not going to quit. "

But this is the one that hurt. The Penguins clearly were the faster, more energized and more prepared team in the first period as Sidney Crosby, Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis all scored, yet that edge in speed -- and on the scoreboard -- soon began to vanish.

"We weren't happy with the first 20 minutes," Laviolette said. "We started skating better in the second and we skated at our best in the third. When you're skating, things happen. When you don't, you become playable and become hittable."

And beatable.

This was the fourth time this season that the Flyers won when down by at least three goals, and the sixth time they've accomplished such a comeback in the playoffs.

"But this one is in the top five (of his career)," said Danny Briere, who scored the first two goals. "To come back from a 3-0 hole with such a young team and to battle back [is huge]."

Jagr dismissed the fact that the Flyers rely on so many young players. He recalled that during his rookie season in 1990-91, Penguins coach Bob Johnson told him, "After 50 games, you're not a rookie any longer. Fifty games is what you need."

The Flyers accomplished this comeback by establishing a forecheck that negated the Penguins' breakouts and neutralized their speed. They also kept turning the puck over in the neutral zone, frustrating the Penguins' stable of scorers before they could establish themselves in the offensive zone.

"The last two periods was too much of that, too much of that back and forth and not really managing the puck in the neutral zone," Bylsma said. "I thought the way we played in the first was pretty safe and that's way we have to continue, no matter what the score is. We allowed them to play on the aggressive side (in the overtime) and on the forecheck and, as a result ,in the offensive zone."

Jakub Voracek got the game-winner 2:23 into overtime, going around Jordan Staal – Pittsburgh's best defender – to score after Kris Letang couldn't get the puck out.

"I think the overtime is the real evidence of how they played, every puck was in and they went on the forecheck," Bylsma said. "It wasn't perfect all the time, but they had repeated pressure in a short period of time."

The Penguins also went 0-for-3 on the power play -- in part, Bylsma said, because they simply lacked patience.

"The first 5-10 seconds of the zone time, we shot the puck and got it cleared and we didn't have the opportunity in the zone like we wanted to," Bylsma said. "I think that was a factor in all three power plays."

They also didn't get much offense from Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin, who had three shots but didn't score in 22:11 of ice time.

The message the Penguins will take from Bylsma into Game 2 on Friday is that it was only one game -- and that an opening-game loss doesn't necessarily dictate who will control the series. In 2000, for example, the Jagr-led Penguins won the first two games in Philadelphia, but the Flyers came back to win the next four and a series highlighted by a five-overtime Game 4.

"They did a lot what they've done all season, which is to come back from deficits. They don't stop. The second half of the game we didn't get our team game the way we needed to," Bylsma said. "But we've got a game on Friday."

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