By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
For years, this series has served as the benchmark for where the Flyers had strived to return. It has been eight years since the Flyers last won a playoff series and it sure was a dandy.
From a Game 1 comeback win to a wide-open and rowdy final five games that featured tons of scoring and plenty of animosity, the Flyers 2012 series against the Pittsburgh Penguins defined the rivalry perfectly.
What may be a bit forgotten is that just days before these two teams were to play in a playoff series, they faced off in Pittsburgh in a game the Flyers won, 6-4, that ended with Peter Laviolette and Tony Granato standing on the benches in a shouting match. It was the heyday of when the Flyers and Penguins knew how to rattle each other to the core. The Flyers brought out the worst in the Penguins. The Penguins could out-skill the Flyers on any given night.
When the teams met 10 days later to start the playoffs, the Flyers quickly found a way to get under their skin and take advantage of opportunities with the help from the soon-to-be captain emerging as a star, a former Penguin doing damage against his former team and a 19-year-old rookie forward just starting on a long career.
Here is a closer look at the Flyers 2012 series against the Penguins.
Game 1: Flyers 4, Penguins 3 (F/OT)
The series couldn’t have started any worse for the Flyers. Sidney Crosby got on the board at 3:43. Tyler Kennedy scored at 7:29. In the final minute of the period, Pascal Dupuis got another goal through Ilya Bryzgalov and the Flyers found themselves in a 3-0 hole after 20 minutes.
But the Flyers caught a break at 6:22 of the second period. Danny Briere took a lead pass behind the defense and scored. Replay showed he was offside, but there was no review for offside at that time, so the call on the ice stood. The Flyers were back in the game as a result and given the wide-open style that the series had, no two-goal lead was safe.
Halfway through the third, Briere scored again to cut the lead to one. Just 84 seconds later, the Flyers got their only power play of the game and found a way to tie the game with Brayden Schenn finishing from the high slot off a feed from Scott Hartnell to even things up at three.
It took just 2:23 of overtime for the Flyers to complete the comeback with Jake Voracek picking up a rebound at the side of the net to seal a 4-3 win.
Game 2: Flyers 8, Penguins 5
Game 1 was a relatively normal game by playoff standards. The intensity and energy was there, but it was also disciplined with only four penalties in the entire game and a modest 4-3 score. The next three games of the series were anything but normal.
The scoring started early for the Penguins again with Crosby getting on the board just 15 seconds into the game. Chris Kunitz added a power-play goal at 9:27 and the Flyers found themselves shorthanded again shortly after, but got on the board when Max Talbot scored shorthanded on a rebound to make it 2-1. In the final minute of the first period Paul Martin scored to restore the two-goal lead for the Penguins.
The Flyers tied the game up with a pair of goals in the second, both by Claude Giroux. Giroux scored first on the power play to cut the lead to one at 5:11. At 11:04, he added a shorthanded tally. Just six seconds later, the Penguins were back in the lead with Kunitz scoring his second of the game. With just three seconds left in the period, Sean Couturier scored on a rebound to tie the game at four.
It took just 64 seconds of third-period play for the Penguins to go in front again with Kennedy scoring, but just 17 seconds for the Flyers to tie it back up again with Couturier forcing a turnover and scoring on a breakaway.
As the period progressed in a 5-5 tie, it was turning into a chess match to see which side would budge first. It was an old foe that helped the Flyers grab the lead. Former Penguins captain Jaromir Jagr fired a turnaround shot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury and gave the Flyers their first lead of the game with 10:47 remaining in the third.
The Flyers had to hold off the high-powered Penguins offense, and after an excellent save by Bryzgalov, they came back on a counter-rush and Giroux set up Couturier going to the net to complete the hat trick and open up a two-goal lead with 1:49 to play. Giroux scored to complete his hat trick and a six-point game with seven seconds remaining and the Flyers brought a 2-0 series lead back to Philadelphia.
Game 3: Flyers 8, Penguins 4
By this point, Philadelphia couldn’t wait to have this series in front of them. Three games had taken place in Pittsburgh between the two teams in the previous two weeks and the hostility was very present. Less than three minutes into the game, Deryk Engelland and Zac Rinaldo each got roughing minors that started an eventful afternoon in Philadelphia.
Jordan Staal opened the scoring at 3:52 to give the Penguins the lead, but the Flyers responded with the next three goals. At 6:44, Talbot scored shorthanded on a weak shot that Fleury mishandled and rolled in behind him. After the goal, Giroux and Matt Niskanen got into a scuffle in front of the net. Niskanen got an extra cross-checking minor, putting the Flyers on a 5-on-3 power play and Briere scored to give the Flyers the lead at 8:19. Briere scored again at 11:45 to put the Flyers up 3-1.
With the building rocking and the frustration starting to boil over for the Penguins, the powder keg erupted at 12:02 of the first. Giroux and Crosby dropped the gloves as did Kimmo Timonen and Kris Letang as a line brawl broke out. Letang and Timonen were finished for the afternoon with game misconducts as a total of 36 penalty minutes were dished out. Just over two minutes later, Brayden Schenn laid a heavy hit on Martin and Arron Asham came in and threw a high cross-check at his head. Schenn got a charging minor while Asham’s day ended with a match penalty.
The scoring continued in the period as James Neal cut the lead to one at 15:17 before Matt Read scored to get the Flyers two-goal lead back just 23 seconds later.
In the second, the extra-curriculars settled down but the scoring was still at a high. Neal scored his second goal of the game on the power play at 10:31 to make it 4-3 only for the Flyers to answer back at 14:18 with Read scoring his second goal of the game on the power play. Staal scored his second just 1:22 later to make it 5-4, but Wayne Simmonds restored to two-goal lead again with 46 seconds left in the period on the power play.
