Penguins rally from 4-1 deficit to down Flyers
PHILADELPHIA — Maybe the first 20 minutes Thursday served as the Penguins' final learning tool regarding the Flyers.
From that point, they didn't hit back, didn't take foolish penalties and were wise with the puck.
The sudden composure resulted in a 5-4 victory and was another blow to the struggling Flyers. Philadelphia trails the Penguins, who have a game in hand, by nine points.
“This was big for us tonight,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We needed this one.”
Down, 4-1, through one period, the Penguins dominated the final 40 minutes. Chris Kunitz scored twice, including the game-winner 18 seconds into the third period, and now has 14 goals.
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby took a four-point lead in the NHL scoring race, producing three assists for his eighth three-point game since Feb. 2.
Right wings James Neal, Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis also scored.
But what most satisfied the Penguins wasn't the comeback, but the way they shut down the Flyers during the final 19:42.
Philadelphia recorded 18 shots in the first period for the Penguins but only 14 during the remainder of the game.
“It couldn't have gotten worse,” Neal said of the first period. “We could only go up from there. Some guys said a few things. Vouky (goalie Tomas Vokoun) said a few big words to get us going.”
Vokoun replaced goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after the first period and didn't allow a goal. Of course, he wasn't asked to make many spectacular saves, as the Penguins picked up their defensive coverage and decision-making with the puck during the final 40 minutes.
“We did a good job of not giving up too many tough ones,” Crosby said. “But he did a good job coming in.”
The first period was a surreal reminder of what happens to the Penguins when they play by the Flyers' rules.
Philadelphia piled up four goals on Fleury, two of which came on the power play. Another came one second after a penalty expired, essentially giving the Flyers three goals with a man advantage.
Neal was in the center of the Penguins' problems, taking three penalties in the first period. When he exited the penalty box following Philadelphia's first goal, Neal was confronted by Flyers left wing Scott Hartnell, which triggered the first of many first-period altercations.
“I think that's happened a couple of times in this building,” Neal said. “He's doing what he's got to do, I guess.”
The Penguins did what they had to do the rest of the evening and are 16-8-0 at the season's halfway mark — five points clear of the New Jersey Devils for the Atlantic Division lead.
“This was a big step,” Niskanen said. “We did a good job of staying focused. We kept the third period calm, which is what we needed to do. We were pretty ticked with how the first period went, obviously. But no one hit the panic button. We knew it was time to compete harder and that things would turn around.”
The Penguins were guilty of five penalties in the first period and only one the rest of the way.
“I like how we came out and played,” Bylsma said, referring to the final two periods. “We stuck with it. Our guys stayed focused. We limited their opportunities. We played the right way. Maybe our best (period) with the lead in the third.”