PITTSBURGH - The Flyers knew the consequences of failing to move the puck cleanly out of their zone against the supercharged Pittsburgh Penguins.

They knew the consequences if they turned over the puck. And they certainly knew how dangerous Evgeni Malkin was with the puck.

But knowing potential disaster and preventing it are quite different, as Malkin and the Penguins proved with a 4-2 victory last night at Mellon Arena in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Game 2 is tomorrow night.

"We were sloppy," defenseman Derian Hatcher said. "We came out pretty good, even after they scored. The last five, six minutes, we kept turning it over, couldn't do anything cleanly. Both teams were sloppy, to be honest. We didn't do anything clean or crisp."

With Kimmo Timonen out indefinitely with a blood clot in his left ankle, coach John Stevens tried matching up Hatcher on Malkin and Jason Smith on Sidney Crosby. Hatcher had help from Braydon Coburn on Malkin, but the Russian center still scored twice.

"Malkin played well," Hatcher said. "They're an opportunistic team. You give him chances like that, this guy scores. We gave him chances and he scored."

The things that Timonen does best - moving the puck and shutting down top forwards, such as Malkin - were what harmed the Flyers.

"Kimmo is not in our lineup, and we have six guys capable of moving the puck," Stevens said. "We had shots on net; 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 to Crosby and Malkin, that's the game you can't play."

It was a wild opening period, too, with five goals. Pittsburgh simply controlled the puck far too much, especially in the Flyers' zone.

Petr Sykora broke the ice at 6 minutes, 19 seconds with a crafty backhander off a fine pass from Ryan Malone on an odd-man rush. Mike Richards responded with two goals four minutes apart. First, he scored on a wraparound, then he got a loose-puck rebound off a scrum after Joffrey Lupul had taken three whacks. The Flyers had a 2-1 lead at 12:50.

Crosby tied it two minutes later when goalie Marty Biron's attempted wraparound clear went into the corner to Marian Hossa. Hossa centered the puck into the slot, and Crosby merely redirected it through Biron's five-hole at 14:11.

"The second period, we did a better job of getting pucks in deep . . . but the first period was very uncharacteristic of us," Richards said of the mistakes.

In the next six minutes, the Flyers struggled to get the puck cleanly out of the zone - with all their effort in doing that leaving them with no energy for a forecheck - and Ryan Whitney gave Malkin what was close to an offside pass into the Flyers' zone. He angled from the right boards, then wristed the puck into the far corner, regaining the lead for the Pens, 3-2.

"We didn't like the one at the end of the period; it looked like the period was over," Lupul said. "One good pass by them and their best player is coming down the wing. That's one we'd like to have back."

Malkin's second goal 4:50 into the second period was shorthanded. On Sunday in Game 5 against the Rangers, Malkin was awarded a penalty shot. He looked befuddled, muffing the shot. He said he didn't like breakaways because they gave him too much time to think.

So during a Flyers power play, Malkin was cherry-picking at the Flyers' blue line when Sergei Gonchar, previously leveled by Richards, gave him a breakaway pass. Malkin roared in between the circles, slowed, and fired a 22-foot slapshot that almost tore a hole through the back of the net, making it 4-2.

"We have to make a better play," Lupul said. "If he's going to stay down there and let us play five-on-three, that will usually work to our advantage."

That's a play on which Timonen, given his awareness, probably would have been close to Malkin.

"If a guy wants to stand down there, you pretty much let him and take your chances five-on-three," Lupul said. "I've never seen that before. I don't know if Kimmo would have stayed back there with him."

Biron wasn't sure what to expect.

"He let it go, and he's got a good shot," Biron said.

The Flyers played a better third period, didn't take any bad penalties, and even had 28 shots overall on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. It wasn't enough.

It appears as if the Flyers need to make an adjustment without Timonen. They'd better do it quickly.

See more photos from the game at http://go.philly.

com/photos.

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