Just 27 seconds into the third, Giroux scored to make it a 7-4 game. With time running out in the game and the result obviously favoring the Flyers in the final five minutes of the game, the powder keg erupted again. Neal blindsided Couturier with a hit and just seconds later took a run at Giroux. That started a brawl in between the benches that saw multiple fights. Brayden Schenn held Crosby in position to fight, but the Penguins captain declined. Braydon Coburn grabbed Evgeni Malkin and wrestled with him. As the officials tried to sort out penalties, Neal and Crosby incited the riot again and out of the scrum Craig Adams and Hartnell fought. Another 48 penalty minutes were handed out from this fray.
With the Flyers on the power play as a result, Talbot capped off the scoring with his second goal of the game in an 8-4 Flyers win that put them on the cusp of sweeping the series.
Game 4: Penguins 10, Flyers 3
Game 4 started with the Flyers looking like they would be able to pull off the sweep. Giroux scored on the power play just 1:16 into the game. Malkin tied the game at 3:37 and Niskanen added a power-play goal at 8:05, but the Flyers scored a pair of power-play goals separated by just 46 seconds from Timonen and Voracek to take a 3-2 lead. The period concluded with the Penguins getting two more goals from Crosby and Staal separated by 70 seconds to take a 4-3 lead.
The Flyers had an extreme lack of discipline in this game and it allowed the Penguins to remain on the power play for a chunk of the second period. Letang scored at 3:07. Staal scored again at 7:21. Steve Sullivan scored at 10:55 and with three power-play goals, the Penguins had made it a 7-3 game. Dupuis added a goal at 14:59 and Staal completed the hat trick to make it 9-2 at 16:03. Malkin capped the scoring in the third with a goal at 4:04.
The game was also marred by a series of penalties on Rinaldo at 16:43 of the second that resulted in a roughing minor, a cross-checking minor, a 10-minute misconduct and game misconduct. All of the penalties in the third period came at 8:48 with Pavel Kubina getting a cross-checking minor and 10-minute misconduct, Matt Cooke getting a holding the stick minor and 10-minute misconduct and both Simmonds and Joe Vitale going to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct.
When the dust settled, it was a 10-3 final for Pittsburgh that extended the series and returned it to Pittsburgh.
Game 5: Penguins 3, Flyers 2
Finally in Game 5, the fisticuffs seemed to slow down a bit. The Flyers were trying to focus on the task at hand to end the series and the Penguins needed to replicate their Game 4 effort.
The Flyers struck first, getting a power-play goal at 11:45 from Matt Carle. Sullivan answered for the Penguins on the power play at 14:51, but the Flyers got another power-play goal from Hartnell at 17:35 to take a 2-1 lead after one period.
In the second, Staal and Kennedy scored for the Penguins to make it a 3-2 Pittsburgh lead. The Flyers had two power-play chances for the rest of the game and failed to score, allowing the Penguins to creep closer in the series and force a Game 6 back in Philadelphia.
Game 6: Flyers 5, Penguins 1
The Flyers were just two years removed from completing a comeback for the ages against Boston and rallying back from a 3-0 series deficit. They didn’t want to flirt with the wrong side of history and Giroux wanted the first shift. He set the tone in that first shift.
Giroux leveled Crosby with a hit off the opening face-off, then scored 32 seconds into the game to send Wells Fargo Center into a frenzy. On their first power play midway through the period, a one-timer by Giroux got through Fleury and sat in the crease and Hartnell dove in to push it across the line to make it 2-0.
At 5:25 of the second, the Flyers opened up a 3-0 lead with Erik Gustafsson scoring off the rush. The Penguins got on the board at 8:34 on the power play with Malkin scoring, but the Flyers quickly got the goal back with Briere scoring just 36 seconds later.
The Flyers carried the 4-1 lead through the remainder of the game until Brayden Schenn scored in the final 10 seconds into an empty net to finish off the game and the series.
Obviously this series is remembered for a number of things. At the time, this was the rivalry to watch in hockey. These two teams hated each other and it was no secret and the constant scrums and line brawls throughout the early part of the series showed that. It was entertaining, it was intense, it was everything playoff hockey should be.
This was a series that also showed the emergence of Giroux as a true leader of this team. The future captain had 14 points in the series, including six goals. It also showed the potential of Couturier, who at 19 turned in one of the best individual efforts of the series. It also featured some great moments for Jagr, who only had one goal in the series but seven points over the six games.
There was no shortage of offensive success for the Penguins superstars either. Staal had six goals and nine points. Crosby had three goals and eight points. Malkin had three goals and eight points as well.
If anything, this was a goaltending optional series. The Flyers had traded for the rights to Bryzgalov and signed him to a megadeal to try to solve their goaltending woes. Bryzgalov allowed 21 of Pittsburgh’s 26 goals in the series, posting a .871 save percentage. Somehow, Fleury was worse in the series, allowing 26 of the 28 goals the Flyers scored and finishing with a .834 save percentage.
While the Flyers had found a way to make each of their next three playoff appearances competitive in the end — two that lasted six games and one that went the distance at seven games — this was really the last great playoff series the Flyers had.
This year’s Flyers team, which features just four members of the 2011-12 team, was not only in position to host a playoff series and potential advance past the first round for the first time in eight years, but also had the Penguins lined up to be a potential opponent. While a lot of the animosity has cooled to a large degree since this series, it was a chance to reignite the rivalry with a highly-competitive series. For now, that possibility is on hold.
But if we are to use this time to look back on some old series and great moments, this may be the most recent one people will turn to.
Our Series in Review series will continue tomorrow with a look back at the Flyers last Stanley Cup Final appearance against the Blackhawks in 2010.