There are only so many times a team can dig itself into an early canyon-sized hole, then somehow fight its way out to come back and win a game.
Or so it would seem.
The Philadelphia Flyers have done exactly that on so many occasions now, it's really getting hard to keep track of the numbers anymore. They have failed to lead after the 10 minute-mark of the first period in 53 of the last 56. They've been down by two goals in 10 of the last 13.
What's even more crazy to think is this club has been able to come back and win a majority of those contests.
Friday night brought about more of the same from the Orange-and-Black as they fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins by a 3-1 count at the end of the first period, only to storm back on the strength of hat tricks by both Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux in an incredible 8-5 victory to take a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
By taking both games in the 'Burgh, the Flyers -- the NHL's best road team during the recently-completed regular season -- have completely wrestled away the home ice advantage that was owned by the Pens. They now head home to South Philly for Sunday's Game 3.
These two clubs have met four times -- all in Pittsburgh -- since the beginning of April, and the script has been almost exactly the same in three of the four contests. Starting with a wild April Fool's Day triumph -- that's right, the Flyers and Penguins have played on April Fool's Day AND a Friday the 13th, all within a two-week span -- Philadelphia erased a 2-0 deficit and beat Pittsburgh, 6-4.
Following a season-ending snoozer, a 4-2 loss in which Philadelphia rested both Giroux and Ilya Bryzgalov, the trend continued Wednesday night in Game 1 of the playoffs.
The Penguins held a 3-0 lead at the first intermission, only to see Danny Briere and Brayden Schenn tie the score at the end of regulation. Jakub Voracek ended that game early in overtime to give the Flyers a 1-0 series lead.
If you go back one more meeting between the teams -- March 18th in Philadelphia -- you'll find another Pens' blown two-goal lead, this time a 2-0 margin heading into the third period. The Flyers charged back to tie it up, then Scott Hartnell scored with just 0.9 seconds remaining in the extra period.
The home team again jumped out to an early lead Friday night shortly after the opening faceoff, this time just 15 seconds into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals when Sidney Crosby beat Bryzgalov. They then found themselves in the all-too-familiar 2-0 hole before the midway point of the opening frame when Chris Kunitz scored on a power play (Yes, the same Pens' power play that had been successful just once in their last 44 man advantage opportunities over the last nine postseason contests).
The importance of the glorious glove stop Bryzgalov made on Kris Letang during a Pittsburgh power play shortly after the Pens made it 2-0 to keep it at a two-goal deficit cannot be stressed enough. The goaltender absolutely came up huge in a very difficult situation, and though he gave up five goals, played well.
Some really interesting things happened after that to totally change the game around:
Another Peter Laviolette timeout -- this one after the first Kunitz goal in the first that gave the Pens a 2-0 lead worked magic for the team.
Ex-Penguin Maxime Talbot jammed home a Giroux rebound for a shorthanded goal, but Pittsburgh defenseman Paul Martin restored the Pens' two-goal lead with just 18 seconds remaining in the first to make it a 3-1 Penguins lead after one.
Giroux scored three times -- one on the power play on a beauty of a feed from Voracek, one shorthanded from Talbot, and an empty-netter with Marc-Andre Fleury pulled for an extra attacker late in regulation. Giroux also added three helpers to finish the night with six points, setting a new Flyers' mark (more on that later). He also was a +4 in the plus / minus ratings, and recorded 10 shots on goal.
Couturier also notched a hat trick, making it the first time ever two Flyers had scored thrice in the same playoff game. The last Flyers rookie to have a multi-goal playoff game was Andy Delmore, who had a hat trick on May 7, 2000 against Pittsburgh in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, a 6-3 Flyers win. The rookie has been matched up with Pens' superstar and likely NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin, and the kid has done a fantastic job shutting the top line down. Couturier not only ended with four points, he was a +4. He also showed a really unselfish side late in the game with Fleury pulled and an empty net staring at him with a chance to net number four on the night. Instead of shooting for the yawning cage, he dished off to Giroux, who netted his hattie goal. The number eight pick in last summer's draft, Couturier continues to impress. His goal with less than three seconds remaining in the second period knotted the game at 4-4 heading into the third period, then potted another crucial tally early in the third shortly after Tyler Kennedy had staked Pittsburgh to another lead.
Another ex-Pen, Jaromir Jagr, hasn't really been much of a factor in the series thus far. The 40-year-old did make a hefty contribution Friday, picking up a Pavel Kubina rebound, whipping around in the slot, and beating Fleury for the game-winner nearly midway through the third period.
