The third time is the charm. And it certainly was if you were the Philadelphia Flyers, whom, after an afternoon of nothing short of pure hockey mayhem, took a commanding 3 to 0 lead in their Eastern Conference Quarter Final match-up against the Penguins in the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
As has become a pattern of late, the Penguins would start the scoring race for the afternoon’s game less than four minutes into the first period. Jordan Staal would carry the puck down the ice and sneak a wrister past net-minder Ilya Bryzgalov amidst a four-on-four as a result of matching roughing penalties to Deryk Engelland and Zac Rinaldo. Two minutes later, Jakub Voracek would earn himself two minutes with a high stick on Zbynek Michalek and the Penguins power play would get to work. However (and unsurprisingly) it would be the Flyers capitalizing on the Penguins man advantage, this time in the form of a Max Talbot short-handed goal. Claude Giroux would make the initial shot and Marc-Andre Fleury would make the initial save with his arm but the rebound would take a bounce through his shoulder and Flower couldn’t respond fast enough to prevent it from crossing the goal line. Immediately following the goal, two fights would break out as Matt Carle and Matt Cooke dropped the gloves alongside Claude Giroux and Matt Niskanen. Niskanen would receive two minors while Giroux would receive one, and a minute and a half later, Kris Letang would
be called for a crosscheck, giving the Flyers a 5-on-3 advantage. This would open the door for Danny Briere to give Philadelphia the lead with a wrister from the top of the circle. With 8:15 left in the period, and both teams back to full strength, it would be Danny Briere with his second of the night increasing the Flyers’ lead to two goals, this time following a 3-on-2 rush that allowed him to get behind the Penguins defence. With 7:58 left in the first period, the hockey game would pause, momentarily, for a few seconds of ‘Fight Club! On Ice!” as Voracek would attempt to have words with Sullivan while Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux dropped the gloves and Kris Letang proceeded to pull Kimmo Timmonen’s jersey over his head before asking him to dance. When the dust settled, Timmonen and Letang would be removed from the game and the Penguins would have the man advantage. Two minutes later, rookie Brayden Schenn would level Penguins d-man Paul Martin which a check along the boards and Arron Asham would take exception, cross-checking Schenn and then punching him in the head. Asham would then be escorted out and Schenn would take a seat, resulting in some four-on-four action. With 4:44 left, James Neal would split a pair of Flyers defenders with a skip and a hop, causing them to crash into each other
before following through with a riffling shot that would sneak past Bryzgalov’s pads and into the netting, cutting the Flyers’ lead back to one. Philadelphia would respond with another goal, this one from Matt Read, before the buzzer rang on the period of chaos, leaving the score at 4-2 heading into the second period. The Flyers would outshoot the Penguins 19 to 12 through the first twenty, which would take fifty-six minutes to play and would see seventy-two penalty minutes.
Thirty-five seconds into the second, Jordan Staal would be sent to the box for hooking, sending the penalty kill to work once again. This time around, the Pens would emerge unscathed and the tone would be relatively quiet for the next ten minutes or so. Midway through the period, Nicklas Grossman would earn two minutes for a knee-on-knee hit on James Neal. Neal, however, would have the last laugh, tallying his second of the afternoon following a pass from Evgeni Malkin, bringing the Penguins to within one once again. With 7:30 left in the middle frame, Chris Kunitz would be called for tripping. This would give Matt Read the opportunity he needed to increase the Flyers lead by two again – with his second of the afternoon – courtesy of a pass from Jaromir Jagr. A minute later, Jordan Staal would answer with his second of night, cutting the lead to within one, once again. Following a turnover, Neal would make the initial shot, it would deflect off a defenceman, hit the post and then bounce to Staal who would stuff it home for the goal. With two and a half left to go in the middle, it would be Kunitz returning to the box after a slash, allowing the Flyers to convert once again, this time the tally going to Wayne Simmonds as he slipped the puck just past Fleury’s outstretched pad. This time round, the Penguins would outshoot the Flyers 12 to 9, despite being down 6 to 4.
The third period would start with a Penguins goal-tending change as Fleury remained on the bench, stone faced, and Brent Johnson took his place between the pipes. And then Philadelphia scored. Again. The goal was credited to Claude Giroux. The play would remain steady but the Flyers would be unflinching, owning the ice and refusing to give the Penguins an inch through a majority of the third. With 5:20 left to go in regulation, James Neal would lay a crushing hit to Sean Couturier that would see the rookie remain on the ice while being tended to by trainers. When he did get up, Couturier would head straight down the runway. As was to be expected at this point, more fists would do the talking in a bizarre serious of events that involved Crosby, Scott Hartnell, and Craig Adams. Max Talbot would earn his second of the game to give the Flyers a final score of 8 to 4 while Zac Rinaldo would be ejected from the game for cross-checking Tyler Kennedy in the back. When the final horn sounded, there would be more penalty minutes than game minutes.
Zbynek Michalek led all skaters with 25:35 of ice time, followed by Brooks Orpik with 24:45. James Neal fired 10 shots toward Bryzgalov while Evgeni Malkin tallied 5. Matt Niskanen, returning from an upper body injury, had 23:55 of ice time while registering one shot and earning four penalty minutes.
Game 4 will go in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. Game time is 7:30pm. I don’t have to give you the stats about the chances of continuing on after being down 3-0 in a series. Help us Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope.