PITTSBURGH – The Flyers had it figured out. They had the correct formula for beating the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They had a strong gameplan, limiting chances for the high-powered Penguins and the ones that Pittsburgh would get would be stymied by Ilya Bryzgalov, who was especially sharp in net.
And the Flyers were six minutes away from victory, when it all fell apart.
Wayne Simmonds took what some Flyers thought was a questionable slashing penalty. Kimmo Timonen followed that with a hooking penalty that was all but mandatory after Chris Kunitz split the Flyers penalty killers to get a good chance on Ilya Bryzgalov.
Give the Penguins a chance with a two-man advantage and your playing with fire.
And it was Sidney Crosby who burned the Flyers this time.
Crosby tied the game on a one-timer and then Tyler Kennedy scored on a wicked wrister from the left circle in overtime as the Penguins won their 12th straight game 2-1, leaving the Flyers aggravated that they left with only one point.
“We needed that other point,” said Claude Giroux. “We played a good game tonight. Defensively we played well and (Ilya Bryzgalov) made some big saves for us tonight. But, we gave up that 5-on-3 goal and lost the point in overtime.”
And it was a well-executed road scheme. The Flyers, playing without Danny Briere and Nick Grossmann, both who have upper body injuries, simplified their approach and played a more conservative and mostly opportunistic style.
It seemed to be working, as the Flyers grabbed a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Claude Giroux in the second period, and then locked it down on 5-on-5 play.
Then came Simmonds’ penalty and it all went south.
Simmonds slashed Brooks Orpik across the shaft of his stick – a good ol’ fashioned stick check – but in the newer style of the sport that has been implemented for the past eight years, that move went from being an effective play, whether forechecking or playing defense, to being an act of violence and subsequently a penalty.
“That 5-on-3 was questionable,” said Brayden Schenn. “They weren’t calling much all game and they have a great power play. But they made us pay. We came here for two points and only got one. One is O.K. but we wanted the two.”
Regardless, the Flyers, who have one of the top penalty killing units in the game, would have been in a better position had they only had to kill off the one penalty.
As it was, Timonen was left without a choice but to yank down Kunitz who got behind the defense and would have had a chance alone on Bryzgalov.
And while the benefit was no goal for Pittsburgh in the short term, the detriment was putting Crosby and company on a two-man advantage.
And it didn’t take long for Crosby to strike, one-timing a Martin pass through Bryzgalov’s five hole to tie the score.
“It was right there in our reach with about six minutes to go,” said Max Talbot. “So it was possible (to beat the Penguins 1-0). But, that 3-on-5 was tough.”
The Flyers had plenty of chances in the overtime period to get the win, and thwart the Penguins streak, but they couldn’t seem to slip one past Marc-Andre Fleury.
The most frustrating play of all was a chance with Andrej Meszaros crashing the net, but he couldn’t get either of two shots from right through Fleury to earn the second point.
Moments later, Tyler Kennedy faked a slapper and than sniped a beauty of a shot over Bryzgalov’s shoulder ending the game.
“Our guys played hard,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “The third period was going how we wanted it to until the penalty.”
Giroux’s goal came in the second period when his pass was blocked right back onto his stick as he was crossing the blue line and instead of trying another pass, he threw it on net and it surprised Fleury, beating him to the short side.
It was the only goal though the Flyers could muster.
Despite the loss the Flyers (13-16-2, 28 points) remained just five points out of a playoff spot and will face the team currently holding that eighth position – the New York Rangers – in a must-win game at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday.
“It’s going to be huge for us,” Giroux said of the Rangers game – as well as the four games following it as part of a five-game homestand for the Flyers. “We’ve got to go one game at a time but we’ve got to find a way to win those five games to get a spot in the playoffs.”