PHILADELPHIA – The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers Sunday afternoon showdown was exactly what was to be expected between the two Keystone State rivals. It was an intense, physical battle that came down to the final whistle.
The two teams combined for 72 hits, 23 penalties, six roughing penalties, one fight and 52 penalty minutes. The score remained 1-1 until the Penguins notched what proved to be the game-winning score on the power play with 1:47 left in the game. Pittsburgh held on for a 2-1 victory and went a perfect 3-0 in Philadelphia this season, sweeping the road series in the City of Brotherly Love for the second time in franchise history (4-0, 2006-07).
In a game as tight as this contest, special teams proved to be the deciding factor as all three goals in the game were scored on the power play.
“This was a big game for us to start this road trip,” said head coach Dan Bylsma, who became the eighth-fastest coach in NHL history to hit 50 wins in his career (78 games). “We battled hard and special teams won the game for us.”
“If you can win the special teams battle you give yourself a good chance to win the game,” defenseman Mark Eaton said. “We did that. They got one power-play goal but we got two and that was the different in the game. Penalty kill is all about hard work. Everybody on our team does that well.”
Speaking of penalty killing, the Penguins can thank the stellar performance from their penalty killing units for securing the W.
The Penguins found themselves shorthanded nine times, including a 42-second span of 5-on-3 action. The Penguins penalty killers were equal to the challenge, successfully killing eight of the nine Philadelphia man-advantage opportunities. Pittsburgh killed three power plays in the third period with one in the crucial final minute.
“The Flyers power-play team, they have two good units, two different dynamics, right-hand shots, left-hand shots, strong guys from the point,” Bylsma said. “Our guys did a great job. Our defensemen did a great job in front of the net. … You know those penalty kills in the third were big ones and our guys did a great job.”
“It’s a mindset,” forward Matt Cooke
said. “We obviously want to stay out of the box as much as we can. But we’ve made it a point this year to stay on the same page, focus on our jobs, help each other out, communicate and focus on killing penalties.”
The Flyers boast one of the deadliest power plays in the NHL, ranking third in the league with a 23.4-percent success rate. Two Philadelphia forwards rank in the top 10 in the league in power-play goals: Mike Richards (10 goals, ranking t-3rd) and Jeff Carter (8, t-9th). With standout blueliner Chris Pronger on the point and a plethora of other talented players, including Danny Briere, Simon Gagne and Kimmo Timonen, the Flyers power play poses many threats to opposing penalty killers.
The Flyers are particularly strong down low on the power play. They are great with making cross-crease, backdoor passes and banging in close rebounds around the net. But Pittsburgh did a great job of getting their bodies and sticks in the low passing lanes, and then clearing any rebounds around the cage.
“One of their strengths is getting it to Briere and making that goal-line pass,” said goaltender Brent Johnson
, who made 27 saves in the victory. “We took that away all (game). We had guys sliding across the crease and taking that away. They didn’t have anything to pass to or shoot for. Our PK was just great. Every single person gave up their body and fought hard to keep the puck out of the net.”
With the help of their special teams performance and a complete effort, the Penguins came away from Philadelphia with their third win in three tries.
“From the crowd all the way to the ice, it felt like everyone was involved. It felt like playoff hockey,” Johnson said. “It’s great. Every single person from our group on down played as hard as they could, did the little things right. … We did all the little things right and it turns out to be two points.”