PHILADELPHIA (AP)—Old-time hockey got the Philadelphia Flyers back in their playoff series against Pittsburgh. It’ll take more than a few fights and hard hits to beat the Penguins.
Desperate to save their season after losing the first two games in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, the Flyers turned to what they’ve always done best since the days of the Broad Street Bullies. They got physical.
The Flyers not only outmuscled Pittsburgh in a 6-3 win Sunday, but their feisty play took the Penguins off their game. Now they’ll have to do it again to even the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Tuesday night at the Wachovia Center.
“We’re in better position than we were a couple days ago, but still it’s only one game,” Flyers forward Simon Gagne said Monday. “We played better the last game than the previous two games. But still it’s only one game, we’re still down. The next one is going to be even bigger than the last one.”
The next game is a pivotal one and the pressure remains on Philadelphia. The Flyers can’t afford to fall behind 3-1. The Penguins still have the edge and they have two more games at home, so they’re not panicking after one loss.
“We have a little bit of adversity. We expected that. We didn’t play well, but we know we’ll bounce back,” Pens center Jordan Staal said.
The Flyers certainly benefited from the home-ice advantage Sunday. A fired-up crowd revved up by pregame nostalgia from the Stanley Cup years gave them more energy. It also helped that coach John Stevens had the last line change and was able to match up Jeff Carter’s line against Sidney Crosby. Carter got his first goal of the series to put Philadelphia up 1-0. Crosby had two assists, though he still hasn’t had a bust-out performance.
Not surprisingly, this has been a physical series. These teams have been nasty rivals since they entered the league 42 years ago and they always go after each other hard. But many were surprised that the Penguins were the more aggressive team in the first two games while Philadelphia played undisciplined hockey, taking many costly penalties.
The Flyers set the tone early with two quick goals in Game 3 and then made it clear they weren’t going to be pushed around. After Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz flattened Kimmo Timonen with a hard elbow to the head, Scott Hartnell went after him. Flyers defenseman Andrew Alberts scuffled with Evegni Malkin on the other side, and two more scrums broke out during the next stoppage.
“It’s always about emotional control,” Pens coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s certainly something we can be better at, need to be better at, especially here on the road.”
Timonen downplayed Kunitz’s hit, but Stevens said he thought the Penguins forward was trying to put his top defenseman out.
“It was a hard, hard hit,” Stevens said. “He’s not just trying to get the puck there, he’s trying to hit him to hurt him. I’m not saying it’s a good hit. Your team should be able to respond. That’s hockey, that’s playoff hockey. That’s the way it happens. Emotions run. That’s why I feel the game has a way of policing itself.”
After seeing the replay, Timonen said he’s surprised he didn’t sustain a concussion.
“It’s not really my job to judge if that’s a penalty or not,” he said. “It was a hard hit, obviously, and I have to move on. If you let that affect your game, and I know they’re going to try to hit me, if you start thinking about that before the game, you’re going to kind of let your own game down.”
The task ahead for the Flyers remains a tough one. They’re 2-11 in series in which they fell behind 2-0. But one of those two wins came against Pittsburgh in 2000 after the Flyers lost the first two games in Philadelphia.