And really, if you weren’t a fan of either team, what wasn’t to like? The 11-goal epic had speed, skill, physical play, animosity, wild swings of emotion and a spirited conclusion, even if the final tally was a bit anticlimactic. (Although I suppose fans of good goaltending covered their eyes on multiple occasions.)
According to Penguins beat reporter Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, NBC Sports Network enjoyed a 14.4 local rating for the latest installment of its “Wednesday Night Rivalry” series, equating to 432,000 viewers in the Pittsburgh area alone. Even in their despair at the end of the game, I’m sure most of those Penguins fans could agree that they just watched a spectacular exhibition of all the sport has to offer.
Unfortunately for the actual team, the stinging 6-5 defeat to their bitterest foes yielded exactly zero points in the standings and another painful lesson. Just like last spring’s six-game playoff loss to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh once again let the adrenaline of facing the black and orange overwhelm their rational thought processes.
While the electricity of Wednesday’s affair boosted the entertainment quotient to a dizzying degree, it was the Flyers who channeled that energy more effectively, if only just enough to escape the Penguins’ frantic third-period comeback. Philadelphia also took advantage of ragged Pittsburgh play late in the first period to forge a 2-2 tie.
To a man, the Flyers insisted that their antagonistic actions weren’t premeditated, and I believe them. Standing at 7-9-1 and outside the Eastern Conference’s top eight entering last night’s contest, Philly wasn’t looking for a fight as much as two points.
However, it would be foolish for the Flyers to stop employing a proven recipe until the Penguins render it impotent. Just like last spring, Philadelphia cannily raised the emotional temperature of the game until Pittsburgh lost its edge. Luckily for the home team, the Flyers misplaced their discipline for long enough in the third to make the Pens’ multi-goal rally feasible.
In the aftermath of the loss, Penguins defenseman and alternate captain Brooks Orpik suggested that the Penguins knew better than to let the Flyers exploit them again. As a respected dressing-room voice, the 30-year-old Orpik has as much influence on the mindset of the team as coach Dan Bylsma and captain Sidney Crosby, so he shares culpability for another poor result against Philadelphia.
I wrote earlier this week that the Penguins’ leadership deserved a lot of credit for the way the team has started games well. That wasn’t an issue Wednesday, but keeping a stable approach throughout the evening certainly was.
For now, the Penguins can look at last night as a missed opportunity to take first place in the East, but also another hard-earned bit of practical education. I doubt I’m alone in being eager to see how they respond in the season’s last two meetings with the Flyers.