The Flyers waited until the third period Friday night to give it their best shot against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and just when they least expected or wanted him to, Marc-Andre Fleury turned the Flyers away.
Again and again and again.
Sprawling to and fro around his crease through a Flyers power play and beyond, Fleury made 10 stops during a four-minute span in protecting a one-goal lead midway through the third period, enabling the Penguins to survive Game 5 with a 3-2 victory at Consol Energy Center.
Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy scored second-period goals to reverse what had been an early Flyers lead, and the Penguins hung on from there behind Fleury as a crazed crowd roared its approval. Perhaps they noticed they had just witnessed the first semblance of real playoff hockey since the opening game of the series.
While the Flyers won two of the three periods, it’s now the Penguins who have assumed control of the momentum in this Eastern Conference series, down just one game as it shifts to Wells Fargo Center for Game 6 (time to be determined).
For a while it seemed the Flyers had a quicker step in store for the Penguins. Rather than the mass offensive chaos that was a hallmark of the first four games of the series, the teams kept each other mostly in check during even strength play.
The power play was not so smooth for either team.
The Flyers struck first on it, as Matt Carle took a pass from Matt Read and hit all net 11:45 into the game. Barely three minutes later, what had been a solid Flyers penalty kill came undone when Kris Letang rifled a pass to a wide open Steve Sullivan, and he caught a sharp-angled shot because Ilya Bryzgalov (20 saves) had drifted too high out into the crease.
Again on the power play, the Flyers were just two seconds away from failing when Scott Hartnell got the puck and flipped it skyward up into the net for his first goal of the series and a 2-1 lead after one.
The second period would be a completely different story, because the Flyers did the one thing that they can’t afford to – they essentially stopped skating with the Penguins. The game became very downhill, and the extra pressure took its toll on Bryzgalov.
The Penguins tied the game at 6:15 when Staal blew by Danny Briere to forge a 2 on 1, then took a wrist shot that Bryzgalov missed with a waving glove. Staal would be in on the go-ahead goal, too, which was scored by Kennedy for a 3-2 lead at the 9:53 mark.
Offensively, meanwhile, the Flyers were fairly lifeless.
James van Riemsdyk, who last saw action March 1 when a shot fractured his foot, would see less than three minutes of ice time over the first two periods. Finally given some regular shifts in the third, van Riemsdyk was effective.
And aside from the Hartnell power play goal, the Flyers’ top two lines had little to show for their attack efforts in those first two periods. When they did muster something, Marc-Andre Fleury was usually there. The Penguins goalie finally played like he can play.
But the way he played in the third period was the way the Penguins won a Stanley Cup in 2009.