Penguins, Flyers going down very different paths
PITTSBURGH -- There are two constants on the road to the Stanley Cup: luck and misfortune.
The team that ends up holding the Stanley Cup at the end of the journey almost always enjoys close proximity to lady luck while its opponents along the way frequently become intimately acquainted with misfortune.
In the wake of Sunday's 4-2 victory by the Pittsburgh Penguins, a win that gives them a 2-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in this Eastern Conference final, it is clear this is the script each team seems destined to follow.
As if things weren't bad enough for the Flyers, who are playing without top defenseman Kimmo Timonen, gone for the season with a blood clot in his ankle, they lost their next-best defenseman, Braydon Coburn, just 1:51 into Game 2 when a Hal Gill shot struck him in the face. Coburn lay motionless, blood dotting the ice before an attendant rushed a towel to him; he required more than 40 stitches to close the gash.
"Well, obviously it's tough. Coby is an all-situation player for us. He plays big minutes," Philadelphia coach John Stevens said.
"But it's tough, tough on the road. You got five D. You've got one of your key guys out."
Without Coburn and Timonen in the lineup, the ripple effect for the Flyers and ergo the Penguins was dramatic.
With Timonen and Coburn healthy, veteran defenseman Jaroslav Modry doesn't even get in the Flyers' lineup. With Timonen and Coburn on the shelf, Modry plays 20:28 and becomes a member of the power play. And to his credit, Modry did draw an assist on the Flyers' first goal, a power-play marker by Jeff Carter. But it's hardly an ideal situation.
Having only five defensemen for most of the night pressed veteran Derian Hatcher into playing more minutes than Stevens and the Flyers would like. Hatcher, who will turn 36 in June and missed the final 10 games of the regular season and the first two playoff games with a fractured tibia, played a game-high 28:31. That's more than any other game in which he's played this playoff season.
Whether fatigue was a factor or not, Hatcher did take two minor penalties in the second period, one of which led to the Penguins' second goal by Marian Hossa just nine seconds after Hatcher was sent off for hooking Evgeni Malkin.
The Flyers didn't like the call, but the damage was done.
On the winning goal in the third period, Flyers forward Steve Downie failed to clear the puck, and Hatcher got caught near the blue line and never got back in position as Max Talbot converted a nifty Gary Roberts pass from behind the net.
"Turnover. Can't happen," Stevens said.
Desperate for a tying goal, the Flyers turned the puck over repeatedly during the third period, another indication of just how badly they miss Timonen and Coburn.
Whether Coburn can return for Game 3 Tuesday is unknown. Had the Flyers had Coburn and even Timonen for that matter, it might not have made any difference.
It certainly doesn't seem to make any difference to the Penguins, who have now run their postseason record to a gaudy 10-1.
"Obviously you want to keep pushing and don't give them any breathing room and make it hard for them," said Pittsburgh forward Jarkko Ruutu, who was at his agitating best in Game 2.
"At the same time, whoever they're going to have in the lineup next game, it's not going to change anything for us," Ruutu said.
Still, the fact of the matter is the Penguins have enjoyed rather extraordinary luck when it comes to facing teams depleted by injury. Or rather, they have benefited immensely from the misfortune of their opponents.
Now the Penguins are two games away from advancing to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1992, and the Flyers are dropping like flies.
Hey, you play the hand that's dealt you, right?
Detroit GM Ken Holland, speaking earlier this year about his team's huge lead in the Western Conference, cautioned that come playoff time the one thing that is completely beyond a team's control, no matter how well things are going, no matter how talented and driven they might be, are injuries.
The Buffalo Sabres lost four starting defensemen in the 2006 Eastern Conference finals and lost in a seventh game to eventual Cup winner Carolina. Earlier in that playoff year, the Hurricanes erased a 2-0 series deficit against Montreal after Canadiens captain Saku Koivu was lost for the series with an eye injury.
This is no knock on the Flyers, who turned in a gutsy performance Sunday night.
Twice they battled back from one-goal deficits and with half the third period to play they were tied 2-2 in spite of their shortened bench. Mike Richards scored a wonderful shorthanded goal, intercepting a lazy Malkin pass and beating Marc-Andre Fleury with a high snap shot.
But in the end, gutsy simply wasn't enough, and now the Flyers seem destined to join that long list of unfortunate teams that will forever wonder, "What if?" or "Why us?"Notes
Maybe it's the power of positive thinking, but rugged forward Talbot had been giving some thought to having a big impact in his first game back after missing three games with a foot injury.
"That's why I came back, I knew I was going to score the game-winner," Talbot joked. "But I was in bed this afternoon thinking, 'It would be nice to score a goal and make a big comeback.' You think about stuff like that and sometimes it happens. It's a great feeling."
Talbot scored his second of the postseason at 8:51 of the third period, which turned out to be the game-winner.The play of the early going was Pascal Dupuis' spectacular shorthanded effort as he turned Richards, playing the point on the Flyers' power play, inside out and raced in alone on Philadelphia netminder Martin Biron, who made a nice right pad save to deny Dupuis what would have been a highlight-reel goal. Just wondering: Where is Vinnie Prospal? After lighting it up following his acquisition at the trade deadline and into the playoffs, Prospal has been mostly invisible in the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals. With 3:19 left in the first period, the Penguins appeared to have scored a second goal after a Sergei Gonchar centering pass bounced off Hatcher and toward the goal line. The on-ice officials ruled it was not a goal and after an interminable delay there was no video evidence to overturn that call, even though replays lead one to the logical conclusion that the puck did indeed completely cross the goal line. The last time the Penguins lost at home in regulation was Feb. 13, when they dropped a 2-1 decision to the Boston Bruins. It's rare to see a fight in an NHL playoff game, especially early in a contest, but Game 2 featured a spirited bantam weight dust-up between Tyler Kennedy and Scottie Upshall, who went at it at 3:49 of the first period. We score Kennedy, whose only other NHL fight was against equally diminutive Mike Comrie of the New York Islanders, with a split-decision victory over Upshall. Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.