Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault pointed to his team’s three-game set in Pittsburgh as a potential turning point. A chance to figure out just where the Flyers are as the mid-point of a 56-game sprint approaches.
“There’s a moment in a season where a team has a gut check,” Vigneault said.
One the Flyers passed Thursday night, overcoming an early three-goal deficit to stun the Penguins 4-3. Claude Giroux scored his second goal of the night on a tap-in with 2:08 remaining to cap the comeback as Philadelphia handed Pittsburgh just its second loss at PPG Paints Arena this season.
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The Flyers trailed by three following a 71-second first-period onslaught by Pittsburgh but kept chipping away before finally moving in front on Giroux’s easy flip into an open net late in the third.
“For us to make the playoffs, we need to win games like tonight,” Giroux said. “I think the way we answered tonight, we’re down 3-0. I think it’s our first comeback win this year. So it’s good to know we can do it and that’s how we need to respond in the future.”
Giroux’s first goal pulled the Flyers within one in the second period, like his winner a simple shot from in front. Scott Laughton drew Philadelphia even 13:37 into the third. Sean Couturier started the Flyer comeback with his sixth of the season late in the first period.
The teams will finish the rare three-game set in Pittsburgh on Saturday night. The Penguins won the opener 5-2 on Tuesday night and appeared firmly in front when Kris Letang, Mark Friedman and Jared McCann all beat Brian Elliott early in the first period.
The Flyers called a timeout after McCann’s pretty redirect capped Pittsburgh’s outburst 3:57 into the first period. Rather than panic, they kept their composure and kept chipping away while the Penguins retreated.
“We just didn’t play the game hard enough and smart enough,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said.
Elliott overcame a rough start to stop 26 shots as Philadelphia won its first game after falling behind 3-0 since earning a shootout victory over Buffalo on Oct. 25, 2016. The Flyers moved back into fourth place by themselves in the crowded East Division, two points ahead of the fifth-place Penguins.
“Other than the first five, 10 minutes, I thought we came back and played hard,” Couturier said. “We didn’t give up a whole lot after that. … It was a huge battle and a big character win.”
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby assisted on Friedman’s goal and played 21:08 in his return after missing one game due to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. Crosby didn’t participate in the optional morning skate and wasn’t cleared until about two hours before the opening faceoff.
“It’s just kind of been a day-to-day thing to be honest with you to figure out the process,” Crosby said.
Pittsburgh assistant coach Todd Reirden, who also missed Tuesday night’s loss after being placed in the COVID-19 protocol, returned to his usual spot on the bench.
Friedman spent more than six years in Philadelphia’s organization after being selected in the 2014 draft. The Penguins, in serious need of depth along the blue line, signed Friedman off waivers last week.
The 25-year-old had an eventful night while facing his former team. He pounced on a loose puck in the slot and beat Elliott 3:20 into the first for the first goal of his NHL career. Friedman later exited the game in the second period when he tried to line up Philadelphia’s Nolan Patrick for a hit only to be knocked to the ice after slamming into Patrick’s right shoulder.
“He’s like a little energizer bunny,” McCann said of Friedman. “He’s always going. He’s always willing to stick up for his teammates. He’s been a great add for us.”
FAST AND FURIOUS
Pittsburgh’s overwhelming start marked the shortest amount of time a team has scored three goals this season. The Canadiens scored three times in 94 seconds against Vancouver on Jan. 21.
The Penguins just couldn’t sustain it. Tristan Jarry finished with 31 saves for the Penguins but wasn’t helped by shaky play in front of him after being staked to the advantage. Pittsburgh has alternated wins and losses in each of its last six games.
“We had a great start,” Sullivan said. “We accomplished what we set out to do there but we’ve got to play a full 60-minute game.”