Flyers get more than points out of sweeping Penguins

Posted: March 18, 2014

PITTSBURGH - The ending was so Flyers-Penguins. On a play that was very much offside, except in the eyes of the linesman, the Penguins' Sidney Crosby came streaking in and, with about a second left, managed to reach around Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann and bang a backhand off the goal post.

Thus was a 4-3 victory preserved for the Flyers, leaving goaltender Steve Mason in a good enough humor to muse on Sid and the puck and the post, saying, "I think that's all I gave him, though. It's part of the equipment."

With two wins over the Penguins in 24 hours, the Flyers got the four points that are so crucial to them in their quest for a playoff spot - but they got more than that. You could hear it in their voices, see it in their easy smiles. To try to dine out on the story of this weekend for very long could be fatal for them - the upcoming schedule remains brutal, starting tomorrow night against the Chicago Blackhawks - but there is no denying that this was about more than just the four points.

"I think it's just points," Flyers coach Craig Berube said, before quickly adding, "but I think our team will get confidence from this. I think any time we can come in and beat Pittsburgh twice, it's a big boost. That's a very good team over there, very well-coached, they play hard, they've got great players. It's good, but it's over with now."

It is hard to remember the first weeks of the season, when this team was a rudderless wreck. Peter Laviolette was fired after an 0-3 start, Berube was brought in, a more defense-oriented system was installed, and it still was taking a loong time to come together.

Now, you watch them play and most nights, the Flyers look like a team - not perfect, certainly, but with a unified purpose.

"From fourth line to first line, everybody played extremely well this weekend," said Mason, who stopped 45 out of 48 shots in the two games. "We realized the importance of these two games and the guys were rewarded for hard work. This is exactly what we needed."

Then, he said, "I know the boys in this dressing room love playing against them. Whether we're in their head or not, we don't really care. We get amped up to play against them, it's a fun game to be a part of, and we're just happy about the four points this weekend."

The in-their-heads question was asked a few times after the game. I don't think that's it. The Penguins have a lot of injuries these days, and the Flyers get full marks for taking advantage of them. Yes, they still have Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and that should win them a lot of games, but they are nicked and they know it. They'll be able to rationalize it.

This isn't about the Penguins' heads. It is about the Flyers' heads, and the lessons they seem to be learning about how good they can be.

"This weekend shows, the way we played, we can beat anybody when we play as a team and we work and every line is doing their job," said defenseman Kimmo Timonen, the seasoned voice of reason.

"Moving the right way, the right direction," Timonen said. "It's not easy to get four points out of this weekend - we all know that - but the way we've been playing, every line and Mase is playing really well. When we skate and we play as a team like that, these last two games, you're hard to play against - and we're going to win a lot of games."

What likely makes the Flyers the Penguins' worst postseason nightmare is not the in-their-heads stuff - it is the ability of the Flyers to neutralize them. Sean Couturier works as a defensive counterpoint to either Crosby or Malkin. Timonen and Braydon Coburn have been very good lately, too. Couturier got a lot of deserved attention for the job he did Saturday on Crosby, but Coburn was out there for at least part of all 23 of Crosby's shifts in the game in Philadelphia.

But that is just one part of it. Wayne Simmonds has 21 goals, Matt Read has 19, Brayden Schenn has 17. The Flyers can come at you from five different directions when they're working. And the point of this weekend is that they, unquestionably, know it.

As Read said, "I think playoffs are a little bit different than the regular season but, yeah, you win back-to-back games here on the same weekend, it's got to be something in the back of your mind if we do play them in the playoffs. But it's still a long ways to the playoffs."


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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