PITTSBURGH (AP)—With Evgeni Malkin doing his best Mario Lemieux impression, even a healthy Kimmo Timonen might not have made a difference. The Flyers probably needed an in-his-prime Bobby Clarke, and maybe more, to stop this.
Malkin scored two dazzling goals 5 minutes apart to give Pittsburgh a two-goal lead after Sidney Crosby tied it, and the Penguins rode their two big stars to a 4-2 victory over Philadelphia in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.
“We knew we had a special group here, and a young group that just needed to get experience. We’re still learning a lot,” Crosby said.
The Penguins also showed a lot—speed, talent, even grit—and won their ninth in 10 playoff games to grab the series lead going into Game 2 on Sunday night. Three more wins, and they’ll play for their first Stanley Cup title since 1992.
Malkin, who is only 21 but is the leading scorer in the playoffs with 17 points following a three-point night, scored with 6.5 seconds left in the first period with a tired Flyers line on the ice to put Pittsburgh up 3-2.
The pivotal goal blunted much of the momentum the Flyers gained by briefly taking a 2-1 lead on Mike Richards’ two goals.
“You turn pucks over and give up rushes against Crosby and Malkin, that’s a game you can’t play,” Flyers coach John Stevens said.
Malkin’s first career short-handed goal, on a breakaway created by Sergei Gonchar’s end-to-end pass early in the second, was the crusher for the Flyers, who didn’t do much offensively after that despite taking 28 shots against goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Malkin missed his initial short-handed attempt before being leveled behind the net by Richards. Malkin got up and began skating toward the Penguins’ zone. Before he got there, Marian Hossa knocked the puck loose from Danny Briere, allowing Gonchar to sail it back down the ice to Malkin for a slap shot between the hash marks that flew past Martin Biron before he could react.
Malkin isn’t good in shootouts, and he slowed down to a crawl while missing a penalty shot in the second round against the Rangers. This time, he did the opposite.
“It was really a last-second decision,” Malkin said through an interpreter. “I just decided to shoot that puck as hard as I can. I didn’t think about it, where to shoot, and to make any moves. Just as hard as I can.”
Good idea. This night, it was the Penguins who were high-flying, creating odd-man rushes and breakouts with an extra gear the short-handed Flyers couldn’t match during their fourth successive loss in Pittsburgh over three months.
“I think as the game went on, we maintained that speed and probably wanted to get a little bit more on that,” Crosby said.
The Flyers missed shutdown defenseman Timonen, who is out for the series with a blood clot in his left ankle that left Philadelphia without its top power-play point man and breakout passer. The Flyers repeatedly had trouble getting the puck up ice, stifling an offense that was more wide-open than usual during a first period that seemed better suited for the free-flowing Western Conference.
“They got the momentum and then they just started shutting things down,” Biron said.
Malkin even showed his physical side, leveling defenseman Braydon Coburn with a shoulder check not long after scoring his second goal and taking a roughing penalty in the final two minutes.
“Our good players, they play hard, they’re not going to back down—Malkin, Hossa, Crosby they play hard, when the game gets physical, they get physical as well,” coach Michel Therrien said.
Philadelphia also lost the opener in its first two playoff series. The Flyers won three straight against Washington to grab a 3-1 lead before advancing in seven games, and then took four in a row to eliminate Montreal.
“It’s a position we’ve been in before,” Richards said. “We’ll just have to come back with another solid effort.”
Crosby, held without a goal in his previous five games, tied it at 14:11 of the first after Hossa intercepted Biron’s clearing pass as it came out of the corner and put a pass on Crosby’s stick as he cut in from the right circle.
Malkin’s go-ahead goal came with defenseman Derian Hatcher and the other tired Flyers unable to get a line change. Malkin broke free in the right circle for a hard wrist shot that beat Biron inside the post for the go-ahead goal.
“When we get our chances, we can score goals. Geno was great,” Petr Sykora said. “That was a huge goal, a huge goal.”
Stevens said, “Those goals are killers.”
About that time, two traditional and heated Pennsylvania rivals accustomed to playing lower-scoring games looked as though they might stage a replay of Pittsburgh’s 10-7 win in Game 5 of a 1989 conference semifinal series that featured Lemieux’s five goals and three assists.
Sykora had given Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead 6:19 in by switching from forehand to backhand to beat Biron from along the goal line, a goal set up by Malkin and Ryan Malone.
The Penguins have won 14 in a row at home, dating to the regular season. … Crosby has 38 points in 21 career games against Philadelphia. … Fleury is 19-3-1 in his last 23 decisions. … Joffrey Lupul assisted on Richards’ second goal, four years to the night Lupul had a four-goal playoff game for Anaheim. … Malkin has eight goals and 10 assists in nine games against Philadelphia. … Pittsburgh’s Wilkes-Barre team beat the Flyers’ Phantoms farm club Friday night to win that AHL playoff series in five games. … The Penguins are 6-0 at home in the postseason, the first team in franchise history to do so.