One team wanted two points.
The other team desperately needed them.
That could explain what made the difference in Sunday night’s Flyers-Penguins game at Pittsburgh’s PPG Paints Arena.
The home team began the night trailing the Florida Panthers by a point for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
With only a handful of games left on the schedule, the Penguins had to play must-win hockey and that’s what they did in a 4-2 victory.
Pittsburgh raced to a 3-0 lead but the Flyers rallied with a pair of goals in the third, including one from Travis Konecny with 2:29 to play and the Flyers’ net empty. But the rally came up short as Pittsburgh scored an empty net goal. Ryan Poehling did the honors with 1:12 to play.
Rikard Rakell scored a pair of goals and goaltender Casey DeSmith played well enough to record the win as the Penguins swept the season series, 3-0.
Special teams once again contributed to the Flyers’ ondoing. They went scoreless in five power-play opportunities and handed the Penguins four power-play chances, one resulting in Rakell’s second goal.
Coach John Tortorella confirmed the Flyers need to get these areas straightened out. His team played pretty well at even strength but it just wasn’t enough against a team fighting for its playoff life.
“I thought we had the higher quality chances in the game,” he said. “The frustrating part for me is, we get our game going, we take a penalty. I didn’t think it was out of reach when it was three-nothing. I just thought we were going to keep banging away.
“The penalty killing is a sore spot for us. It stops momentum. We get scored on or we can’t get the puck out. And it just knocks us down as far as momentum.”
Tortorella said he believes DeSmith was the difference in the game. He made several sensational saves.
DeSmith’s best save probably came in the first period when he robbed Konecny from close range. Noah Cates set up the play by flicking an airborne pass across the crease. Konecny, just back in the lineup for his second game after missing 16 games, swatted the puck but DeSmith got his catching glove on it before it crossed the line.
Officials checked replay to make sure but ultimately it was ruled no goal.
DeSmith also robbed Owen Tippett later in the game.
Tortorella said he wasn’t pleased by a penalty Konecny took late in the game.
“It’s not lack of effort, it’s just bad timing,” the coach said. “The difference is they finish their chances and we really have to work hard to score. We had the better chances in the game, we just don’t finish when we need to.”
Konecny knows his defense can’t suffer, even when he’s concentrating on offense.
Most of the Flyers were a little loose with the puck in the first period.
“Just the breakdowns,” Konecny said. “We just lost it for a bit. I hurt the team in the third (period) there. (Two) Bad penalties. Kind of took us out of it. I’ve been making some bad plays, being a step behind, putting the team in bad spots at times. Have to keep working on getting back in the right mindset.”
Rakell’s first goal was sheer bad luck for starting goalie Sam Ersson. Rakell’s errant shot hit the endboard, caromed into the air, struck Ersson’s back and bounced into the net at 10:40 of the first period.
On the second goal, with the Pens on a power play, Rakell set up shop in close and was able to deflect Evgeni Malkin’s shot past Ersson to make it 2-0.
Rust scored at 13:23 of the second period to give the Penguins a three-goal margin.
Crosby’s assist on the Rust goal was his 124th career point, tying former superstar Mario Lemieux for the most points ever registered against Philadelphia in Flyers history.
The Flyers finally broke through against DeSmith at 6:57 of the third with Nick Deslauriers finishing off a feed from Tony DeAngelo. The assist was DeAngelo’s 199th NHL career pint.
James van Riemsdyk thought the Flyers put up a decent fight but the effort wasn’t consistent.
“We did some good things, kept pushing until the end but it wasn’t enough,” said JVR, mindful the Penguins were a “desperate” team.
“There were times when we got a little too much river hockey. It’s been the story of our year – the power play hasn’t been able to do the job.”
>Hart still out
Ersson was brought in to start because Carter Hart (lower-body injury) is still out and Felix Sandstrom had played in Saturday night’s game against Buffalo.
Defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was a late scratch due to injury, so the Flyers went with six defensemen. . .Justin Braun made a nice play, catching Rust from behind on a breakaway and stopping a possible prime scoring chance. . .The Flyers resume action on Tuesday at St. Louis when they face coach Craig Berube and the Blues. . .Penguins defenseman Kris Letang was honored in pre-game ceremonies for playing in his 1,000th NHL game.