PITTSBURGH – Have you caught your breath yet?
It’s understandable if you haven’t, because what the Flyers and Penguins provided Wednesday was a hockey game that wasn’t just a sprint, it was the whole dang triathlon.
Back and forth. Up and down. Ebb and flow. However you want to describe it, that’s what it was.
But more than anything, it was eye candy for the hockey world on national television. Two hat tricks – sorta. A fight. A waived off goal. THREE consecutive two-man advantages.
Yep, this game had it all.
The Flyers got behind two goals early, stormed back to take a two-goal lead of their own only to have it erased by a lethal Penguins power play.
But then Jake Voracek capped off the contest with his first career hat trick in the final minutes and the Flyers pulled off a 6-5 win at the Consol Energy Center.
“I don’t think I had a hat trick since I was in AAA back home [in the Czech Republic], Voracek said. “[On the last one] I got absolutely smoked by [Brooks] Orpik there in the corner, but the came back to me and I didn’t want to do something stupid with the puck, so I just threw it at the net and that’s always a tough angle for goalies.”
It wasn’t the prettiest goal. Actually, many of the Flyers goals were of the uglier variety, but hey, they’ll take it and they’ll take this uber-important win over their chief rival.
A team that many were down on as recently as last Saturday has now gone 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and has drawn even with Tampa Bay and the New York Rangers for the No. 8 seed in the East – although both of those teams have games in hand on the Flyers.
Still, this effort against the Penguins proved that the Flyers blowout of the Islanders in New York Monday was not a fluke, as they bounced back to beat a very good team two days later.
“Any time you finish the road trip like that with two big wins it’s huge,” said Claude Giroux, who finished with two assists. “Not just getting the win, but the way we’re playing. We’re happy with the way we’re playing – there’s still things to work on – like mental mistakes that didn’t hurt us tonight – but it’s good to get a couple wins in a row.”
It didn’t look like it was going to be that way early.
Pittsburgh came out flying, outshooting the Flyers 12-2 through the first 7:1 of the game, scoring twice.
Matt Niskanen started it with a slapper from the point that Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov never saw, and after a Peter Laviolette timeout, in which he undressed his team for it’s listless play, Harry Zolnierczyk took a boarding penalty and Evgeni Malkin scored off a fortuitous bounce off the back boards for 2-0.
Then the tide turned.
The Flyers outshot Pittsburgh 13-1 the rest of the period and were able to tie the score.
The first goal was one of the crazier goals you will ever see, as all five Penguins were sprawled in the crease trying to block shots, while their goalie – Tomas Vokoun – was nowhere to be seen.
A shot by Sean Couturier hit a sprawling Kris Letang on the goal line and sat on the line before Letang gloved it back into the slot. Mike Knuble followed up with a shot that hit Vokoun, who was several feet out in front of the net. The rebound clanged off a few bodies before trickling to Nick Grossmann, who fired a shot off of Letang’s helmet and into the net for 2-1.
Wayne Simmonds later tied it as his shot hit Orpik’s stick and went into the net, ending a furious first period.
Things settled down some in the second period, but then Voracek scored the first of his three goals with 10 seconds remaining, popping in the rebound of a Simmonds shot on the power play.
He then scored 18 seconds into what was an unbelievable third period, again potting a rebound into the net for 4-2.
“The big thing for me right now is his skating,” Laviolette said. “He’s really moving his feet and that’s when Jake was at his best last year. He’s fast and he’s quick and that’s a dangerous combination. I think once he got through the first eight games or so and got to the speed he needs to be at he’s been a real dangerous player. He’s been a good fit with [Giroux] and that means [Giroux] doesn’t have to hang on to it all the time. It’s a good combination.”
Tyler Kennedy cut it to 4-3 but Simmonds put the Flyers back up two goals two minutes later when his attempted pass to Giroux on a 2-on-1 deflected off of Niskanen’s stick and into the net.
Simmonds finished with two goals, an assist - and a fight - a good one with Tanner Glass - giving him a Gordie Howe hat trick.
But after the Flyers missed an opportunity to put the game away on a four-minute power play, they had a series of unfortunate events.
“We got a little too confident at 5-3 with eight minutes left and started going to the sin bin,” Simmonds said. “I think we were kind of scrambly. We need to have a killer instinct there [on the power play]. We could have put the nail in the coffin. That was pretty brutal actually.”
Knuble took a double-minor for high sticking. Ruslan Fedotenko got a high-sticking minor himself 41 seconds later, and the first 5-on-3 commenced.
Max Talbot broke his stick, so it was really 5-on-2 ½, and those odds weren’t good for the Flyers. James Neal scored to cut it to 5-4.
It only erased one of Knuble’s penalties, so it was still a 5-on-3.
Then, Max Talbot was whistled for closing his hand on the puck, meaning his penalty couldn’t start until Fedotenko’s expired.
For a second it seemed as if Chris Kunitz tied it, but after video review, it was ruled that he kicked the puck into the net, waving off the goal.
Once Fedotenko’s penalty expired, Talbot’s kicked in, but the Flyers were able to thwart that 5-on-3 stretch as well as the subsequent 5-on-4 once Knuble emerged from the box.
“That was crazy too,” Laviolette said. “There were just some crazy parts to the game tonight. To get through that with just kicking up the one was really good.”
Nevertheless, the Penguins found a way to tie it on a wrap around goal by Brandon Sutter that was part of a three-player breakdown.
Sutter had the puck behind the net. Giroux chose to pressure him, but pushed him to his forehand side, which was an advantage for Sutter.
Coburn was late to get back to cover that side of the net and Bryzgalov’s effort to poke the puck away wasn’t spot on. Instead, it slid through the five-hole and the Pens tied it at five with 2:03 to play.
But then Voracek scored the hat trick 32 seconds later, to secure the win for the Flyers.
It was a game that was very reminiscent of the first round playoff series between the two teams last season.
“The game itself carried a lot of emotion and a lot of energy,” Laviolette said. “It was a great game for the players, the fans – everybody. It was good. It was a playoff-type atmosphere and playoff type hockey.”
Some notes from the game:
- Matt Read left the game with an upper-body injury in the first period. He did not return. There was no update on his injury after the game.
- Voracek recorded his first career hat trick one game after recording his first career four-point game (4A). He has eight points (3G, 5A) in his last three games.
- Pittsburgh’s first-period power play goal snapped a six-game streak of 21 consecutive power plays that had been killed off by the Flyers. It was the first power play goal scored against the Flyers since Feb. 7 vs. Florida.
- Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Voracek’s first two goals (28 seconds apart) were the fastest two goals scored by the same Flyer since Jaromir Jagr on Feb. 18, 2012 also vs. Pittsburgh (2 goals in 18 seconds; 15:16 and 15:34 of the first period). No Flyers player had ever scored 2 goals in 28-or-fewer seconds around an intermission (with each goal coming in a different period).
- Voracek’s second goal was the eighth goal the Flyers have scored in the first minute of a period this season.
- The Flyers came back from a two-goal deficit to beat the Penguins four times last season – twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs.
- The Flyers were just 20-for-61 on faceoffs (33 pct). They are 38.2 percent (47-for-123) in the two games against Pittsburgh this season.
- Giroux (232 wins) and Sidney Crosby (212 wins) came into tonight’s game 1st and 3rd, respectively, in the NHL in faceoff wins; Giroux was 5-for-17 (29 pct) against Crosby tonight.
- Giroux had two assists tonight and now has two goals and six assists for eight points in his last five games.
- Simmonds now has seven points (4G, 3A) in his last seven games.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37