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Starkey: Pens undone by power play

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

What a bizarre evening — and I'm not talking about the animals in the stands.

"Did you see all the bears out there?" Jaromir Jagr said to no one in particular in a joyous Philadelphia Flyers' dressing room. "There were like 70 or 80. How did they get tickets?"

They were not real bears, of course. They were Penguins fans dressed as bears, playfully mocking Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, who, before the series, memorably told reporters the only thing he was scared of was "bears in the forest."

The Penguins looked pretty darn scary for a period, jumping to a 3-0 lead before they were undone by a familiar foe: their own power play.

That is their bear in the forest.

Unable to bury the resilient Flyers, the Penguins saw their three-goal lead melt into a stunning 4-3 loss when Jakub Voracek scored at 2:23 of overtime. Kris Letang flubbed a puck in front of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, and Voracek whacked it home.

"What we did," Bryzgalov said, "was unbelievable."

To call the loss dispiriting would be a radical understatement. Blame it on the power play.

Not only did the Penguins fail to score on their three chances — all coming with an opportunity to bury the Flyers — but they sapped themselves of momentum.

"We didn't have much end-zone time," said coach Dan Bylsma. "It was more off the rush, and within five to 10 seconds a shot, and (the Flyers) got it cleared."

The ineptness was enough to spark memories of last year's power-play meltdown against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Surely, you remember. The Penguins went 1-for-35 overall and 0-for-25 at home.

At least that power play had an excuse. It didn't have enough talent.

This one might have too much.

This isn't new, either. The power play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin underachieves to its talent level.

It's time for Bylsma and his staff to make some changes. One, the Crosby-at-the-point experiment needs to end. He belongs around the net. That is where he does his best work. It's where he scored a brilliant even-strength goal last night.

Two, Steve Sullivan belongs back on the first unit full-time. Gaining entry has been a problem. Sullivan is a master there. He and Kris Letang need to man the points. It seems obvious now. Chris Kunitz would then be the odd man out.

The Penguins didn't shoot enough with the man advantage last night. They got too cute. When they did get a decent shot, they had zero net-front presence.

The only space that cleared faster than the Flyers' goal crease was the Penguins' dressing room after the game. Players were gone in record time, leaving a trail of unanswered questions.

The Flyers gained life immediately after a failed Penguins power play early in the second period. A goal there, and "it's over," as Voracek put it.

Instead, Daniel Briere took advantage of a Joe Vitale turnover to make it 3-1 (yes, Briere was a mile offside on the play).

Briere struck again early in the third to make it 3-2, beating Fleury on an odd-angle shot from near the left boards.

"I'm sure he'd like to have that one back," Briere said.

The Flyers showed the Penguins what a real power play looks like after Brooks Orpik went to the box for interference at 10:41 of the third. Brayden Schenn skillfully deflected a Scott Hartnell pass into the net at 12:23.

Game 1's don't always foretell a series, especially when the Penguins are involved. In their past four playoff series, and five of their past six, the Game 1 winner went on to lose.

But this was a shocker.

It puts a ton of pressure on the Penguins Friday night, unless they're planning more 2-0 escapes on their way to another Stanley Cup.

That doesn't sound like a good plan.

A mandatory practice today, featuring lots of power-play work with Sullivan at the point, sounds like a great one.

Time to bear down.

Photo Galleries

Pens Rally

Pens Rally

A Penguins rally at the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard in anticipation of the start of the Penguins playoff game against Philadelphia Wednesday, April 11, 2012.

Game 1 Penguins vs. Flyers 411/12

Game 1 Penguins vs. Flyers  <sup>4</sup>⁄<sub>11</sub>/12

The Flyers defeat the Penguins, 4-3 in overtime, in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff series.

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