The Flyers climbed out of a 3-0 deficit to come up with a 4-3 comeback victory over the Penguins on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena. Claude Giroux scored the winner, his second goal of the game, with 2:08 left in regulation.
A couple hours before the game, Sidney Crosby was activated from the COVID Protocol Related Absence list and cleared to play after missing Wednesday's practice and Tuesday's 5-2 win over the Flyers.
"It's just kind of been a day-to-day thing, to be honest with you," Crosby said. "Just trying to figure out the process and just kind of seeing what was going to happen here today."
Once the news became official, Crosby's teammates were thrilled.
"We knew we had Sid back, everybody was excited for it," Kris Letang said.
And it showed. They got off to an absolutely scorching start, scoring three goals in a 71-second span. That is the fastest three goals by any team this season, and the first time the Penguins potted three unanswered goals in the first five minutes of a game since Feb. 27, 2001.
Letang got it going at the 2:46 mark, followed by fellow defenseman Mark Friedman - registering his first NHL goal against his former team after they put him on waivers a week ago - at the 3:20 mark and Jared McCann at the 3:57 mark.
The Penguins seemed unstoppable at that point, but got a hard reminder that games aren't won in one minute and 11 seconds; it takes a full 60. The Flyers eventually outdid them by scoring four unanswered goals of their own to stage an epic comeback and get a huge four-point swing in the standings.
They got one in the first period to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 3-1 heading into the first intermission. They got one in the second period to cut Pittsburgh's lead to 3-2 heading into the second intermission. Philly then capped it off with two more in the final minutes of regulation for the victory.
So the biggest question for Mike Sullivan and his players following the game was, what exactly happened? Here's what they had to say…
SULLIVAN: "I just think it was an accumulation of things. We just didn't play the game hard enough or smart enough for the majority of the game. When you get up that early in games, you got to continue to play hard, you got to continue to do the things that brought you success. And I don't think we did that as a group."
CROSBY: "Sometimes a team gives up three and they call a timeout and they try to get momentum back. I think that's pretty typical. But I think when you have a great start like that, it's just something that's got to fuel you to keep bringing the same game that you're playing. Unfortunately, they pushed back and we didn't."
LETANG: "We came out of the gate pretty aggressive, got rewarded, but let our foot off the gas for the rest of the game thinking we can get away with it. In this league, there's too much talent and skill. A three-goal lead, especially early in the game, is not safe."
MCCANN: "At the end of the first period there, they kind of took over. We just didn't have much pushback. We had our chances, we were creating good offensive zone time, but nothing came up and they kept up the pressure."
The Penguins are scheduled to practice on Friday before completing their three-game series with the Flyers on Saturday at 1 p.m. here at PPG Paints Arena. They'll be hard at work ensuring a night like this doesn't happen again, especially in a shortened season where every point matters so much. As Letang said, it starts with a mindset of staying hungry.
"We've got to move by it, learn from it and have a short memory," Crosby said. "Whether you win or lose, you've got to learn from it. But we definitely can't allow games like this to happen."