There was only a small sample on the special-teams front from Game 1, but the results nonetheless illustrate why many people believe that battle could ultimately decide the winner of the Flyers-Penguins Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Penguins weren’t able to solve the Flyers penalty killers on three power-play opportunities but the Flyers made their lone power-play opportunity count, tying the game at 3-3 just past the midpoint of the third period on a pretty goal by rookie Brayden Schenn.
The Penguins, of course, led Game 1 by a 3-0 count after the first period and head coach Dan Bylsma acknowledged the missed opportunities with the man advantage were a factor in the loss. He pointed to a power play early in the third as a moment when the Flyers really seized momentum.
“Certainly could have gone the other way with a better-executed power play,” Bylsma said Thursday.
The Penguins did experiment with different looks on their power play in Game 1 and again at practice on Thursday, and they might go to employing two more-balanced units moving forward instead of the five-man unit used more frequently during the regular season that features the team’s top offensive players: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Steve Sullivan and Chris Kunitz.
Bylsma’s counterpart, Peter Laviolette, agreed that his penalty-killing unit’s play along with the play of netminder Ilya Bryzgalov was crucial to the Flyers' comeback.
“At different points through the course of the game, the penalty kill had to be good, Bryz had to be good, otherwise the score would have kept going,” he said.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette raised eyebrows when he made veteran defenseman Pavel Kubina a healthy scratch in Game 1. With Marc-Andre Bourdon suffering an injury in Game 1 (GM Paul Holmgren reported Thursday that Bourdon is day-to-day with an upper-body injury), there’s a possibility for Kubina, who won a Cup with Tampa back in 2004, to draw back in. Still, Laviolette had nothing but praise for the big defender who came over from Tampa at the trade deadline this season.
“He is effective. Lineup decisions are never easy. I don’t take them lightly and I don’t take delivering the news lightly,” the Flyers coach said. “When you have to tell a good hockey player that they’re not in the lineup, it’s always difficult.”
“Pavel’s done a terrific job since he’s been here, a welcome addition,” Laviolette added. “Because he didn’t play last night is not a reflection of him or his game.”
The Flyers dress six defensemen and Laviolette said he had seven to choose from in Game 1.
“And I had to make a tough decision," he said.