- Scott Burnside, NHL
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PITTSBURGH -- We often liken NHL playoff games to chess matches.
This was an absolute blur of action from the moment Sidney Crosby scored 15 seconds into the game to the dying moments when Philadelphia rookie Sean Couturier completed an unlikely hat trick to put the game out of reach. It was a delectable stew of crushing body checks and raw skill that saw the Flyers complete an equally unlikely sweep of the first two games of this series with an 8-5 victory Friday night.
For the second game in a row, the Penguins stormed out of the gate. Crosby's goal tied a franchise record for the fastest goal to start a playoff game as the Flyers got caught trying to make an immediate line change. And when Paul Martin scored with 17.2 seconds left in the first period to give the Pens a 3-1 lead, logic suggested the odds were long that the Flyers would come back for a second straight game.
In spite of being outscored 6-1 in the first period of this series' first two games, the Flyers proved that they have been wildly undervalued as a Cup contender.
"We're able to come back in a game like that again, I think it speaks volumes about the character in the room not only from the veteran players but the younger players as well," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.
"Fighting back like that is not easy. Players were so resilient that it's unbelievable."
What was unbelievable was this game.
The Flyers scored two shorthanded goals.
Two players, Couturier and Claude Giroux, had hat tricks.
Giroux collected six points, setting a franchise playoff record.
Couturier had four points, tying a franchise playoff record for most points by a rookie in a game.
After climbing out of a 3-0 first-period hole in Game 1 to win 4-3 in overtime, the Flyers erased deficits of 2-0, 3-1, 4-3 and 5-4 in Game 2.
Against arguably the most talented offensive team in the NHL, the Flyers went toe to toe, almost daring the Penguins to make mistakes. And when they did, Philadelphia made Pittsburgh pay.
For long stretches of the game it seemed that every shift represented a glorious chance for one of these teams.
Through two games, this series has featured 20 goals and left all of the hype looking somehow inadequate.
Remember when the Tampa Bay Lightning coined the phrase "safe is death" en route to winning the Stanley Cup in 2004? Safe isn't even a word in this series' dictionary.
The teams combined for four goals in the first, four more in the second and five in the third; each time one went in you wondered if that would be the defining moment when winner was separated from loser.
Even after the Flyers took their first regulation lead of the series on Jaromir Jagr's goal midway through the third period off yet another juicy rebound given up by Pittsburgh netminder Marc-Andre Fleury, the outcome remained in doubt.
With little more than two minutes to go and the Penguins pressing, James Neal dove trying to poke a loose puck into the Flyers' goal. His effort narrowly missed and the Flyers went the length of the ice with Couturier completing the hat trick off a great feed from Giroux to make it 7-5. Giroux added an empty-net goal, but that's how close this wacky game came from taking one more pivotal turn.
"We're obviously not satisfied again with the way we started the game. We'll have to find a way to start games better, but at the same time, once again we showed a lot of character and it's a big win for us tonight," said former Penguin Max Talbot, who at one point was going toe to toe with pal Kris Letang at the side of the Penguins' net with Letang giving Talbot a good slash across the legs.
Like many in the Flyers' room, Talbot was disinclined to join in the raving about the dramatic elements of the game.
"It's an 8-5 win, it looks really good," Talbot said. "Two guys get a hat trick. It's great for the media but for us it's not a win, it's Game 2. But Game 3 is going to be huge, so the sooner we can put it behind us the better."
You would think that this style of game would serve the Penguins well. They have a solid nucleus of players that won a Cup in 2009. You might imagine that at some point they would be the ones to assert themselves and a Flyers team with five rookies in the lineup would stumble.
Instead, it's the Penguins who have wilted as the Flyers have revealed themselves to be both resilient and relentless.
"They're difficult losses there's no question about it," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said.
Pittsburgh will skate at the team's practice facility late Saturday morning and then travel to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon.
Crosby for one said he was looking forward to visiting the city where he is reviled and emotions are often at a fever pitch.
"I think it's a building that brings out the best in all of us," Crosby said. "It's always an intense and emotional game there and, given the situation we're in, we should be a desperate hockey team going in there."
Defenseman Brooks Orpik, again a huge physical presence in the game, insisted the Penguins aren't looking for scapegoats only answers.
"It's execution and realizing what you're doing wrong," Orpik said. "You've got to execute better and they're executing better and taking advantage of every mistake it seems like we make.
"It's not effort, it's not guys pointing a finger. We've got a tight group that works hard here. You can work through the mistakes we're making. It's not like you've got guys going in the different direction."
At the outset of this series, most assumed it would be long and furiously contested. By Sunday night, we'll have a much better idea whether it will become that or something far shorter.
7dScott Burnside and Craig Custance