Wayne Simmonds scored a goal and added an assist, and Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves as the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2. With the victory the Flyers took over the Eastern Conference lead, passing their cross-state rivals by a point in the process.
It was a night that many had marked on their calendars following the return of Sidney Crosby, but that aspect was lost when it was announced he would be scratched because of precautions related to an injury suffered Monday night against Boston.
Not to worry, because there is still plenty of hatred between these Keystone combatants.
Besides the ongoing animosity between the two clubs that has spiked over the last five years since Crosby's arrival in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia's offseason signings of UFA and ex-Penguins' forwards Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot left a bad taste in the mouths of many from the 'Burgh.
With the Flyers having played an overtime game in Buffalo on Wednesday night and the Penguins rested, it was surprising to see Philadelphia come out the stronger team in the opening frame.
Danny Briere got things started off for the Orange-and-Black, early in the first period. Skating into the Pittsburgh zone on the left wing, Briere took a slapshot that deflected off both Robert Bortuzzo's and Brooks Orpik's legs, and pinballing perfectly past a stunned Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 6:38. Briere's eighth goal of the season was just his first in the last six games.
Late in the period, Pittsburgh had a golden opportunity to tie the game, as both Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux were sent to the penalty box. Even though the Penguins had a two-man advantage for 1:20 it was Talbot that came the closest to scoring, but was stoned by Fleury. "He did the little scream after he does every save," said the former Penguin. "He goes 'woo' and I was always on the right side of that, but it pissed me off tonight."
When play resumed, two of the three Flyers' penalty killers, Talbot and Kimmo Timonen, had their sticks break. That left just one Philly skater with a stick, but the Flyers were handed a reprieve when Chris Kunitz was whistled for cross-checking Timonen in front of the net.
"It was an opportunity for us," said Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma. "Five-on-three, and two guys lost their sticks. It was certainly a missed opportunity when you get that five-on-three and have it for a minute and don't convert, you feel like you let one slip and didn't capitalize."
Meanwhile, Philadelphia was able to take advantage of a power play of their own in the second period. In the waning seconds of a Joe Vitale holding minor, Giroux held the puck at the left circle. The NHL scoring leader spotted Jakub Voracek at the right circle, and hit him with a perfect pass. Voracek sent a touch pass over to Simmonds at Fleury's right for the open net tap in. Simmonds' sixth of the year was his first goal in nine games, and gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 8:42.
Hartnell gave Philadelphia a 3-0 lead with his 13th of the year, jamming home an Andrej Meszaros goalmouth pass to give him a four-game goal scoring streak.
But Bryzgalov's shutout would evaporate just 38 seconds later. James Neal whipped a wicked wrister top shelf on a feed from Evgeni Malkin for his 15th goal of the season. The power play goal cut the Flyers' lead to 3-1 heading into the third.
When Malkin ripped a shot through Bryzgalov for his 10th of the year at 8:21 of the final stanza, the Flyers had no margin for error at 3-2.
Jagr had a shot at the empty net with Fleury pulled for an extra attacker, but it sailed high and wide. Bryzgalov made the one-goal lead stand up, and Philadelphia jumped past Pittsburgh for not only the Atlantic Division lead, but also the top spot in the East.
"Well sometimes when you play back to back, you get tired physically and you get tired mentally too," said Giroux about the Penguins carrying play in the third. "I think that's just normal. We aren't the only team that does that. Anytime you have a lead 3-0 you have to make sure you keep it."
The Flyers held onto their 3-0 lead Thursday, a night after taking a game that the Sabres blew a 3-0 lead in a 5-4 Philly victory.