PITTSBURGH -- Coming into this Eastern Conference finals series, one of the biggest concerns for the Philadelphia Flyers was how to best deploy their top defensive pairing against a Pittsburgh offense that can come at teams in so many different ways.
|The Flyers' uphill climb in Game 2 gets steeper when a puck strikes defenseman Braydon Coburn above the left eye. (Getty Images)|
"Obviously it's tough because Coby is an all-around player for us and he plays big minutes," Flyers coach John Stevens said. "When you've only got five D, it's tough, tough on the road."
Which made it a situation screaming for the Penguins to take advantage of, and they did exactly that by grinding it out physically for two periods and then capitalizing on an overworked Flyers blue-line unit to score a 4-2 victory that gave them a 2-0 lead in the series.
"Sometimes fatigue can play in there," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who opened the scoring on a power-play goal. "You just try to play a little bit more physical and get pucks deep and maybe have the opportunity to wear them down a little bit more."
The Flyers, who spent the day reminding themselves they had rebounded to win their previous two series after dropping the opener in each, were able to keep the game closer this time even with their depleted defense by doing a better job of pushing the Penguins to the outside. And goaltender Martin Biron rebounded from a lackluster first game with a much sharper effort.
But even when their defense was at full strength in earlier rounds, the Flyers had a tendency to tax themselves by getting into penalty trouble, and when they fell victim to the problem again in this game, it cost them.
Biron, who got into the game quickly when he stopped an early short-handed breakaway by Pascal Dupuis after the Penguins forward turned defenseman Randy Jones inside out, was helpless when Crosby beat him from a sharp angle with a shot that went off defenseman Lasse Kukkonen's skate.
The Flyers got that back in the second period when Jeff Carter one-timed a neat pass out from Joffrey Lupul, but with Derian Hatcher sitting out for a questionable hooking, Marian Hossa managed to slip a rebound past Biron to regain the lead for Pittsburgh.
"I'd like to see some consistency in the calls," said Stevens, who suggested the Penguins were getting the benefit of the doubt from referees because of all their star power. "It was (Jordan) Staal he was defending and he was halfway bent over. Derian has been around the league a long time and he knows how to defend."
The Flyers, who had caught a break earlier when a Penguins goal was disallowed because the video review was inconclusive, did tie things up again before the teams headed to the dressing rooms when Mike Richards intercepted an Evgeni Malkin pass and broke away before beating Marc-Andre Fleury with 24 seconds remaining. But everything unraveled for Philadelphia in the third period when Pittsburgh took advantage of some sloppy work by the Flyers in their own end.
Flyers forward Steve Downie turned over the puck at his own blue line, and after George Laraque forced the play deep, Gary Roberts set up Maxime Talbot, who scored the winner in his first game back since sustaining a foot fracture in the last round.
"It's like the perfect scenario," Talbot said. "This has definitely not been an easy season for me being out 20 games with ankle injury, and then in the playoffs when you start to feel better to have another injury, injury on foot. I try to stay positive whatever happens; I was just happy to play.
Staal rounded out the scoring with an empty netter, which meant that after the Flyers had done a decent job controlling the Penguins' big guns, they ended up being beaten on goal by Pittsburgh's third and fourth lines.
"In the playoffs, you've got to have four lines to win, and our coach has that luxury," Laraque said. "The coach isn't afraid to use us and that helps a lot because the other lines aren't too tired and are still fresh at the end."
Unlike the Flyers, who now have to go home in a position they have not been in before in these playoffs.
"That's big going into their building," Fleury said. "Going there 2-0 is the best position we could have been in at this point. We know it's going to be tougher from here on in."
For the Flyers, as well.