Thursday, April 12, 2012

Round One, Game One: Penguins vs. Flyers Recap

Here is a question for you. What is more important to a hockey team's success, playing unbelievably excellent for 20 minutes or playing solid for 60 minutes? The Pittsburgh Penguins painfully found out the answer to that question on Wednesday night when they opened the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup with their cross state rival Philadelphia Flyers. 

As expected, these two teams came out fast and furious. The checking was unbelievable. The hitting was brutal. But one team took a stranglehold on the game early. Sidney Crosby scored the first goal of the NHL Playoffs on a backhander early in the first period. Tyler Kennedy gave the Pens a two goal advantage when he beat Jaromir Jagr down the ice after Kris Letang found Jordan Staal with a breakout pass that sent the two loose. With the period winding down, the Penguins got away with what could have very easily been an icing call. Steve Sullivan ended up with the puck and backhanded it to the side of the net. The puck deflected up and while Ilya Bryzgalov attempted to gain control of it to freeze it, Pascal Dupuis batted it into the back of the net.

With the horrendous first period for the Flyers, many were expecting Peter Laviolette to change goaltenders for the second period. After all, this man did infamously use three goaltenders in last season's playoffs. But he stuck with his 51 million dollar man and it paid off. Bryzgalov settled down and did not allow a goal the rest of the game. The Pens had three power plays through the course of the final two periods and were not able to convert which ultimately could have made the difference. 

The 6:22 mark of the second period could be a time that will haunt the Penguins for the entire offseason if they don't find a way to advance. That is when Danny Briere got loose and beat Marc-Andre Fleury for the Flyers' first goal. What made that goal hurt so bad? Briere was a good foot and a half across the blue line before he corralled the pass from Brayden Schenn that sprung him loose. It was an offsides play that was not called. 

The momentum for the Flyers carried right over to the third period. After outshooting the Flyers 23-13 through the first two periods, they were outshot 13-5 by the Flyers in the third. The Flyers came with intensity while the Pens played not to lose. Briere scored for a second time in the game midway through the period to pull the Flyers even closer. Then Briere drew an interference penalty on Brooks Orpik to give Philadelphia their only power play of the game and unlike Pittsburgh, they made it count. Scott Hartnell hit Schenn cutting across the ice with a shot pass that he deflected past Fleury to tie the game and ultimately send it into overtime.

Just ten days ago, Jakub Voracek scored two goals including what would eventually be the game winner of a 6-4 game. The 22 year old continued to haunt the Penguins when he scored just 2:23 into the extra frame to send the Penguins' faithful home disappointed.

Losing a game and losing home ice advantage is bad enough. Losing the way they did is downright devastating. Bryzgalov was able to gain confidence with his play in the final two periods. The Penguins can't help but be demoralized. It is a crushing loss that will take a lot to come back from. Especially against a team that can't seem to lose at CONSOL Energy Center. It's a long series and we're only one game in but if there isn't a huge momentum shift soon, it could be over a lot sooner than any Penguins fan wants it to be.

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