We expected bad blood, or at least some simmering side notes to keep an eye on for the rest of the series between the Pittsburgh Penguins
and Philadelphia Flyers
We got it with some rough stuff late in the third period.
We also expected wide-open hockey considering the talent up front on both sides, including the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Petr Sykora, Mike Richards, R.J. Umberger, Danny Briere, Vaclav Prospal and Jeff Carter.
That we also got, especially during a five-goal first period.
The Penguins, though, had just a little more as they took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, winning 4-2 before a whiteout crowd at Mellon Arena that celebrated a pair of Malkin goals, including a shorthanded slapper with authority.
So, with Game 1 in the books — and Game 2 set for Sunday night in Pittsburgh — let’s go over some talking points for you to discuss as you plan your day around tonight’s clash at Joe Louis Arena between the Red Wings and Stars.
1. Malkin Magic
How the back of the net didn’t rip wide open on Malkin’s 15-foot slap shot for his shorthanded goal 4:50 into the second period defies the laws of physics. If there was one place you didn’t want to be as Malkin wound up from between the hash marks, it was standing in Martin Biron’s skates. Looking Malkin in the eye as he uncoiled had to be one of the loneliest and scariest feelings in the world.
For that, we give Biron all the credit in the world.
However, if the Flyers are going to win this series, they’re going to have to find a way to rein in Malkin. It’s far from easy, but one thing the Flyers can’t do is forget about him the way they did on a second-period power-play.
Malkin was crunched to the ice near Biron’s net by Richards. He stayed on the ice for a few seconds, then poached as Richards charged up the ice — and when Sergei Gonchar got a hold of the puck at the opposite end, he quickly fired a pass up the ice to Malkin, who was alone at the far blue line with no one within 40 feet of him.
Malkin wound up with a goal on that play, and also stabbed the Flyers with a goal with 6.5 seconds left in the first period. He kept a foot on the blue line just enough to stay onsides to gather in Ryan Whitney’s pass, then beat Biron on a brilliant wrist shot from the right dot.
Too much Malkin could mean a quick exit for the Flyers.
2. Need More from Marty
Philadelphia got by in the first two rounds against Washington and Montreal — no slouches offensively — with a less than super defensive performance. Biron faced an average of 32.9 shots per game and had a good, not great, 2.72 goals against average.
In Game 1 against Pittsburgh, Biron struggled despite facing only 21 shots.
Biron had a chance at stopping Malkin’s wrister late in the first period, but he got beat on the long side. He came out slightly too far on Petr Sykora, giving the Czech winger a chance to deke to his backhand and beat him high on the short side for the game’s first goal.
He didn’t have much of a chance to stop Crosby’s redirection goal off Hossa’s pass, but the play would never have happened had Biron not turned the puck over behind the goal. He deserves a pass on Malkin’s shorthanded slapper.
If the Flyers are going to try to push the issue offensively, then Biron has to be a rock on the other end. He wasn’t in Game 1.
However, this is nothing new for Biron. He hasn’t been a good Game 1 goalie all playoffs — he’s 0-3 with a 4.33 GAA — but is 2-0 with a shutout in Game 2s.
3. Overcoming Adversity
On the surface it doesn’t appear as if the Penguins have faced much adversity in the playoffs so far. They’re now 9-1, and that one loss came after they took a 3-0 series lead against the New York Rangers.
However, for the second straight Game 1, the Penguins had to come back for a victory at home.
They trailed 2-1 tonight before scoring the final three goals, including two in the last six minutes of the first period. They were down 3-0 against the Rangers in Game 1 of the last round, but roared back for a 5-4 win.
The Penguins have yet to trail in a series, but trailing in each of the last two Game 1s only to come back to win shows how much resiliency this team has. They’ve proven enough to stop any questions about how they would react if they trailed in a series.
4. Missing Kimmo
Randy Jones was asked to do a lot — maybe too much — tonight and that’s not going to change the rest of the way. That’s what not having Kimmo Timonen means for Jones and the Flyers.
There were times when Timonen’s absence was noticeable, such as on Malkin’s shorthanded goal. Chances are Timonen, a savvy vet, would never have lost Malkin behind him the way Jones did on the power play. Jones also struggled to defend Malone during a one-on-one shorthanded rush midway through the third period.
It’s OK, though, because the Flyers don’t have much choice. A lot will be made of what they were missing in Timonen, who is out with a blood clot, but the Flyers (notably Jones) have to figure out a way to persevere without him.
5. Crash the Party
The Flyers, specifically Mike Richards, scored both of their goals tonight by crashing into Marc-Andre Fleury’s crease. Both goals occurred in the first period when the Flyers controlled play for much of the time.
For some reason — give the Penguins defense some credit — the Flyers stopped going there once Malkin gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead in the waning seconds of the first period. And, to no one’s surprise, they didn’t score another goal as Fleury only got stronger as the game got easier for him.
Philadelphia makes a living out of dirty goals — rattling goalies by getting right in their creases and creating traffic in front of them. The Flyers are excellent at forcing defensemen to commit penalties in front of the net, but they didn’t do enough of that in the second and third periods after doing it well in the first.
To beat the Penguins they’ll have to outmuscle them, because there’s no reason to believe the Flyers can outskate them. We’ll see in Game 2 if they take note of what they were lacking in the second and third periods of Game 1.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com