Flyers-Penguins, same old kind of fun

ASSOCIATED PRESS Penguins center Evgeni Malkin looks to stuff the puck as Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and Nicklas Grossmann try to clear the crease.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Penguins center Evgeni Malkin looks to stuff the puck as Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and Nicklas Grossmann try to clear the crease.
Posted: February 22, 2013

PITTSBURGH - The Flyers and Penguins cannot do normal, or sedate. Starting last spring, and continuing until today, these two rivals have been incapable of playing a hockey game that does not resemble a coin spinning wildly on its edge, spinning and toppling in an unpredictable direction.

And for all of this, we are glad.

A dozen preposterously fun things happened Wednesday night at Consol Energy Center, and maybe more. "There were just so many crazy parts to the game," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. It would take too long to describe them all.

The Penguins had a 2-0 lead in the first period and blew it. The Flyers had a 5-3 lead in the third period and blew it. Along the way, the Penguins had one goal taken away by video replay and might have had another goal awarded to them if the replay cameras could have seen into the glove of Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.

In the middle of the third period, the Flyers spent minute after minute after agonizing minute with somebody in the penalty box - and sometimes with two somebodies. But they survived. And after everything, it was Jakub Voracek's third goal of the evening, in the 59th minute of a stunning game, that gave the Flyers a 6-5 victory.

It also gave them a cardiac workout that has become the accepted custom around here.

"We would have liked to have won that game 5-3," said the Flyers' Max Talbot, the former Penguins Stanley Cup hero. "We didn't. But that's what we do when we're good, the Flyers. It's about emotion."

It was bizarre, in many ways. Wayne Simmonds, who scored two goals - both deflections off of Pittsburgh sticks - lived through the playoff series against the Penguins last season. It was the same kind of nauseating thrill ride. Simmonds talked about knowing that in your head, and knowing that there are going to be wild ups and downs, and thinking that someway, somehow, "You've got to try and stay even keel."

That the words are easier than the deed pretty much goes without saying to anyone who watched this one play out. From the Flyers' first goal - an unforgettable sequence in its own right, one of Laviolette's crazy moments - the tone was set.

The ridiculous tone.

That first Flyers goal seemed like forever in the making, especially to the Penguins, but it wasn't. It was 5 seconds, give or take. That is how long it took for slapstick and mayhem to mate on the blue painted area of the ice in front of the Pittsburgh net.

The recitation on the play-by-play sheets is cold; black letters, white background, bloodless. It does not do the sequence justice. There is no sense of the desperation, or the clumsy terror, or all of the black-clad bodies in and around the net, arrayed every which way but unable to cover the puck long enough for a whistle.

With that, call the roll.

11:45 . . . Sean Couturier, wrist shot, 12 feet, on goal.

11:46 . . . Max Talbot, wrist shot, blocked by Kris Letang.

11:47 . . . Couturier, backhand, blocked by Joe Vitale.

11:49 . . . Nicklas Grossmann, wrist shot, 16 feet, goal.

Shot, save, shot, blocked, shot, blocked, shot, goal. Nowhere in there was how Letang was on all fours, in the cage, behind the goal line for the entire sequence. Or how Letang might have pulled one shot back from over the goal line in all of the confusion. Or how he also pretty much took Grossmann's shot in the face - again, while he was on all fours behind the goal line, behind a goaltender who was laid out on his stomach and every one of his teammates sprawled within reaching distance.

Or how the whistle never blew.

"When the puck is loose, you've got to keep playing," said Talbot, who was on the ice for the whole thing. "And that's what we did."

The Flyers were trailing by 2-0 at the time. It was only the middle of the first period on Wednesday night, but Monday afternoon's 7-0 win over the New York Islanders seemed a sepia-toned memory. For a while now, and for the foreseeable future, the Flyers and Penguins will use each other as a mirror. For both teams, it is impossible to know how you're doing until you do it against the other.

And so, what the Flyers saw when they looked in the mirror was this wave crashing upon them, and then crashing again. The Penguins had 12 of the game's first 14 shots, and they had two goals. After the first goal, Laviolette called a timeout and told his players, loudly, "We were just lax everywhere." And then it started to turn.

But they still needed the goal to begin to turn momentum into reality. When they got it from Grossmann, they began a stretch where they took the play to the Penguins with the kind of regularity that makes you think this can be a pretty good team in the end. But then came the haymakers, and the knockdowns, and the punch-drunk staggering into the night.

So, where are the Flyers? They have just finished a six-game road trip, their toughest stretch of this lockout-shortened season. They are not a playoff team today, but they are hardly in terrible shape. They have great stretches and timid absences, sometimes within minutes or each other.

They chase consistency of effort more than anything. And when they come to Pittsburgh, they chase each other until the horn and they try to explain why it keeps happening with these two teams, mostly unsuccessfully.

Or, as Talbot said, "These are fun games to watch, I guess."


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: philly.com/TheIdleRich

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