When Scott Hartnell took a perfect feed from Danny Briere and ripped a shot from the slot past Pittsburgh Penguins' netminder Marc-Andre Fleury with just over .9 seconds remaining in overtime to give the Philadelphia Flyers an exciting 3-2 victory Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center, it capped a frenzied and improbable comeback for the Orange-and-Black.
Entering the third period trailing their arch-rivals from the western side of Pennsylvania, the Penguins, 2-0 -- on the strength of a first period Craig Adams goal and another from Evgeni Malkin in the last minute of the second -- there didn't seem to be much hope at all for the home team. After all, consider:
- Pittsburgh had been 25-0-2 when holding a lead after two periods prior to the contest.
- The Pens were riding an 11-game winning streak, which had all the makings of number 12.
- The Flyers had generated just 10 shots on goal in the first two frames, while the Pens had put 27 of their own on starter Ilya Bryzgalov.
- Philadelphia hadn't managed a single shot on goal in the second until late in the period, finishing with a measly total of two for the 20-minute block.
- Philadelphia had been 5-10-2 in games that began before 7 p.m., and this looked like just another statistic to add to the dreaded regulation loss column.
- The Flyers continued their poor play in the first period of matinees, and have now been outscored by a 21-6 count in opening period of matinee contests.
Make no mistake, the visiting club was on a mission. Pittsburgh knew that if they came away with a victory today, they would take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference away from the idle New York Rangers. The lead for Broadway has increasingly dwindled as the Rangers have hit their most turbulent section of the regular season, while the Penguins' winning streak has taken them right to the heels of the long-time front runners.
Pittsburgh played a near-flawess second period, especially in their forechecking game.
"They were relentless," said Hartnell. "Their five man unit is up and back to the defense. When everyone is playing committed like that, it is hard to play. I think we had one shot in that second period and it really stifled us."
But something happened with Philly during the second intermission. Something clicked, and they came out looking like another team.
"We had to change our attitude and the energy and the motion and the skating," Timonen said. "If you don't skate against this team, you're going to get buried. It wasn't a good second period, but it happened, and we got the win in the third period."
With Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek still serving 1:30 from a minor he took late in the middle stanza, Kimmo Timonen took a Claude Giroux pass and launched a slap shot straight away from the blue line that blew past Fleury just 31 seconds into the third, giving the Flyers their first real true sign of life for the entire afternoon.
Just over four minutes later, a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play ended up tying the game, as Wayne Simmonds hit Giroux in the slot, who then sent a pass to Hartnell near the goal line to Fleury's left, and the left winger hit the water bottle from a poor angle to knot the score at 2-2.
The remainder of the third couldn't determine a winner, so the action headed into overtime, and Pittsburgh had their chances to end it. Bryzgalov had to come up with two big stops, and Sidney Crosby just missed the far corner late in the extra frame.
The Flyers were finally able to finish the off Penguins late in overtime, as Briere hit the Pittsburgh line with under 10 seconds left and sent a pass to Hartnell in the slot, who rifled a shot through Fleury with just under one second remaining on the clock to send South Philly into a state of pandemonium.
Hartnell said it was good for Briere, who is still struggling to score goals, to have been in on the set up for the overtime winner.
"The overtime goal was a great pass to me," he said of the Briere feed "Coburn did a good job of letting it go through his stick and I was able to get it and shoot it quick. I know that the time was about to expire. A guy like him has to work hard to get his breaks. Right now he has been really working his tail off. It is good to see a guy like that I think is gripping his stick tight to work hard. The harder you work the more bounces you are going to get."
Not only was it another in a long line of recent confidence-building games for Philadelphia, it also lifted the Flyers to 92 points for the season, just two behind the Penguins and three short of the Rangers for the division and conference leads.
Some of the high points for Philly:
- Bryzgalov. With his team coming out of the gates slow once again, the goaltender had to be very good to hold the Flyers in the game to even have a chance to come back in the end. Pittsburgh fired 17 shots at Bryz in the first and another 10 in the second, outshooting the home club by a wide 27-10 margin at the second intermission. They beat him just twice -- Adams with a point blank deflection in the first that had the goalie moving in the opposite direction, and Malkin's superhuman effort from behind the net to beat two Philly skaters and tuck the puck around Bryzgalov.
- Hartnell. His two goals continue to improve the left winger's career-high goal output, which now stands at 35. On top of that, his physical play showed the Pens Philadelphia was not going to back down. Hartnell was engaged with three or four Penguins' players after he had slashed Malkin, and took quite a beating after he was shoved to the ice by Brooks Orpik, then the officials allowed Chris Kunitz to pummel Hartnell from above before finally dropping onto Hartnell.
- The play of the special teams. After giving the lethal Pittsburgh power play unit the first two opportunities of the day -- and killed them both off -- they gave the Pens no more the rest of the way. The PK unit did a great job of keeping the Pens to the perimeter on their chances, and the best came off a freaky bounce that deflected right to Crosby at the right hash mark, with Bryzgalov sliding across and smothering the one-time shot to the corner. The Flyers garnered four of their own, capitalizing with Timonen's all-important early third period tally to get them back in the game.
- Avoiding the shootout. After a two-game streak of winning shootouts, the team dropped one on Saturday in Boston against the Bruins. They didn't want another, especially against one of the best teams in the skills competition. "Nobody wants to go into a shootout." Bryzgalov said after the game. "The goal was good for the guys. They got some points in the standings and when you score in a shoot out it doesn't count. In a shootout you never know, you can't predict right now. Nobody has a crystal ball to talk about what's going to happen and if it is going to be a shootout. I am happy for the guys to score the goal with one second left in OT. It's great."
It was a humungous two points in the standings for the Flyers, as they head into the final 10 games of the regular season. They have two remaining with Pittsburgh and another with the Rangers, so you could say they can control their own destiny to some extent.
And they did so by bucking the trends that have plagued the team for much of the season.
When asked if catching the Rangers for the number one spot was their goal, Timonen was focused on the task at hand.
"Well, it's there," he said. "We can't really look ahead, we need to focus on Tuesday and win our games and see what happens."
Taking a Flyer: With 2 assists today, Giroux's 58 takes over NHL lead from Vancouver's Henrik Sedin (57). Giroux now tied for second in points with 84 with Tampa's Steven Stamkos, four behind Malkin.....Philadelphia is now 8-1-1 in their ten games since the calendar turned to March.....It was Timonen's 37th birthday and it was a great win as a present. "Yeah, it was a nice win," he said. "Pretty nice atmosphere at the end there. My legs feel 37 but my mind is still 21".....Peter Laviolette said Hartnell's physical challenge to Penguins' defender Kris Letang's hit on Jaromir Jagr helped wake up his squad. "He got really physical there and we needed to do that," the coach said. "That push was needed. We were really sleepy in the second period. We needed to get agitated ,active in the game. I think physically it helped turned around the momentum Scotty was not only a real good physical presence but offensively.....The win was number 30 on the season for Bryzgalov, who is now 30-13-7.