Penguins players celebrate Chris Kunitz's goal in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday in Philadelphia.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA — In the storied history of the Penguins-Flyers rivalry, there has been no shortage of dramatic games and edge-of-your-seat endings.
The Penguins sucked the drama right out of the game Saturday, with stifling defense and opportune goals adding up to a dominating 4-1 win at Wells Fargo Center.
It was the Penguins’ fifth consecutive win — fourth without Evgeni Malkin — and perhaps their finest of the season.
“I told our guys after the game, I think it was the most complete game we’ve played to this point at both ends of the rink,” said coach Mike Sullivan, whose club improved to 39-24-8 and at least temporarily seized third place in the Metropolitan Division before the Islanders-Stars game Saturday night. “Our attention to detail was really good. I thought everybody trusted one another out there and when we play that way, we’re hard to play against.”
The Flyers came into the game on an 8-1-1 tear and were threatening to make the Eastern Conference wild-card race even tighter.
Instead, the Penguins held the Flyers to just 17 shots, won the puck battles and scored three unanswered goals in the second period before adding an empty netter in the third. The Flyers (34-24-12) are six points behind the Penguins.
“Most of the time when you play those type of games, emotion is ramped up, and the games can get out of hand,” defenseman Kris Letang said. “I think we have a good thing going right now. I think we have to keep going on that pace and show what we’re capable of doing. Most important thing is we’re winning games, and we’re playing as a team, and we played for 60 minutes.”
After a scoreless first period, the Penguins trailed, 1-0, just 1:58 into the second when a shot by Radko Gudas ping-ponged off of three players and finally into the net off of Letang.
But it was all Penguins from there. They ended the period with a 3-1 lead after goals by Trevor Daley, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kuntiz.
Daley tied the game 61 seconds after the Flyers went up with a wrister from the left circle off a feed from Nick Bonino.
Then the Penguins took a 3-1 lead in a stretch of 1:29. Hagelin ripped a slapshot in at 16:56 after Phil Kessel won the puck off a turnover in the corner and Bonino fed him in the slot.
“He was a machine out there. I think he won a lot of battles, used his body and skated a lot of pucks down,” Hagelin said of Kessel.
Kessel’s work creating the turnover that led to the go-ahead goal was perhaps emblematic of the afternoon.
“I thought that was a big part of the game,” Sullivan said. “When Phil engages like that down low, he’s a big body, he’s strong. When he engages like that, he’s hard to play against. I thought he made the whole play.
“That’s what we need more of from everybody for us to be the type of team we want to become.”
Just 1:29 later, Kunitz sent a shot wide of the net, but it caromed off the end boards and into the goal off the back of goalie Steve Mason.
Letang scored an empty netter with 1:38 to play.
The lone area in need of improvement was the less-than-dominant power play, which went 0-for-3 and failed to gain any traction.
But the Penguins found other ways to score, something Sullivan said they need to learn to do consistently. Just don’t call it a statement game.
“What’s a statement game? What does that mean?” asked Sullivan. “It’s a good hockey game for us. This was in important win for where we’re trying to go. We beat a good hockey team.”
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