PITTSBURGH – The little things are adding up to big things for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are mirroring everything the Detroit Red Wings are doing in the West as the two teams continue on a collision course to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Philadelphia Flyers brought a much better effort in Game 2 Sunday night, but left Mellon Arena down another defenseman and another game in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
Maxime Talbot was the unlikely hero, his goal midway through the third period off a great pass from Gary Roberts in a battle of the two teams' fourth lines broke a 2-2 tie. The only goal scored at even strength was the winner in a 4-2 victory for the hosts, who won a franchise record seventh-straight home playoff game.
"We've stressed the whole playoffs that we want to play well here – 2-0 is the best situation we could be in going there, and it's just going to get tougher from here on out," Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said.
The Flyers, like the Dallas Stars in a 0-2 hole out West, can only hope a change of scenery will make a difference in a series that is tilting rather seriously toward the Western portion of Pennsylvania.
For now, all they can take from the first two games is the fact they played better in Game 2 than Game 1, but in the end lost both by the same score. The Flyers battled and battled Sunday, cutting down on turnovers and mental mistakes to stick right with the Penguins for 50 minutes. But with both teams' fourth forward units on the ice midway through the final period the Penguins pounced on an untimely giveaway.
Philadelphia forward Steve Downie had time to get a puck out of the zone along the right boards, but he didn't take the tact his coach would have liked and the next thing you knew the Pens were in business. With the Flyers out of position and the puck deep, Gary Roberts raced toward the end boards and made a blink backhand pass to the slot where an unmarked Talbot punched home his second goal of the postseason at 8:51.
"Turnovers can't happen," Philadelphia coach John Stevens said. "I'd like to see him (Downie) roll into that puck instead of put his butt on the wall where he has to reach around. It's a learned skill."
Apparently scoring big goals is a skill learned by Talbot, who has a knack for potting them at crucial times.
"He seems to score all these big-time goals even if he doesn't score a lot of goals," Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien said. "We're getting contributions from different players, and it's good to see those guys contribute. They got rewarded for their hard work."
"That's huge for us, that's been the story in the playoffs for us,"
Crosby added. "They've played well for us even if they don't always show up on the score sheet."
Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn showed up on the score sheet but only for two shifts and a combined total of 67 seconds. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a Hal Gill shot from the left point ramped up the stick of teammate Evgeni Malkin and into Coburn's face.
The Flyer went down hard, both hands covering his face. He suffered cuts around his left eye and on his forehead, and needed more than 40 stitches to close the gashes. His absence meant the Flyers were down to five defensemen for the rest of the night. And this is on top of the fact Philadelphia went into the series knowing top defenseman Kimmo Timonen will not play at all. Timonen, out with a blood clot in his ankle, and Coburn led the Flyers in postseason ice time, averaging 24:55 and 24:03 respectively, before Sunday.
"He's an all-situations player for us," Stevens said of Coburn. "I thought the group of five did a heck of a job. We got good contributions from all of them, and our D played much better tonight."
Derian Hatcher logged 28:31 and Randy Jones skated 26:14 to lead the depleted corps, but they were a worn down group in the end. It fed right into what the speedy Penguins are trying to do. And it doesn't figure to stop the rest of the way.
"Our game is skating and we want to attack," Crosby said.
Earlier in the game it was all about special teams.
The Flyers survived a mid first-period minor by Jeff Carter, but a Mike Knuble cross check of Jordan Staal late in the power play would prove costly. Just eight seconds later Crosby fired from an extreme angle to Martin Biron's left, a shot that ticked off the skate of Philadelphia defenseman Lasse Kukkonen and just inside the near post after the Flyers' goalie momentarily pulled his left pad from the post.
Philadelphia answered at 5:56 on the second of consecutive power plays. Carter was left along on the weakside as the Penguins were scrambling on the kill. Nearly eight minutes later, however, Marian Hossa struck for a power-play goal just nine seconds after Hatcher was sent off for a questionable call of hooking against Malkin.
"I'd just like to see some consistency," Stevens said. "We've got a couple stars on our team, too – Danny (Briere) is a pretty good player."
"Derian Hatcher has been around a long time and he knows how to defend. Malkin is a big man, he's trying to cut to the net. I can't get mad at him (Hatcher). His intention was to do the right thing," the coach added.
Mike Richards made a great individual play while short-handed in the second period to tie the score. He anticipated Malkin's pass across the Flyers' blue line, stepped in to take it from Sergei Gonchar, danced around the defenseman and was off to the races for a breakaway goal at 19:36.
That was all Marc-Andre Fleury would permit, though, as the Pens' young netminder stopped 30 shots, including all 10 in the final period to help Pittsburgh win for the 10th time in 11 games this postseason.
"When there were some breakdowns Marc-Andre was good," Therrien said. "One of the biggest reasons since the playoffs started that we are having success is because of him."