PITTSBURGH - The thing about Marty Biron in this postseason is that he has been humble in every situation.

When the Flyers' goalie was the hero, he credited his team, and when he was responsible for anything else, he owned up to it.

But Biron can't be held completely responsible for the sloppy way the Flyers started the Eastern Conference final with a 4-2 loss at Mellon Arena last night, even if he thought he was.

"I made some terrible plays in the first period with the puck," Biron said. "I settled in a little bit in the second and the third but I personally was responsible for a big goal that turned the game up. I've got to be better. I've got to help my [defense].

"They're doing a great job playing in front of me to limit the scoring chances against a very talented team. "I've just got to make it easier for them."

And they for him.

While Biron turned the puck over behind his own net in the first period and paid the price with a Sidney Crosby goal that tied the game at 2-2 - just after Mike Richards had given the Flyers the lead with the second of two first-period goals - there was more to the loss.

Playing without Kimmo Timonen and for the first time in 5 days, the Flyers were a scrambling team that made mistakes and never got into a rhythm until it was too late.

This is a team that has won as a group and they will have to find that identity again before Game 2 tomorrow night.

Certainly, the loss of Timonen to a blood clot in his left ankle on the eve of the playoffs was a factor. But the Flyers felt they had adjusted well without him and did not want to use his absence as an excuse.

"I thought we played a pretty good defensive game," Richards said. "They had some chances, but a lot of them were from the outside. We had some miscommunication on one of their goals and lack of knowing where everyone was on the ice was another one, so there are just a couple of things we've got to clean up."

One place the Flyers absolutely missed Timonen was on the power play. They were 0-3 and really never threatened.

"The biggest thing tonight was our power play," Richards said. "Playing them with [Timonen] for over 90 games, and having chemistry with a player and then all of a sudden having another player kind of hurts you but that's something we're going to have to deal with."

Down 1-0 in the first game of a playoff series is familiar ground for the Flyers this postseason. This is the third opener they have lost. In every series, they went on to win the next game and then the series.

This is a bit different: Where before they actually threatened to win, last night they were out of sync and jumbled.

And Timonen's loss was not the problem, coach John Stevens insisted.

"We have six guys that are capable of moving the puck," he said. "I thought we had the start we wanted. We had the shots on that. We had the lead. We just didn't manage the puck as a group of five on the ice. Our support got too far away.

"You turn pucks over and give up rushes against Crosby and [Evgeni] Malkin, that's a game you can't play. We did that. Everytime you get an odd-man rush error, I call it a stressed attack, it favors them. Those are things we can't do."

The opening 20 minutes was an offensive showdown with neither side doing a very good job taking care of the front of the net. Petr Sykora got things going at 6 minutes, 19 seconds, taking the puck wide, drawing Biron out and then backhanding it in to put Pittsburgh up 1-0.

Richards got the first of his pair a little more than 2 minutes later, banking a wraparound attempt off the back of Marc-Andre Fleury's leg pad to tie it. His second goal 4 minutes later gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead.

But Crosby then scored on Biron's mistake.

Biron tried to send the puck around the wall behind the net and ended up giving it away to Marian Hossa, who took the puck up the wall and slid a pass across that Crosby redirected through Biron's feet.

Pittsburgh started taking the momentum late in the period and with 7 seconds left, Malkin took a long cross-ice pass from Ryan Whitney, skated into the zone and fired a dagger through Biron's legs.

In the second period, Malkin caught the Flyers' power play sleeping and put Pittsburgh up 4-2.

Malkin was drilled by Richards and then got up and charged for the blue line, getting behind the Flyers, who were set up in the middle of the ice.

Daniel Briere turned the puck over and Sergei Gonchar spotted Malkin at the blue line and sent him in by himself. Malkin skated up to Biron and fired a slap shot in the corner of the net from 22 feet.

"It was really a last-second decision," Malkin said. "All my penalty shots [weren't] that great all the time, pretty much. So in the last second I just decided to shoot that puck as hard as I can. I didn't think about it, where to shoot, and to make any moves. Just as hard as I can."

The Flyers' reaction to the cherry-picking move was one of surprise.

"If a guy wants to stand down there [on the penalty-kill] you've got to let him stand down there, and take your chances five-on-three," Joffrey Lupul said. "I've never really seen that before."

Playing with the lead, the Penguins started hanging back and sending in only a single forechecker. The Flyers couldn't muster another goal and passed on another power-play chance and the game ended with a fizzle.

"Once again we're in the same situation for the third time in three series," Briere said. "We'll go back [today], try to study tapes and see what we can improve on.

"It's a long series. I don't know why the first game follows this pattern. There is the fact that these guys are motivated, they're playing in front of their fans.

"We've been in this situation before so hopefully we can find a way to bounce back." *