Kunitz, Crosby spark comeback as Penguins shoot down Flyers, 5-4
Penguins goaltender Tomas Vokoun, left, in as a mid-game replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury, makes a save on a shot by the Flyers' Scott Hartnell in the second period Thursday in Philadelphia. The Penguins came back from an early deficit to win, 5-4.
The Penguins' Chris Kunitz reacts after scoring on Flyers' goalie Ilya Bryzgalov last night in the first period. Kunitz scored again in the third period.
Penguins center Sidney Crosby, right, brings the puck up the ice as he is trailed by Ruslan Fedotenko of the Flyers.
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PHILADELPHIA -- Nobody turned over a table in the Penguins' dressing room during the first intermission at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night.
Nobody launched into a high-decibel rant about his teammates' costly lapses in discipline or focus, either.
Or even shattered a stick by smacking it off a wall.
"That never happens in our dressing room," defenseman Kris Letang said. "Never."
Doesn't mean they didn't have a reason to, though.
• What: Penguins at Maple Leafs.
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday.
• Where: Air Canada Centre, Toronto.
By that point, they had spotted Philadelphia a three-goal lead and little had happened to suggest they'd be able to claw back into the game.
Or prevent the Flyers from winning by double figures, for that matter.
Surely, there was absolutely no reason to believe they would end up with a 5-4 victory that would allow them to close out the first half of their season with an 16-8 record that's good for first place in the Atlantic Division and second place in the Eastern Conference.
Not after they had been so badly outshot (18-4), outworked and out-battled during the first period.
"We didn't play with enough emotion," center Sidney Crosby said. "We really weren't in the game at all. We had a lot of room to improve."
They did just that.
Quickly and emphatically.
They began to consistently win the individual battles they had lost during the first period. To establish an effective forecheck. To launch pucks at Philadelphia goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who had been little more than an interested onlooker during the opening period.
"The first and second periods were completely different games," Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz said.
And it showed on the scoreboard.
James Neal had taken a couple of needless penalties during the first, and the Flyers converted both into goals by Jakub Voracek.
Zac Rinaldo and Kimmo Timonen also beat Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at even-strength, and the man-advantage goal Kunitz scored during the Penguins' first power play of the game didn't figure to do much more than spoil Bryzgalov's chances for a shutout.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma changed goalies during the first intermission, replacing Fleury with Tomas Vokoun, and his players changed their approach at the same time.
"We knew we didn't play the way we wanted," Letang said. "We just re-focused and went to work."
The adjustment took, and it didn't take long.
Pascal Dupuis cut the Flyers' advantage to two at 5:30 of the second, as he got a pass from Crosby behind the net and beat Bryzgalov from between the left circle and the crease for his first goal in the past eight games. Neal got the Penguins to within one at 8:13, when his centering feed from the right side hit Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn in front and got past Bryzgalov.
The Penguins' surge continued at 15:47, as Tyler Kennedy scored on a slap shot from the right side of the slot for his first goal in the past seven games.
That tied the score and prompted Flyers coach Peter Laviolette to replace Bryzgalov with Brian Boucher.
Which meant that Boucher ended up being tagged with the loss when Kunitz scored the winner to cap a 2-on-1 break with Crosby 18 seconds into the final period.
That was Kunitz's second of the evening, 14th of the season and seventh in five games. Might be time for some of that talk about the need to get a winger who can score to play with Crosby to die down a bit.
"He's just really, really focused," Crosby said. "It just seems like there aren't too many pucks where he's not getting a great shot away. He's ready to shoot it, and he's been putting it where he wants to."
Penguins defenseman Paul Martin returned to the lineup after missing two games because of an unspecified injury. He logged 23 minutes and 54 seconds of ice time and, aside from having a couple of Flyers goals deflect off him on their way past Fleury, had a generally satisfying return.
"I feel bad for [Fleury]," Martin said. "But I felt good."
He wasn't the only one feeling good in the Penguins locker room after the game.
Exasperating as the first period had been for them, the comeback they pulled off -- on the road, against their arch-rivals -- made this arguably their most satisfying victory of the season to date.
"You need those challenges, those tests," Crosby said. "I think the guys responded the right way."
With no furniture harmed in the making of their comeback.
First Published March 8, 2013 12:00 am