The Battle of Pennsylvania was truly a battle on Saturday afternoon, as the game looked like it could go either team’s way. But ultimately, the Flyers defeated the Penguins 4-3 in overtime at CONSOL Energy Center.
With the win, the Flyers clinched third place in the Metropolitan Division – which means the Penguins will not face them in the first round. The Penguins will now play either Columbus or Detroit. They will know who their opponent is going into their final regular-season game on Sunday night when they host the Ottawa Senators.
Penguins winger James Neal started a crazy finish to what had been a relatively tame game by these rivals’ standards when he scored with 5:07 left in the third period to even the game at 2-2. He now has goals in consecutive games after scoring twice in Pittsburgh’s 4-3 shootout win over Detroit on Wednesday.
On the play, Neal positioned himself to receive a spin-o-rama pass from Sidney Crosby. Crosby placed the puck perfectly onto Neal’s stick, who whipped it past Flyers backup Ray Emery – was put in the game at the start of the third period after it was announced starter Steve Mason would not return with an upper-body injury suffered in a second-period collision.
However, it looked as if Flyers captain Claude Giroux had won the game for his team when he found the back of the net with 1:15 left to play in regulation to put Philadelphia ahead 3-2.
Not so fast.
In just his second game back after missing 10 weeks after suffering a stroke, defenseman Kris Letang scored the game-tying goal, and his new career-high 11th of the season, with 37 seconds remaining to force overtime.
Letang admitted getting such a huge, timely goal felt cathartic after everything he’s been through these past few months, but said not getting the result the team wanted soured the experience.
“After the goal it felt pretty good. But at the end of the day, I want to win,” he said.
While he certainly looks like himself out there, Letang said he still has a lot of work to do to get his game back. Overall, he was satisfied with both his performance and the team’s, explaining that if the Penguins play like this in the playoffs, things are going to go well.
“I’m just trying to get back into it, I’m not going to lie,” Letang said. “The result is disappointing, but I think we played a good game overall. We outshot them, played in their zone. I think their goalie was really good tonight. But I think if we went into the playoffs playing that way, I think we’re going to win games.”
Neal said having Letang back is beneficial to the team.
“His skill set, the way he jumps up into the play and the way he can shoot the puck, he’s all over the place tonight and that’s the way we like him,” Neal said. “Huge goal for him at the end of the game there and he’s back to himself.”
BETTER PLAY, SAME OUTCOME
The Penguins came out flying, scoring the opening goal of the game only two minutes into the first period. But they couldn’t hold onto the lead as the game progressed.
Neal skated the puck up the left side of the ice, looked behind him and dropped it to Jussi Jokinen – who wired the puck into the top of the net. It was Jokinen’s 20th goal of the season, the second time in his career he’s reached that mark.
Jokinen said after the game that while he thought the Penguins played a decent game, they need to find an answer for Philadelphia if they run into them in the playoffs.
“I think today we played well,” Jokinen explained. “Some of the earlier games this year, (the Flyers) have played better than us and they’ve deserved to win. They’re a great team that played really well after a bad start. They’re a really good hockey team. If some way during the playoffs they play against us, obviously we need to be able to find some ways to win the games at home.”
Defenseman Matt Niskanen said that the Penguins looked a lot better today against their opponent than they did when the Flyers swept the home-and-home series between the teams last month.
“We played much better,” Niskanen explained. “Everybody remembers the home-and-home against them about three weeks ago. That didn’t go well. We were missing key forwards that weekend and the guys that were in the lineup didn’t play well. Today’s game looked a lot like how we should play.
“I thought we managed the puck really well. When we had space and time, guys made passes and we had a lot of shots. When we didn’t have time and space we put pucks in areas and we forced them to make plays. How we forechecked, how we pressured them, the ice was tilted in our favor the whole game.”
The Penguins were given a huge opportunity early in the second period to claim a 2-1 lead when they had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:34 minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net with the two-man advantage.
“Unfortunately we don’t score on a 5-on-3, that hurts you,” Crosby said.
Crosby added that the Penguins have to take advantage of glorious chances like that one.
“You have to score, chances are there,” Crosby said. “We weren’t there. We had their goalie down a couple of times and we got close. I think (Letang) broke his stick on a real good chance. It was just one of those nights where you feel like you’re doing some good things, but things aren’t going for you as much as you like.”
Beau Bennett had a shot in front of the net that the crowd assumed had gone in with three seconds remaining on the tail end of the Penguins’ power play in the second period, before they realized that Mason had produced a spectacular save. Bennett had the open net with Mason on the other side of the net, when Mason managed to cover the puck with his pad. Neal also hit a post.
The Penguins finished the day 0-4 on the power play.
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma coached his 400th career NHL game in Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. His overall record is 252-118-30.
Author: Addison Smith