A strong final month of the season and a rare clean bill of health made the Pittsburgh Penguins a trendy pick to make a run to the Stanley Cup finals. And through the opening 20 minutes of Wednesday’s Game 1 against the Philadelphia Flyers, Sidney Crosby and company looked very much like a team ready to peak in the postseason.
But then the wheels fell off, and suddenly the Penguins found themselves in overtime, scrambling to regain momentum. Jakub Voracek made sure that never happened with his game-winning goal 2 minutes 23 seconds into overtime, giving the Flyers a stunning 4-3 victory.
So much for Pittsburgh’s home-ice advantage.
The Flyers looked out of sorts and outclassed in the opening period as Crosby and Tyler Kennedy beat Ilya Bryzgalov in the opening eight minutes, and Pascal Dupuis’ late tally gave Pittsburgh a commanding 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission.
Danny Briere’s goal — on a disputed offsides call — early in the second period finally put the visiting Flyers on the board, and despite taking three penalties in the final two periods, Philadelphia began chipping away. Briere scored again midway through the third, and agitator Brayden Schenn — who assisted on both of Briere’s goals — converted the Flyers’ first and only power-play opportunity on the night three minutes later to tie the game and silence the sold-out crowd.
In the extra period, Voracek pounced on a rebound in front and beat Marc-Andre Fleury to complete Philadelphia’s stunning rally.
Flyers Coach Peter Laviolette and several of his players attributed their sluggish start to the raucus atmosphere inside Consol Energy Center. But now it’s the fourth-seeded Penguins who could be feeling the pressure after watching Philadelphia rally from two-goal deficits twice in two weeks on their home ice.
“I don’t necessarily believe in momentum,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. “It’s one game.”
Believe it or not, the Flyers will return to Consol Energy Center as a more confident group for Game 2 on Friday.
Detroit is the only Western Conference team to reach the playoffs with a sub-.500 road record — which made their choice to get cute in a regular season finale shootout loss to Chicago all the more puzzling. The defeat pushed Nashville into the No. 4 position and forced the Red Wings to hit the road to begin their first-round series, and in Wednesday’s Game 1, the Predators took full advantage of their home ice.
“We know the next game’s going to be a lot harder than this one,” Nashville Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’re OK with that.”
Roberto Luongo spent Vancouver’s 2011 Stanley Cup Finals run yo-yoing from the crease to the bench as he struggled to find consistency in goal. In Wednesday’s Game 1 at Rogers Arena, the veteran goaltender looked up to the challenge against Los Angeles — unfortunately, many of his teammates did not.
Over-eager and under-disciplined, the Canucks gave the visiting Kings eight power plays and 12:36 of man-advantage ice time. Even the league’s 29th-ranked offense was bound to capitalize on such a disparity.
Los Angles scored twice on the power play and then got a lucky bounce in the third period when a Mike Richards pass deflected off a skate and onto the waiting stick of Dustin Penner who flung home the game-winner.
“Their goaltender kept them in and they could have easily stolen it from us,” said Penner of Luongo who finished with 35 saves. “We had a lot of power-play opportunities, and when you get a lot of power-play opportunities and don’t capitalize as much as you should, it’s one of those games they can pull out of the fire.”
• Daniel Sedin did not play for the Canucks in Wednesday’s loss. The team’s leading scorer (30 goals, 37 assists) has missed 10 straight games while continuing to recover from a concussion.
• Red Wings center Darren Helm is out for the remainder of the postseason after suffering a severe cut on his right forearm in the first period of Detroit’s loss at Nashville. He had surgery to repair lacerated tendons, the team reported Thursday.
• The Boston Bruins begin their Stanley Cup defense without forward Nathan Horton, who has been ruled out for the playoffs because of recurring post-concussion symptoms.
Senators at Rangers, 7 (NHLNET)
Capitals at Bruins, 7:30 (CSN, NBCSN)
Sharks at Blues, 7:30 (CNBC)
Blackhawks at Coyotes, 10 (NBCSN)