Flyers score twice late, stun Penguins in overtime
When the Pittsburgh Penguins found out they would be without star center Evgeni Malkin on a week-to-week basis because of an upper-body injury, they were down.
The Philadelphia Flyers enjoy nothing more than kicking their longtime cross-state rivals when they’re in that condition.
James van Riemsdyk scored the tying goal in the final minute of regulation, and Sean Couturier netted the winner in the final seconds of overtime, leading the Flyers to a 2-1 victory Sunday night at PPG Paints Arena.
With nine games left to play, the Penguins aren’t in bad shape in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They have a seven-point lead on ninth-place Montreal in the race for the final spot, though the Canadiens have a game in hand. They are three points behind the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, who are tied for first in the Metropolitan Division.
Given the events of Sunday, though, they can’t be beaming with optimism for their future.
“It’s a big rivalry, and there’s only 10 games left and points are so big,” winger Patric Hornqvist said. “It’s a tough one right now, but, at the same time, we have to put this behind us, watch video, see what we can do better and see what we did good. I think we did a lot of good things but, obviously, not enough.”
With Malkin out, coach Mike Sullivan tried to disrupt his lineup as little as possible.
The only line that changed was the second, and it changed as little as it could have. Teddy Blueger slid over from left wing to center. Bryan Rust, returning from a nine-game injury absence of his own, played on the left side. Phil Kessel remained on the right.
It was the only line that produced a goal for the Penguins. Blueger cashed in the rebound of a turnaround Kessel shot from the slot about two minutes into the second period.
“(Malkin is) obviously a tough guy to replace. He’s an elite player. That speaks for itself,” Sullivan said. “As far as what we’re going to do moving forward, we’ll probably take it game-to-game and see how it goes.”
The lead didn’t hold up as, for the second time in as many meetings with the Flyers, the Penguins gave up a tying goal in the waning seconds of the third period.
In the outdoor game Feb. 23 in Philadelphia, Jakub Voracek scored on a bad-angle shot with 19.7 seconds to go, and the Flyers won 4-3 in overtime.
On Sunday, van Riemsdyk came open in the slot, took a pass from Travis Konecny and buried a shot with 18.8 seconds left.
Seconds before the goal was scored, Sidney Crosby stepped up on van Riemsdyk as he tried to receive a pass from Shayne Gostisbehere at the red line. If Crosby collected the puck, an empty net stood in front of him. Instead, it kicked to Konecny on the right wing, and the Flyers had a manpower advantage entering the zone.
“We needed to defend harder,” Sullivan said. “We didn’t have numbers back, and we should have had numbers back. The other goal they got in the outdoor game was a totally different scenario. They got some puck luck on that one.”
The overtime winner came from Couturier on a two-on-one with 3.4 seconds left.
Again, seconds before the goal was scored, Crosby stepped up to try to strip a puck from Couturier in the neutral zone. His efforts failed, and the Flyers center moved alone up the right wing with enough time and space to beat the buzzer.
“We’re, obviously, disappointed,” Sullivan said. “Tonight we didn’t close it out. We had a pretty good chance to do it, and we didn’t get it done.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .