PITTSBURGH – The Flyers started better Friday than the last time they played after a long layoff. Still, they absorbed a loss.
They salvaged a point, however, in a 4-3 overtime defeat to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena.
Flyers-killer Sidney Crosby scored from the right circle with 4:05 left in overtime to give the Penguins the win. Crosby had three points and now has 43 goals and 105 points in 70 career games against the Flyers.
After nine days between games because of the All-Star break/bye week, the Flyers overcame a 3-1 deficit and tied the game early in the third period. They dominated the third period -- outshooting the Penguins, 17-4 -- but Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry had most of the answers.
“There’s a lot we can take from that third and take into [Saturday’s home game against Colorado],” Flyers center Kevin Hayes said. “I don’t think they really had a chance in the third. We completely tilted the ice and a couple guys had chances to bury it. They’ll start going in.”
“We got on our heels a little in the third period," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “I give our guys credit. We found a way to get the right result.”
The Flyers, who had a 30-20 shots advantage, are 1-1-1 against the Penguins this season.
"Obviously, we wanted to get the two points,” said winger Tyler Pitlick, who had a goal and an assist and was elevated from the fourth to the third line in the third period. “It is what it is. I thought we had a real good effort in the third period.”
“We can build off this,” winger Scott Laughton said.
Evgeni Malkin had a goal and two assists for the Penguins, who also were playing for the first time since Jan. 21, when they lost to the Flyers, 3-0.
When the Flyers returned from their holiday break in late December, they lost in San Jose, 6-1, starting a 1-4-1 road trip.
This “restart” of the season is critical because it began a 32-game stretch to the finish line.
”To me, this is a lot like training camp,” coach Alain Vigneault said before the game. “You’re excited. It’s a new opportunity.”
Hayes whipped a shot toward the net early in the third period and the puck deflected off Pitlick and took a fortuitous bounce to a wide-open Laughton. Laughton knocked in his seventh goal of the season, knotting the score at 3-3 with 17:40 to go in regulation.
The Flyers had gotten within 3-2 when Pitlick, taking a feed from Nic Aube-Kubel (seven hits), finished off a two-on-one down low with 3:31 remaining in the second.
Much earlier, the Flyers’ first power play of the night looked out of sync. Shoddy passing. No shots.
And then …
With just 19 seconds left in the power play, Matt Niskanen made a slick cross-ice pass to Jake Voracek, who put his left-circle shot into a mostly vacant net to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead with 27.3 seconds remaining in the opening period.
It was Voracek’s 11th goal and third in the last five games.
“It was a point shot which led to a scramble," Niskanen said. “The puck just happened to pop over to my forehand and Jake was hiding out at the back door.”
The teams combined for just seven shots, four by the Flyers, in the opening period.
“We were checking well, I think both teams were,” Niskanen said. “Everybody was a little rusty with the puck and it was pretty evident. … It wasn’t a bad period for us after a long break and it was nice for us to get a goal there at the end of the period.”
Things opened up in the second period. That wasn’t good news for the Flyers because the Penguins have more offensive firepower.
The Penguins scored three goals (on nine shots) in the first 11:03 of the second period to take a 3-1 lead. Two of the goals were scored on power plays, and Malkin had a hand in all three goals.
The Penguins tied it at 1-all as Malkin knocked in his own rebound with 16:05 left in the second, ending Elliott’s scoreless streak at 86:55 in games against Pittsburgh.
Just 1:21 later, Bryan Rust finished off a quick passing play with Crosby and Malkin and scored from in tight on the power play.
The Penguins made it 3-1 with 8:57 to go in the second on another power-play goal. Defenseman Kris Letang scored from near the end line as he fired a shot that bounced off Elliott and into the net.
Elliott was beaten by the host Penguins, 7-1, on Oct. 29. He also was in goal for the Flyers’ shutout win over them at home Jan. 21. The Penguins had just 19 shots in the latter game – and none in the last 10:49.
After Friday’s morning skate, Vigneault said the Flyers were in a “great spot. We’re sort of in charge of our own destiny. Everybody is re-energized and focused, and we’re playing against one of the best teams in the league. It’s a great way to start" the stretch run.
But not quite the start he wanted.