Saturday, April 18, 2009



The Penguins and Flyers play regular season games intensely. They even play exhibition games intensely. They would even play mumbley-peg intensely. So when a pivotal game two of a Stanley Cup series comes up for these two hated rivals, the normal intensity level gets ramped-up to levels topping most Stanley Cup finals games.
Above: Bil Guerin

Last night, for example, these two teams both came out sporting their "A" games. The Flyers, who had been badly outplayed on Wednesday in a 4-1 loss in game one, clearly had notions of knotting up this series and starting over again on Sunday at home. It really looked like they were going to pull it off too.

The first period featured a magnificent stretch of hockey to open the game where for nearly seven minutes there wasn't a single stoppage of play. The ferocious hitting on both sides made the ice a veritable war zone that was not fit for man nor beast. After the Flyers successfully turned back the Penguins opening salvo, they gradually recovered to build great momentum of their own. In particular, Philadelphia's sharpshooter, Jeff Carter, seemed to have found an extra gear that had him moving at an amazing speed. But Carter was denied on several opportunities by a very sharp Marc-Andre Fleury. Just when it seemed that the Flyers were going to go to the intermission with a tie, the Flyer's Scottie Hartnell quieted the raucous Mellon Arena crowd with an opening goal on a wrist shot.

The second period had a single tally by the Penguins recently-acquired Bill Guerin, the oldest member of the Penguins at age 39. So the teams went to the third period tied at one apiece.

Everyone seemed ready to hunker down for a long grinding period of scoreless hockey when the Flyers' rookie, Darroll Powe, cashed-in a shot just seven seconds into a power play to propel the Flyers to a 2-1 lead. Obviously, a score of this magnitude gave the Flyers a great burst of adrenaline and it looked like the tide was getting ready to turn to a 3-1 lead for Philly.

The Flyer's goaltender, Martin Biron, had been very sharp in this game as was Fleury, so a 3-1 lead would appear to be insurmountable, even for an offensive juggernaut like the Penguins. The really critical moment in this game came when Jeff Carter was robbed on one of the most amazing saves ever made by a Penguins net minder...or any net minder for that matter. Fleury had stopped a shot and the rebound came directly to the Flyer's sharpshooter, Carter. With the wide open net yawning in front of him, Carter shot only to have Fleury whip his skate out across the crease just barely deflecting the shot with the tip of his skate. The only save that even remotely compares to this was the point blank save by Frank Pietrangelo in the playoffs 20 years ago that's been dubbed "the save". This play deserves to be named as well.

After that save the Flyers had many other great chances to score, but Fleury had slammed the door and was very clearly now in the Flyer's heads. It was one of those situations where after watching hundreds of football, baseball, basketball and hockey games during your lifetime, that you come to realize that when a scoring chance that is that easy is stopped in a game of this magnitude, it bodes badly for the team that was stopped, and that's just what happened.

The Flyers took a very inopportune penalty at around the four minute mark and it was then that they unveiled a new alignment for their power play. The change in position for Evgeni Malkin left the Flyers confused enough that the league's leading scorer was able to tie the game. Malkin, who was playing the game in front of his delirious-with-joy parents, slammed himself backwards against the glass as he celebrated his good fortune. A slapper from Kris LeTang hit a Flyer's skate then caromed off Malkin for the tying goal at the 16:23 mark.

The crowd and the Penguins both were anxious to have this game ended in regulation, but it was not to happen.

As the teams tentatively began playing the sudden death period, it became obvious that both sides were tiring. The shifts became shorter, and the Flyers, who aren't as deep as the Penguins, began to look particularly vulnerable. Jordan Stall was cross-checked by Mike Knuble in front of the Flyers' net, setting up a power-play opportunity. Then, shortly thereafter, Claude Giroux was called for slashing as he broke his stick while hacking away at Chris Kunitz. The refs had no choice but to award the second penalty in the overtime, a very rare occurrence indeed. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since 1933, in 76 years worth of playoff games, there has been only one other circumstance where a team won in overtime with a two man advantage. It happened in 2003 when Tampa Bay beat Washington in 2003. It hadn't happened in 70 years, now it's happened twice in six years.

During the two man advantage, the Pens finally managed to get Sergei Gonchar the puck at the blue line and Gonch wound up for one of his patented slap shots. But it was a fake! He passed the puck to the right of Biron to Billy Guerrin who nailed it home off the post for his second goal of the game. It was Guerin's 30th playoff goal of his career, but the first one in overtime.

It was a devastating blow for the Flyers who now find themselves trailing in the series 2-0. The series now shifts to Philadelphia for game three on Sunday and an even more crucial circumstance for the Flyers. The Pens have been playing well now for about 25 games, but it now seems that the "Flower" has ramped-up his game to a point where a Flyers' comeback looks awfully remote. Anything can happen in a seven game series and the Flyers have nothing to be ashamed of in their gritty performance in game two. However, for all of their effort, all that they have to show for it is another loss. To which Penguins fans everywhere responded with a collective WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!

Stanley Cup Notes: In one of the most incredibly-stupid corporate decisions ever made, NBC has decided that it will not allow the Penguins to broadcast the game Sunday on their large screen outside of Mellon Arena for fans who don't have tickets. NBC claims that this will have a negative affect on game ratings. The NHL, always the league that trails in national viewership has to be thrilled with this NBC decision as well. This is a p.r. nightmare for NBC and WPXI which wants to broadcast the game. Fox Sports was referring to themselves as, "The good guys" for their allowing the Fox broadcast to be shown on the large screen. NBC deserves every bit of bad publicity that they'll get from this. You'd think they would have learned from the infamous "Heidi" NFL game 40 years ago. In that situation, NBC switched from a game which had run over its' time slot so that it could broadcast the movie, "Heidi". Outraged NFL fans flooded NBC with phone calls. Don't be surprised if Penguin fans do the same.