Almost ten months ago exactly, this is the vision the Philadelphia Flyers had when they signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine year, $51 million contract. Bryzgalov held the Pittsburgh Penguins to just one goal to send his team to the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
After failing to close out the series the past two games, Claude Giroux and the Flyers finally finished off the Penguins with the 5-1, total team effort, win in front of the sea of orange and black fans.
Giroux set the tone by nailing Sidney Crosby in the first seconds of the game. Crosby and the Penguins never had an answer. Before Crosby could even shake off the hit, Giroux fired one from the circle and went top-shelf on Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Flyers the 1-0 lead. It was the Flyers’ first even-strength goal since the early seconds in Game three’s third period.
Danny Briere was sent to the box for hooking to give the Penguins the first power-play of the game. Despite great puck movement, the Penguins couldn’t get one past the Flyers’ defense who finally decided to show up.
The Flyers combined for a total of 40 blocked shots, 30 of them coming from the defense which was missing Nicklas Grossmann for the second straight game.
Still, the Penguins kept pressuring on the five-on-five, leaving the Flyers with only two shots on goal despite their lead. Then Matt Cooke pummeled Brayden Schenn to send the Flyers on their first man-advantage of the game. Scott Hartnell jammed one under Fleury on the rebound from a Giroux one-timer. The Flyers seemed to have caught a break there because the puck appeared to be covered before it got lose again. The referees failed to blow the whistle.
Hartnell’s power-play goal was a record setter. It was the Flyers’ 12th of the series, a franchise record, and Giroux’s 13th point. Giroux will add to that total later in the game to end the series with 14 points.
One of the best parts of the NHL playoffs is that the most unlikely players manage to find a way to shine. With Grossmann sidelined, rookie defenseman Erik Gustafsson got the nod in Games 5 and 6. Five minutes into the second period, Gustafsson shot a laser that Fleury never saw coming to give the Flyers a commanding 3-0 lead.
If the first five games of this series meant anything, however, it is that you can never count either team out. With Kimmo Timonen in the box for hooking, Evgeni Malkin cut the Flyers’ lead to two. Sean Couturier, who completely dominated Malkin the entire series, had a short-handed chance but Fleury made the stop which led to Malkin’s goal at the other end.
Just 36 seconds later, Briere got the goal right back to make it 4-1 after it went under review because the ref failed to signal goal on the ice. Penguins had another chance on the power-play but failed and the Flyers went into the third period with a three-goal lead.
With the end of their season in sight, it looked as if the Penguins were going to start some more late-game goonery when Matt Niskanen slashed Giroux on the back of the knees. Luckily, it ended there.
The Flyers gave the Pens one last chance when Braydon Coburn was called for hooking. Giroux had a short-handed breakaway but Kris Letang caught up and eliminated any chances but the Flyers would take it as they killed of the penalty and any lingering hope the Penguins had left.
Schenn added the empty-netter that sent the fans filing out of the Wells Fargo Center singing, “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye.”
For a week, the Flyers have been saying they are still looking for a total-team effort despite having the series lead. Well, it couldn’t have come at a better time. Bryzgalov stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced and thanks to great checking, shot blocking and back-checking, the Flyers defense stepped up big.
The Flyers are the first Eastern Conference team to advance and now have to play the waiting game to see who their next opponent will be. If they play like they did today, it won’t matter.