Sometimes when a team plays without its top stars, the remaining cast gets energized to try a little harder.
Such appeared to be the case on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. The Penguins were minus some significant firepower but held the Flyers in check as Philadelphia came up short in a 3-2 overtime loss.
The Penguins were playing without stars Sidney Crosby (COVID) and Evgeni Malkin (knee surgery) as well as head coach Mike Sullivan (COVID protocol).
Kris Letang executed a perfect sweep behind the net and and did a jam-job at the far post to score for Pittsburgh at 2:57 of overtime. The puck barely crossed the goal line but review confirmed the officials’ ruling.
The Flyers were trailing by a 2-1 score late in the game when Scott Laughton tied it with a goal with just 2:52 left on the clock. With some help from James van Riemsdyk, Laughton blasted home a high shot.
Despite coming out on the short end of the score, Flyers goaltender Carter Hart turned in perhaps his best performance of the season, turning away one quality scoring chance after another.
Both Hart and Laughton believe the final outcome was an encouraging one given the fact the Flyers were still behind with under three minutes left to play.
“I think it’s a good point,’’ said Laughton after the Flyers’ record went to 5-2-2 for the season. “Anytime you can pick up down a goal with a couple minutes left; you always want to get the extra one but I thought ‘Hartsy’ played a pretty outstanding game. He gave us a chance to win. He’s dialed in right now.’’
Anytime you can come out of Pittsburgh with a point, it’s never really a failure.
“To come from behind here and get a point out of it, down 2-1 with a couple minutes left, so it was just a battle for the full game,’’ Hart said. “Two good teams, hard fought game, bounce doesn’t go our way at the end, that’s hockey.’’
On the winning goal, Hart acknowledged he couldn’t quite get his left pad over in time to seal off the post.
“Just missed my post, kind of a slide of a desperation slide over,’’ he explained. “He jammed it into my pad, I didn’t have enough stability to hug the post to keep it sealed and he kind of jammed away at it.’’
The Flyers delivered a season-high 17 shots in the first period but trailed 1-0 at the intermission.
A goal by Brock McGinn just 16 seconds into the game provided the only scoring. McGinn tipped a Matheson point shot past Hart, giving him the fastest goal against a Philadelphia team since 2003 (Rico Fata, 13 seconds).
Travis Konecny tied it with a power-play goal at 7:37 of the seccond period, taking control at goaltender Tristan Jarry’s doorstep and going backhand to forehand for a shot just under the crossbar. It was only the second power-play goal allowed by Pittsburgh this season and the first in the last six games.
Claude Giroux picked up an assist on the play, giving him 330 points on the power play for his career, just three behind franchise alltime leader Bob Clarke’s 333.
Jake Guentzel put Pittsburgh back on top courtesy of a Cam Atkinson turnover at mid-ice. Using ex-Flyer Jeff Carter as a screen, Guentzel fired a shot home at 11:46.
The Flyers are now 20-8-5 at PPG Paints Arena.
Coach Alain Vigneault sounded quite satisfied with the performance.
“It was a hell of game,’’ he said. “We found a way to win the third period, tied it up. Both goaltenders played great. Our power play got us a goal. We’re not going to be perfect on the ice but we got some good looks offensively, Carter made some big saves when he had to and they won it in overtime.’’
In Tuesday night’s 3-0 win over Arizona, Sean Couturier became the 12th player and eighth forward in franchise history to play 700 games for the team. He is the youngest of that group to do so at the age of 28 years, 330 days and is the first to do so before his 29th birthday, having surpassed Bob Kelly’s 700th game at the age of 29 years, 42 days. Couturier also becomes the first member of the 2011 draft class to reach the 700-game milestone.
Giroux’s assist moved him into a tie for second place on the list of active players with the most points against Pittsburgh. He’s deadlocked with Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom at 63. Washington’s Alex Ovechkin’s 64 holds the lead. . .Since Giroux took over as captain some 10 years ago, he has played in 667 of a possible 674 games. . .On the Konecny goal, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov registered just his second point through his first nine games but had not been on the ice for an opposition even-strength goal this season until Guentzel’s goal. . .Carter played his 1,100th NHL game on Thursday night. He has 400 goals. The only other active NHL players with 400/1,100 are Ovechkin and Joe Thornton.