So one thing became very apparent as Pittsburgh took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final: This is Evgeni Malkin's world, we just live here.
Geno was all things deadly in the opening tilt, popping the game-winning goal, nailing a shorthanded breakaway slapshot dagger and playing physical throughout.
But it was on Pittsburgh's first goal of the night where the Flyers showed their hand most clearly: On a Pens rush in the first period, both Philadelphia defensemen, Jaroslav Modry and Jason Smith, collapsed on Malkin, leaving the dangerous Petr Sykora wide open on the flank, where the veteran Czech easily deposited the puck past a blameless Martin Biron.
It was clear from the outset the Flyers wanted to make life difficult for Malkin by taking the body hard and focusing on him, but in the end it didn't matter.
Mike Richards certainly got his licks in, but in a bad omen for the Philly faithful, Malkin simply reveled in it and even dished out a couple of big stand-up hits himself.
Richards was by far the Flyers' best player of the game, scoring both Philadelphia goals and proving once again he will be the Orange and Black's captain much sooner than later. The Flyers played a very good road game for the first 19:40, until the inability to get the puck deep at the end of the frame turned what looked like an innocuous dump-out into a backbreaking last-second goal.
After that, it was pretty much downhill for the Broad Streeters.
Pittsburgh referenced their Round 2 victory over New York and pulled out all the solid defense and cautious hockey necessary to protect the lead and frustrate the Flyers, who never looked too threatening in the latter stages of the game.
Marc-Andre Fleury once again did exactly what was needed in the Pittsburgh net, though for the love of me, I can't figure out why he insists on jumping at high shots; you're taller than the net, Marc-Andre, just let it go over you.
Nevertheless, full marks for Fleury and the boys in front of him.
If you're Philadelphia, recognize that your original Malkin plan failed ingloriously and it's back to square one. As for Sidney Crosby, he got on the scoresheet, too, as if to remind the Flyers if they do find a way to shutdown his big Russian pal, they've still Cole Harbour's finest to deal with.
The Battle of Pennsylvania is on, folks; Keystone Chaos.
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Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his features, The Hot List and Year of the Ram, appear Tuesday and Thursday, respectively.
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