Flyers eliminate Penguins, advance

Posted: April 22, 2012

ABOUT 10 SECONDS before the puck dropped on Sunday afternoon, shortly after "my home sweet home" simultaneously slipped from the mouths of Kate Smith and Lauren Hart, Claude Giroux circled by Danny Briere at the Flyers' bench.

"He came over to me and said, 'Watch the first shift,' " Briere said.

In one 32-second burst, Giroux quelled the fears of a quiet, on-edge, capacity crowd at the Wells Fargo Center with a first shift out of a scene in the cult-classic flick "Slap Shot." Bodies decorated the ice after three big hits. Giroux drilled Sidney Crosby, collected a pass in the neutral zone and broke across the Penguins' blue line.

Pittsburgh's Stanley Cup dreams were over before Giroux's perfectly placed puck hit the ice after sneaking under the top bar. Max Talbot said Giroux "called it."

"From start to finish, he made sure that the Flyers moved on to the second round," coach Peter Laviolette said. "When the best player in the world comes up to you and tells you, 'I don't know who you're planning on starting, but I want that first shift,' that says everything you need to know about Claude Giroux."

It was the only first goal of a game in the series that produced a win.

By the time Game 6 ended, with a traditional handshake following chants of "You Can't Beat Us" and "We Don't Like You," the Flyers finally eliminated the odds-on Stanley Cup favorite Pittsburgh Penguins with an all-out, 5-1 assault on Sunday afternoon.

The Flyers are 12 victories from their first Stanley Cup parade in 37 years.

After jumping out to a 3-0 series chokehold, they knocked off the Penguins, four games to two, in one of the most thrilling best-of-seven series in franchise history. This is the third straight spring the Flyers have advanced past the first round.

"For us, it was a Game 7," Jaromir Jagr said. "It would be tough to lose at home and go back to Pittsburgh."

The Flyers' opponent for the next round is still to be decided; they could face any of the six teams remaining in the East. The second round likely would begin on Friday or Saturday, possibly in Philadelphia.

During the series, records and bones were shattered, goals and knuckles were traded like money on the stock exchange, blood was spilled and the Flyers earned their first playoff series win over Pittsburgh in three tries during the Crosby era.

Only eight out of 45 randomly polled hockey experts picked the Flyers to top the Penguins in the first round. Now, the Flyers likely would be the odds-on favorite against any team they would face in the second round with the exception of the New York Rangers.

"I think it's real satisfying to be able to move on against that team," Laviolette said. "At some point, you have to go through really good teams. But there's something about Pittsburgh, their recent history and probably being favorites in a lot of peoples' minds. We were underdogs."

Scott Hartnell called Game 6 one of the Flyers' best all-around efforts of the season.

"Guys were sacrificing their bodies to block [40] shots, paying a price, taking hits to make plays," Hartnell said. "It was just awesome to see and a great feeling."

Talbot, the former Penguin, described it best when he said the Flyers played "fast and dangerous." He was referring to Game 6, but he could have been talking about the whole series.

On Sunday, Crosby was held without a point for the second straight game. The NHL's leading scorer from the regular season, Evgeni Malkin, collected eight points in the series - but just five when you take out last week's 10-3 drubbing. Giroux's 14 points were just two shy of Crosby and Malkin's production combined.

Talbot contributed one of the Flyers' franchise-record 12 power-play goals in the series, which broke a mark of 11 set against Pittsburgh in 1989. The Flyers went 12-for-23 on the man advantage, scoring at least once in all six games. The Penguins entered the series with the NHL's third-ranked penalty kill.

Fifty six goals were scored in the series - 30 (franchise record for a six-game series) for the Flyers, 26 for Pittsburgh. The series was just four goals short of clawing into the top 5 highest-scoring battles in the NHL's 94-year history.

For all the scoring, even Ilya Bryzgalov - likely the Flyers' biggest question mark heading into the next series - rounded into form by allowing just one goal in the series' last 90:07. The good news is that the remaining six teams in the East scored an average of 49.8 fewer goals than the Penguins this season - and no series likely would be as much of an offensive free-for-all.

"This was pretty wild," Briere said. "I'm proud of how everybody responded for such a young team after pressure was building up. So many guys sacrificed their bodies. I can't think of one guy who didn't go above and beyond the call of duty. I think, like everyone else, I'm going to remember this series for a long time."

Briere said the Flyers defeated the team he thinks is one of the best in the league. The astonishing upset wasn't even fully believable until the final horn sounded.

"This was going to be a difficult series," Hartnell said. "It was a lot of build-up to the series; playing them twice in the regular season in the last week of the season and then the way the first three games went. I don't think anyone was expecting us to be up 3-0 then you could really tell that their game was picking up. The amount of goals scored was a little ridiculous.

"They were physical, they were dirty, they were everything in a playoff round you want. We're just happy that we are moving on."

One by one, in the final minute of Sunday's clincher, Flyers skated over to Giroux, who was hunched over and out of breath on the bench. Giroux could barely sit upright. Talbot, Laviolette and Brayden Schenn patted him on the back. Jagr sat down next to him and held him in an embrace.

"I told him, 'Let's go ride a bike and make sure we are ready for the next round,' " Jagr said with a smile. "He said, 'Let's go.' We're moving forward."

Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DNFlyers. Read his blog, Frequent Flyers, at www.philly.com/frequentflyers.

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