PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 11: Scott Hartnell #19 of the Philadelphia Flyers and Ben Lovejoy #6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins have words in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 11, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
After capping off an improbable 4-3 overtime victory in a game in which they trailed 3-0 -- the third time they had mounted a huge comeback against the Pens in the last three weeks -- the Flyers may be getting into the heads of their arch-rivals from Pittsburgh.
For the Philadelphia Flyers, the 3-0 deficit they faced against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the first intermission of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals had to feel normal, almost comfortable. After all, the team had erased numerous opposition multiple-goal leads to pull out victories over the course of the regular season.
They had been in this situation so many times before, only to pull together and succeed in the end.
As a matter of fact, the 2-0 Pens lead at the 10-minute mark of the opening frame was the 52nd time in the last 56 games that the Orange-and-Black did not lead the game at that stage of play. That fact just makes the club's resiliency to be able to pull out wins all the more amazing.
Perhaps largest among their emotional, come-from-behind wins were a pair over the Pens within a two-week period late in the schedule. They overcame a 2-0 Pittsburgh lead at the Wells Fargo Center on March 18 to win on a Scott Hartnell goal with 0.9 seconds remaining in overtime, then nullified a 2-0 Penguins lead after the first 4:58 on April 1st in an eventual 6-4 victory at their home away from home, the CONSOL Energy Center.
Even though Pittsburgh had finally won a game against the visiting Flyers in their home arena in a meaningless game on the last day of the regular season -- after five failed attempts since CONSOL opened up last year -- Philly's ability to show no lead is insurmountable had to be in the backs of the Penguins' collective minds.
Wednesday night's series opener reinforced as much.
Although he had yielded a trio of goals, Ilya Bryzgalov couldn't be blamed for the early deficit. The goaltender made several outstanding stops to keep Philly within striking distance when the game could have easily gotten away from the Flyers. Bryzgalov finished the night with 25 saves on 28 Pittsburgh shots.
Danny Briere, seeing his first game action since getting drilled by Joe Vitale on a thunderous late-game, open-ice hit on April 1, notched a pair of goals to bring his team back to within one (the first on a breakaway after clearly being offsides entering the Pens' zone). For Briere -- who has been Mr. Postseason in his time with Philly -- it was his sixth career two-goal playoff game, and fourth as a Flyer. He now has 31 goals and 30 assists for 61 points in 58 playoff games for Philadelphia, and moved past Rick Tocchet into eighth place on the Flyers' all-time playoff scoring list.
Shortly after tallying his second goal of the game, Briere nearly popped another home and was very close to recording a hat trick. Marc-Andre Fleury made the stop, and the Philly big game player took a gigantic hit as he skated behind the goal. This time it was Brooks Orpik, who appeared to be launched out of a cannon as he blasted Briere with a high, hard hit into the end boards. Orpik was curiously given an interference minor -- the only infraction whistled against Pittsburgh the entire contest -- and that's when rookie Brayden Schenn got into the goal-scoring act.
Schenn, who assisted on both of Briere's earlier goals -- and another player vilified on the western side of Pennsylvania for a retaliatory shove to the back of Crosby in the highly contentious April 1 tilt -- deftly redirected a Hartnell pass through the slot past Fleury for a power play goal to knot the game with 7:37 remaining in regulation time. In addition to Wayne Simmonds, Schenn is the other half of the return from the Los Angeles Kings in the trade for Mike Richards in late June.
Jakub Voracek is another young piece of the Flyers' puzzle who was acquired by Paul Holmgren the same day as Simmonds and Schenn. The 22-year-old Voracek came to Philadelphia from the Columbus Blue Jackets -- along with the eighth-overall draft pick (which became 19-year-old rookie centerman Sean Couturier) in the Jeff Carter deal -- and Voracek showed his value by coming up with the game-winning goal early in overtime.
It was the first-ever postseason tallies for both Schenn and Voracek, who is becoming a more prominent and consistent contributor for Philly. Including the regular season, he now has five goals in his last seven games and 11 points in his last eight outings.
For the Flyers, it was an extremely hard-fought, emotional triumph in taking Game 1 and wrestling home ice advantage away from Pittsburgh. In the process, the Flyers likely have gained a certain amount of a mental advantage over the Pens. While they still boast one of the NHL's most talented and deadly rosters, you begin to wonder if the club will ever think any lead is safe.
Any advantage that can be gained is enormous in what promises to be a long playoff battle, especially a psychological edge that Philadelphia has earned with three comeback victories against the Penguins in the last three weeks.