Wrap: Late Heroics Lift Flyers Over Penguins in OT, 2-1
It wasn't a carbon copy of the finish of the 2019 Stadium Series game 23 nights earlier, but it was close enough. On Sunday night at the PPL Center in Pittsburgh, the Flyers erased a deficit in the final 18.8 seconds of regulation and then prevailed, 2-1,
as they scored the winning goal with a mere 3.4 seconds remaining until a shootout.
James van Riemsdyk (25th) scored the tying goal at 6-on-5. Sean Couturier netted the game-winner (29th) in the waning seconds of 3-on-3 overtime. Carter Hart was outstanding in goal, stopping 41 of 42 shots to earn the victory. For Pittsburgh, Teddy Blueger's rebound goal (4th) early in the second period broke a scoreless deadlock. Matt Murray was strong in goal in his own right, denying 36 of 38 Flyers shots, including 18 in the third period and the first five he faced in OT.
With the win, the Flyers prevailed, three games to one (twice in OT) in the season series with the Penguins. More important, Philly kept their faint playoff hopes alive. They moved within seven points (six standings points plus a 39-33 ROW tiebreaker disadvantage) of beating out the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Both teams have 10 games remaining.
It was a character victory for Philly. On the heels of blowing a 5-2 lead and losing in regulation, 7-6, in Toronto on Friday one night after a 5-2 regulation loss at home against Washington, it would have been easy for the Flyers to fold their tents when they trailed the Penguins in the third period on Sunday. Instead, they emptied the tank with all of their remaining energy, continued to get stellar goaltending from Hart and pulled this one out.
Avoiding a slow start against Pittsburgh after giving up a combined 12 goals in the previous two games was an absolute must. The first period may not have been exciting, even during most of a marathon stretch of whistle-free hockey that lasted from 1:12 into the game until the Flyers were called for too many men on the ice at the 6:50 mark. Even so, it was an early stabilizer for Philly. They took good care of the puck (only two charged giveways) and held Pittsburgh to eight mostly routine shots on Hart. On the downside, the Flyers generated just six shots on goal of their own.
The second period was largely dominated by the Penguins. Hart had to make 18 saves, including multiple medium-to-high danger chances, to keep the game scoreless. However, the only puck that went into the net was a would-be Flyers power play goal at 1:11 of the frame.
On the play, Claude Giroux wristed a shot that got through Murray with traffic moving in front of him. The goal was disallowed on the basis of goaltender interference by Jakub Voracek. The Flyers challenged, and replays showed that Penguins' defenseman Jack Johnson's stick made contact with Murray's stick, opening up a hole for the shot to find space. The no-goal call was reversed.
However, the Penguins immediately issued a challenge of their own, claiming that Voracek was offside as the Flyers entered the zone. Replays showed that Voracek was significantly offside -- it wasn't even close enough to need freeze-frame replays -- so there wasn't much suspense about the outcome. Sure enough, the no-goal to good-goal ruling was then reversed back to no-goal on the basis of offside.
Both replay rulings were correct. In the end, despite the procedural delays, the correct decision was made. The clock was reset to the time of the offside, and the faceoff came out of the Pittsburgh zone.
The Flyers ultimately went 0-for-3 on the power play but 4-for-4 on the penalty kill.
At 2:07 of the third period, Pittsburgh forged ahead, 2-1, on a goal that counted. It started with the Flyers seemingly in little danger, as Scott Laughton won a battle with Blueger near the left corner. Robert Hägg claimed the puck and was either trying to pass to Michael Raffl (the puck could not be handled) or was trying the clear the zone up the wall. Either which way, the puck was held in at the point by Erik Gudbranson.
The Penguins had an open D-to-D passing lane. Travis Konecny (who was initially stationed over the middle) rushed out toward Marcus Pettersson at the defensive right point but was unable to get there in time. Pettersson then rotated the puck down to Phil Kessel. The shot by Kessel produced a rebound to the opposite low slot. With both Hägg and Shayne Gostisbehere contending with attackers in front, Blueger slipped behind Laughton to claim the rebound and score. The assists went to Kessel and Pettersson.
Philly attacked in waves as the period progressed but it seemed as if they were destined to lose 1-0 or 2-0 (if Pittsburgh could score an empty netter). Sheer hustle in open ice by Ivan Provorov -- both he and partner Travis Sanheim played a strong game -- enabled him to beat Nick Bjugstad to the puck and break up what otherwise would have been a game-clinching empty net goal.
Finally, with time for one more rush, the Flyers carved up the Penguins' through the neutral zone, creating a four-on-two on the entry. Konecny, who had spent all but 18 seconds of the third period on the bench since the Blueger goal, attacked with speed up the wing and fed across the middle to James van Riemsdyk just inside the hash marks. JVR wasted no time getting rid of a shot, and it beat Murray to the tie the game for his 25th goal of the season. The assists went to Konecny and Couturier.
Overtime was action-packed with the teams trading off 11 shots (five by Philly, six by Pittsburgh) and several scoring chances apiece as Gostisbehere sent the puck ahead to Couturier with just enough time on the clock for one final rush. Couturier beat Sidney Crosby in the neutral zone. Backing in the D, Couturier fired off a shot from below the dot that found the net to the blocker side and won the game.
The Flyers return to action on Tuesday, hosting the Montreal Canadiens in another must-win game (they're all pretty much must-wins for the Flyers from here on out or until they are otherwise mathematically eliminated).
The Penguins, who were without Evgeni Malkin on Sunday as well as Kris Letang and Chad Ruhwedel, remained three points behind the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals for first place in the Metro Division. All three teams have 38 ROW. Pittsburgh has nine games remaining, however, while the Isles and Caps each have 10.