Talbot finished with a goal and an assist and a +5 rating. Braydon Coburn picked up an assist and was a +4, while defenseman Nicklas Grossmann had an assist, was a +2, and blocked a game-high five shots.
Records Fall -- Both Good And Bad
There were some records that were set in the game. Let's get the bad one out of the way, especially since the it happened almost immediately after the opening faceoff:
- Crosby's goal just 15 seconds into the contest was the fastest playoff goal against the Flyers in team history. The previous postseason record was April 11, 1971, when Jim Pappin of the Chicago Blackhawks scored 21 seconds into a 6-2 Flyers loss in Game 4 of the 1971 quarterfinals.
- An NHL record nearly fell, as the six seconds between the Flyers' third goal (Giroux shorthanded) and Pittsburgh's fourth goal (Kunitz power play) was one second short of an NHL record. The fastest two playoff goals in NHL history by one or both teams was five seconds, done most recently by the Penguins & Sabres (one goal each) on April 14, 1979.
Now, the good:
- Giroux's six points set a new Flyers franchise record for most points in a playoff game. The previous record was five, shared by Reggie Leach, Bob Dailey, and Mark Recchi.
- Couturier's four points tied a Flyers franchise record for most points by a rookie in a playoff game, matching Peter Zezel's performance (1-3-4), exactly 27 years ago to the night on April 13, 1985 vs. the New York Rangers in Game 3 of the Patrick Division Semifinals.
- This was the first time in team history that two Flyers had a hat trick in the same playoff game. The last time the Flyers even had two hat tricks in the same playoff year was during the 1986-87 season. This is just the seventh playoff season in team history that the Flyers have had two hat tricks, and they have never had three in the same playoff season.
While it was a luxury to have come back from yet another big deficit to win, Laviolette has to know his team cannot continue to play catch up hockey and expect to advance. There has to be time playing with the lead, which Philly has not done. In Game 1, their first lead came when Voracek scored in overtime, and the first lead Friday was when Jagr scored with 10:47 left to play in the third. That means the Flyers have had the lead for a grand total of under 11 minutes during the entire series.
And they are up 2-0. Amazing.
Much the same as taking numerous penalties and having to constantly be on the penalty kill, having to come back each and every game takes a toll on your players. A better start is necessary so the club plays with the lead.
The Flyers cannot get too high with their two victories thus far. There is no doubting the two wins in Pittsburgh were huge, and the League's best team when playing away from their home rink will have to remember this is still likely to be a long series.
The Flyers have played much better on the road the whole season -- Philadelphia's all-time regular season and postseason record at the CONSOL Energy Center is now 7-1-0. But just because the next two contests are on Flyers' home ice does not mean this is a guaranteed sweep. Especially when Sunday's tilt is a 3:00 p.m. afternoon start. Philadelphia has been notoriously bad in afternoon games for most of the year, especially when played on home ice. The Flyers cannot relax even a little bit, or they will find themselves in a dog fight very quickly.
The Flyers are 17-0 in their history when leading a playoff series 2-0. Sounds like money, eh? Well just remember this -- Pittsburgh was a perfect 29-0-0 this year when leading by three goals, and that streak came to an abrupt end when the Flyers stormed back to take Game 1.
Nothing is "in the bag", nothing has been clinched. When Sunday rolls around, the Flyers will have to work their tails off to continue and build upon the momentum they have constructed in the first two contests. Just as was said after Game 1, there is still much work yet to be done.
Taking a Flyer: With his six points, Giroux jumped from 25th to 18th on the Flyers all-time playoff scoring list. He now has 16 goals and 28 points for 44 points in 42 career playoff games, which makes him (at this point) just the fifth Flyer to average more than a point-per-game in the playoffs over his career, joining Briere (31-30-61 in 59 games), Eric Lindros (24-33-57 in 50 games), Ken Linseman (11-42-53 in 41 games) and Peter Forsberg (4-4-8 in 6 games)....The last time the Flyers had a hat trick in a playoff game at all was May 2, 2004 by Keith Primeau in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs....Defenseman Kimmo Timonen had an assist and was a +3, while Kubina had an assist and was a +1. Rookie Eric Wellwood was a +2 and fellow freshman Matt Read was a +1, while Briere, Wayne Simmonds, and Schenn, and blue liner Andreas Lilja were all a -2.