How ‘bout those Flyers?
Things were not looking great entering the weekend. The Flyers were coming off of a 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils after stealing a point in Toronto the previous Saturday. Philadelphia fell from second in the Metropolitan Division all the way to eighth in the Eastern Conference holding on to the last playoff spot thanks to a tiebreaker with the Detroit Red Wings.
It seemed to be the general consensus the Flyers needed to take at least three of a possible four points from the division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins this past weekend – not an easy task by anyone’s standards.
The Flyers did not wait around as they jumped out on the Penguins taking a 1-0 less than five minutes into the game on Saturday thanks to Scott Hartnell’s power play blast. It would be 2-0 by intermission thanks to a Matt Read shorthanded goal.
Vinny Lecavalier scored on a breakaway in the second period then Read closed out the frame with his second goal of the game with 16.8 seconds remaining after some tic-tac-toe passing from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.
The Flyers did not score in the third period but neither did the Penguins marking the first time since April 6th, 2008 the Flyers shutout the Penguins in the regular season and it was the first time ever the Flyers shutout Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby in the lineup. It only took 46 tries.
Saturday featured one of the best 60-minute efforts the Flyers had all year.
Everything was built up for a major letdown come Sunday in Pittsburgh after the fundamentally sound performance the Flyers had Saturday.
Not so much.
Just 2:06 into the game, Brayden Schenn blasted home a rebound from Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to make it 1-0 Flyers. Philadelphia made it 2-0 just over four minutes later when Wayne Simmonds redirected Kimmo Timonen’s shot from the point.
Later in the first period with the Flyers on the power play again, Simmonds got the puck in front of the Pittsburgh net but was stopped on his first attempt. He didn’t quit as he pounded home the rebound for his second power play goal of the game, and 11th of the season, to put Philadelphia up 3-0 and chase Fleury from the game.
The Penguins settled in when Jeff Zatkoff came in for relief of Fleury. Pittsburgh got a goal from Brooks Orpik before the end of the first period to cut it to 3-1. In the second period, the Penguins would again cut into the Flyers lead when Matt Niskanen’s shot from the point beat a screened Steve Mason to make it 3-2.
The Flyers would respond later in the second when the Penguins went on the power play as Couturier and Read skated in on a two-on-one. Read let a wrist shot go top-shelf to put the Flyers up 4-2 giving him his second shorthanded goal of the weekend.
It wasn’t over yet, though. The Penguins went right back to work when Brian Gibbons found Jayson Megna on a two-on-one to make it 4-3.
Once again, neither team scored in the third period as the Flyers preserved the 4-3 win. It was a huge victory for the Flyers as they took four of a possible four points against their division-rivals.
Read registered three goals on the weekend, two of them coming shorthanded. The Flyers’ forward is now tied for the NHL lead with four shorthanded goals on the season.
Philadelphia held former-Hart Trophy winners Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without points in both games this weekend. It marked the first time since January 21-23rd, 2006 that the Flyers swept a home-and-home with the Penguins.
The Flyers ability to control the games was due in large part to their play on the penalty kill as the Flyers killed off all nine Pittsburgh power play opportunities and, in fact, scored two goals of their own while the Penguins were on the man-advantage.
It does not get much easier for the Flyers this week as they get the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, the Dallas Stars on Thursday and the St. Louis Blues on Saturday – all three of which enter the week holding on to playoff spots in the Western Conference.