OK, tell me if you’ve heard this story before: The Philadelphia Flyers fall behind in the first period only to come back to win a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Sunday, after letting Pittsburgh score first for the third straight game, Philadelphia battled back and put the game — and perhaps the series — away with style in an 8-4 win that gave the Flyers a 3-0 series lead.
"They certainly have a team that can come back and they are a dangerous team," said Danny Brière, one of three Flyers with two goals on the night. "Hopefully we can finish it off. The goal is to finish it out on Wednesday in Game 4. We don’t want to let them hang around and get some confidence. Our goal is to try to finish them right away. We know they are going to be desperate and it is not going to be an easy task. They get tougher and tougher as you get closer to the last decisive game."
Heading into Game 3, the Penguins had outscored the Flyers 6-1 in the first period and it looked like the trend would continue as the Flyers once again allowed the first goal of the game. Jordan Staal broke down the right wing and took a shot that Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov got a piece of on his left shoulder, but the puck trickled down his back and slid into the net.
However, the Flyers once again came from behind with a vengeance. This time they waited less than 3 minutes after Staal’s goal to get going, instead of waiting until head coach Peter Laviolette called a timeout. Maxime Talbot planted himself to the right of Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and backhanded a shot that Fleury appeared to have, but somehow allowed to trickle past him into the net to tie the game at 1-1.
Brière, who has been Philadelphia’s best player come playoff time ever since the team signed him as a free agent in 2007, did what he does best: score goals on the power play. On Philadelphia’s second goal, Scott Hartnell had the puck to the left of Fleury, but realized he didn’t have a shot. Hartnell passed to Brière on the right face-off circle. He almost didn’t have enough time as Fleury did his best to move across the face of the goal, but Brière’s shot beat Fleury and the Flyers never looked back.
Brière was at it again on a 3-on-2 with Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn. As Schenn came across the blue line, he passed to Simmonds while Brière went for the net. Simmonds passed to Brière, who got behind the defense and sniped a shot passed Fleury for a 3-1 lead.
James Neal scored to get the Penguins to within a goal, but 23 seconds later, Flyers rookie Matt Read notched his first tally of the playoffs. Read and Brière went behind the Penguins net, but Brière didn’t realize the puck was still at his feet. Read came to his rescue and scooped the puck up and skated in front of the net to fire a shot past Fleury that closed the scoring in a wild first period.
The nastiness was ramped up from the start of the game, but it peaked when Kimmo Timonen got into a fight that was started by Claude Giroux. The Penguins and Flyers combined for six roughing minors, four fighting majors and two game misconducts.
Each team scored two goals in the second period. Evgeni Malkin came down the left wing boards on the power play and saw Neal coming down the slot, and Neal blasted Malkin’s pass by Bryzgalov to get the Penguins to within 4-3. However, Jaromir Jagr made the Pens pay on a power play as he skated into the right face-off circle and fired a pass over to the left face-off circle where Read blasted a one-timer by Fleury to give the Flyers another two-goal lead.
Staal then got his second goal of the game on a weak shot from Neal at the right point on a 3-on-4. As the puck trickled by Bryzgalov, it hit the post before Staal tapped in the rebound to make the score 5-4.
That was the closest the Penguins got. Simmonds scored on the power play with 45.8 seconds left in the second period when he took a long feed from Brayden Coburn at the right side of the blue line. Simmonds then broke in on Fleury and cut to the middle of the ice behind the Penguins defense and backhanded his shot past Fleury. That play effectively broke the Penguins’ backs.
Talbot and Giroux finished off the scoring — and quite possibly Pittsburgh’s stay in this postseason. The Penguins must play better defense and get better goaltending from Fleury, who was pulled in place of Brent Johnson in the third period. Malkin and Sidney Crosby will have to concentrate on hockey rather than picking fights if they are to have a chance.
"You gotta win one. It’s plain and simple,” Crosby said. “You can’t win all four at once and you gotta win one, and I think you know no one is showing any signs of giving up in here."
The Penguins are playing into the Flyers’ hands and Philadelphia is making the Pens pay on special teams. The Flyers have five power play goals and three shorthanded goals.
Pens coach Dan Bylsma stood by Fleury despite the fact he has allowed 16 goals in three games.
The games have not come down to Marc-Andre Fleury’s goaltending," he said. "(It’s) mistakes that we’ve made, situations we put our team in. I know Marc-Andre is going to be the guy in our net for the next four games."
This is the 11th time in team history that the Flyers will hold a 3-0 series lead heading into Game 4. They have never lost a series after taking a three-game lead. They will be looking for their first sweep of a playoff series since 1995 when they beat the New York Rangers in four straight in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They have only swept six series in their history, and only three of them were best-of-seven (1974 quarterfinals, 1975 quarterfinals, 1995 Eastern Conferences emifinals.) The other three sweeps were a best-of-three in the 1978 preliminary round and two best-of-five sweeps, the 1980 preliminary round and the 1985 Patrick Division Semifinals.