Former Pittsburgh Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Maxime Talbot made triumphant returns to Pittsburgh, both scoring a goal, the NHL's leading scorer, Claude Giroux, picked up a pair of assists, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 24 saves as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Pens, 4-2.
The victory lifted the Flyers ahead of Pittsburgh's 46 points and into a tie with the New York Rangers at 48 points each. New York holds the Atlantic Division lead by virtue of having played one less game.
It's rare to find a regular season contest with such a high quality, playoff-type atmosphere, but it seems to happen often when these two rival teams get together. Throw in the fact that this was the first time returning to Pittsburgh for Philadelphia's summer UFA signings, Jagr and Talbot, and the CONSOL Energy Center was absolutely...electric.
It was the Penguins who got off to a great start, as defenseman Andrej Meszaros fumbled the puck behind the net in attempting to send a pass to his defensive partner, and Tyler Kennedy was able to intercept the puck. Kennedy sent the puck to Jordan Staal to the right of Philadelphia net and Staal was able to beat Bobrovsky just 44 seconds into the contest for a 1-0 Pittsburgh lead.
With Evgeni Malkin in the penalty box, Philadelphia came close to tying the game when Scott Hartnell picked up a rebound and had an open side of the net with which to put the puck, but Marc-Andre Fleury kicked out the right pad to thwart the backhand offering.
The Flyers would strike back while on another power play midway through the opening frame, a tally that was set up by the tireless work by the line of Wayne Simmonds, Giroux, and Jagr. All three touched the puck behind the Penguins' cage, with Giroux emerging to Fleury's right. The NHL's leading scorer sent a pass to Kimmo Timonen in the high slot, and the defenseman snapped a shot that beat Fleury high to the top corner over his glove hand. After assisting on 22 goals and recording no goals in the first 35 games of the year, Timonen scored his first goal of the season to knot the game at 1-1 after one period.
Jagr had a high quality chance in the first period, but shot the puck between Fleury and the net with an open net. He wouldn't make the same mistake in the second period. The Czech took a Giroux pass in full flight skating down the slot, stickhandled around Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, then sent a backhander over Fleury's glove side for his 12th goal of the year to give the Flyers their first lead of the night at 2-1. The former-Penguin gave the Pittsburgh fans his signature goal salute, as the CONSOL throng showered him with a chorus of boos.
Both goaltenders would have to come up big to keep their respective clubs in the game. Bobrovsky made a rapid fire series of three saves in tight, then Fleury came up with a cart-wheeling stick save on Matt Read as the rookie forward was allowed to move in unencumbered on the Pittsburgh net.
Philadelphia would break through again late in the middle stanza. Sean Couturier, back for his first game after missing the previous four after taking a Timonen slap shot in the left ear, began the sequence from behind his own net. Couturier hit Jakub Voracek along the right wing boards, then took a return pass in a perfectly executed give-and-go. Philadelphia's eighth-overall selection in this summer's entry draft skated along the right wing side and got off a backhander in which Fleury was able to stop. The rebound popped out to the slot, where Read pounced on the puck and whipped a shot past the netminder before Fleury could recover for his 12th goal of the season to increase the visitor's lead to 3-1 after two periods.
After Fleury stopped Voracek on a partial breakaway, Pittsburgh would score on the ensuing rush in the other direction. Kennedy took a pass from Malkin and surprised Bobrovsky with a wicked slap shot from the right hash mark that went high to the glove side and under the bar for his fifth of the year, pulling the home club to within a goal at 3-2 with 6:29 left in regulation.
With Fleury pulled for an extra attacker, Talbot iced the victory for the Flyers, sending a shot from center ice into the vacant cage for his 10th of the season with 24.7 seconds remaining.
Bobrovsky, playing in place of the struggling Ilya Bryzgalov, improved his record to 8-2-1 on the year. The 23-year-old, second year goalie is now 4-1-1 lifetime against the Penguins. Bobrovsky provided a stable presence in net, helping Philadelphia snap a two-game losing skid, capping a tough five game stretch in which the Orange-and-Black managed just a 1-3-1 record.
But the night belonged to the players who spent several years in the Steel City, namely Jagr and Talbot. While Pittsburgh's animosity towards Jagr is still clearly evident, Talbot received a standing ovation when a tribute video was played in the arena.
While Jagr won two Stanley Cups in the early-90s with the team, he left town on rather bad terms. Talbot, on the other hand, scored two goals in Game 7 in Pittsburgh's last championship in 2009, and was deemed expendable when his contract expired after last season.