PITTSBURGH - It started off as the worst possible scenario for the Flyers. It wound up being the perfect game.
Jakub Voracek did more than win a hockey game when he fired a rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury just 2 minutes, 23 seconds into overtime. He did more than give the Flyers a 1-0 lead in this best-of-seven first-round series.
Voracek and his teammates used a horrible first period as a springboard to a spirit-crushing 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The ugliness of that first 20 minutes made the outcome that much more beautiful, and profound, for the Flyers.
The Penguins came into Game 1 of this first-round series telling themselves they had broken the Flyers' magic spell over them in the Consol Energy Center. Even though their first win against Philadelphia here came in Saturday's meaningless season finale, the Penguins needed to believe it mattered.
Their all-too-easy, three-goal lead at the end of the first period had the Penguins and their fans feeling pretty sure of themselves. This is, after all, a team full of guys whose names are on the Stanley Cup. The Flyers dressed five guys making their playoff debuts.
"It was a loud building," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It was a completely different environment from anything we've been used to all year. We had not seen that type of energy in a building. You could tell it's playoff hockey. We were standing too much in the first period."
Those first 20 minutes played out as if Laviolette's worst anxiety dreams about this series were being projected on the giant screens around this shiny arena.
The young untested players appeared overwhelmed. They all were careless with the puck in their own end and too careful with it on the offensive end. Ilya Bryzgalov, their teeter-totter goaltender, gave up his first goal less than four minutes into the game. While Bryzgalov wasn't bad, he was never able to get settled, and his confidence is one of the big variables in this series.
So Danny Briere did more than reestablish himself as a postseason hero by scoring two goals and getting the Flyers back into this game. He established doubt in the minds of the Penguins and their boisterous fans.
And Brayden Schenn did more than tie up his first Stanley Cup playoff game with a nifty power-play goal midway through the third period. He completed a comeback that silenced the sellout crowd, reseeded the fields of doubt in the Penguins' minds, and gave the Flyers an opportunity to steal the game in overtime.
They did, and this game instantly became a rallying point instead of a disaster.
Remember, the core of this team changed dramatically from the one that made recent playoff runs. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were traded away. Chris Pronger is hurt. Even James van Riemsdyk is out.
So it was immensely encouraging that two of the guys acquired in the Richards/Carter blockbusters - Schenn and Voracek - scored the tying and winning goals. Those are the guys who are going to have to grow up fast if this team is to play deep into the tournament.
Briere, who had a strange season because of injuries and slumps, took a Schenn pass (and maybe got away with an offside journey over the blue line), skated in on Fleury, and fired a pretty shot for his first goal of this postseason. The veteran forward has scored 98 points in 98 playoff games. If he is that guy after the regular season he endured, the Flyers are a much bigger threat to win the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers had to kill three Pittsburgh penalties, and they did. They settled down in front of Bryzgalov, played smarter, and prevented Crosby from getting anything else going. They kept Evgeni Malkin, the Russian bear of Bryzgalov's nightmares, from accomplishing much of anything.
When the Flyers finally got a power play of their own, Scott Hartnell fired a crisp pass that Schenn tapped perfectly past Fleury. The moment the puck hit the back of the net, real doubt was planted in the minds of the Penguins and their no-longer boisterous fans.
Laviolette stressed that it was but one game: "I don't believe in momentum," he said.
And that's fine. Game 2 will indeed start out 0-0, sources told The Inquirer. But the way this one went, as the Flyers tiptoed along the abyss and then asserted their will on the Penguins, will make all the difference for this still-unformed team.
Bryzgalov was "brilliant," as Laviolette put it, over the final 42 minutes, 23 seconds. The rookies helped turn their first playoff game into a thrilling win. Briere looked like Briere. The Penguins' confidence proved hollow.
Game 1 couldn't have started worse for the Flyers. It couldn't have turned out better.