Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun is a 15-year NHL veteran, but until Wednesday he had yet to take part in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia rivalry.
His first impression was less than favorable.
Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek completed his hat trick from behind the Penguins net with 1:31 left in regulation, boosting the Flyers to an adrenalized 6-5 win at Consol Energy Center. Voracek retrieved a loose puck and banked it off Vokoun’s body just 32 seconds after Brandon Sutter tied the game for Pittsburgh.
Each team scored three times in the third period, conjuring memories of last season’s offensively-juiced first-round playoff series. Unfortunately for the Penguins, who lost in six games to the Flyers, the final result was also familiar.
Just like Sunday’s 4-3 win at Buffalo, Pittsburgh (11-6-0, 22 points) squandered a 2-0 first-period lead when Philadelphia scored four straight goals. Voracek picked up the last two of that surge, netting his first of the game on a power play with 10 seconds left in the second, then taking advantage of Vokoun’s misplay behind the net to put the Flyers (8-9-1, 17 points) up two 18 seconds into the third.
Tyler Kennedy converted the rebound of Paul Martin’s point shot to cut the margin to 4-3 at 5:29, but Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen accidentally deflected Wayne Simmonds’ pass into his own net two minutes later to restore the two-goal edge. Simmonds had two goals and an assist, joining Voracek in the three-point parade.
The Penguins appeared sentenced to defeat when Tanner Glass committed a high-sticking double-minor 20 seconds after Simmonds’ fortunate bounce. However, Claude Giroux hit the post during the first penalty and newly-reacquired Mike Knuble was whistled for a four-minute infraction of his own to put Pittsburgh on the advantage.
Former Penguins Ruslan Fedotenko and Max Talbot aided the Penguins’ cause with penalties in quick succession, and James Neal made them hurt when he burned Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on a one-timer during an extended 5-on-3. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby earned assists on Neal’s league-leading 12th goal – his eighth power-play tally.
Soon after Neal’s strike, Chris Kunitz had an apparent goal disallowed, as he pushed the puck through Bryzgalov’s legs with his skate. The five-hole was still open with 2:03 to go, when Sutter circled the net after Joe Vitale’s faceoff win and stuffed the puck between Bryzgalov’s pads to bring the three-year-old house down.
But much like last spring, the Flyers had the final answer. Although the Penguins had multiple chances to tie again with Vokoun off for an extra skater, they couldn’t force overtime in front of a rabid crowd that was hungry for a classic comeback.
A rally didn’t seem needed early on, as Niskanen and Malkin scored slightly more than two minutes apart to put the home side up 2-0 just 7:15 into the game. Despite chasing the puck early, the Flyers got back to work when low-scoring defenseman Nicklas Grossmann stuffed in a rebound at 11:49 after a frantic goalmouth scramble.
Martin and Brooks Oprik have been effective as the Penguins’ “shutdown” defensive pairing through the first month of the season, but they were made to look slow when Simmonds took Danny Briere’s short pass and whipped a shot around the fallen Vokoun with 7:11 left in the first.
The intermission served to cool off the boiling emotional cauldron of the opening period, and the teams settled into their systems for much of the second. Just before the break, Craig Adams’ questionable elbowing penalty put the Flyers on a late power play, when Voracek cashed in on the rebound of Simmonds’ shot from the side of the net.
The final numbers for the goaltenders weren’t breathtaking, with 11 goals scored on 64 shots. On a night when both Vokoun and Bryzgalov were certainly at less than their best, a combined .828 save percentage seemed about right.
After the Penguins come down from Wednesday’s excitement, they’ll have to prepare for the Panthers’ Friday invasion of Consol Energy Center. Pittsburgh, now 3-4-0 on home ice, hosts Florida at 7 p.m.