The Pittsburgh Penguins showed what last year's trip to the Stanley Cup final taught them -- patience. Theirs was a measured first-period effort -- the first scoreless period of the series -- always a good way to approach a road game after a loss. For their part, the Philadelphia Flyers pressured effectively in the opening 20 minutes, only to be rebuffed by Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. And as good as he was in the first, the Flyers hadn't seen anything yet.
In the second period, the Penguins revved up the offensive, establishing zone presence with some sustained forechecking. That softened the Flyers just enough on the rush, with Sidney Crosby scoring a typical hard-working goal by crashing the net and getting a piece of the puck with the shaft of his stick on a wobbly aerial feed from Chris Kunitz, before he bodied the biscuit past a helpless Martin Biron. Roughly 4½ minutes later, Matt Cooke sent a similar pass to Tyler Kennedy while center Jordan Staal was driving the middle lane. Kennedy converted more conventionally than Crosby with a nifty move to the backhand that he hoisted past Biron.
Just like that, the Penguins were in business. They weren't necessarily in control, however. Not as a team anyway. The Flyers pressed from the mid-point of the second period right through to the end of the game, when Max Talbot salted the game away for the Penguins with an empty net goal. The Flyers finally beat Fleury in the third, with Dan Carcillo finishing on a hardscrabble effort to make the game 2-1.
But back to the second and Fleury's heroics. Once his team secured a two-goal advantage, he refused to give the Flyers a momentum-changing marker. He was brilliant with the glove, tough in traffic and focused in total. He had that look of composed determination that characterizes Fleury when he is at his finest. On this night he certainly was, repelling scoring chance after scoring chance, making 45 saves in all, many of the highlight reel variety.
Crosby was the best star on the ice, exhibiting that tenacity that makes him the most gifted grinder in the game today -- and I say that with the highest regard -- outshining teammate Evgeni Malkin and the Flyers' young stars, Captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. But the best forward on the ice on either side was the Penguins' Jordan Staal. He played more than both Crosby and Malkin and was a force on the penalty kill, helping keep the Flyers off the board while on the power play despite eight opportunities.
Still, this night belonged to goaltender Marc Andre Fleury. His stellar puck stopping is the reason the Penguins head home with a chance to close out the Flyers in five games -- just as they did a year ago in the Eastern Conference Final. If last year taught them anything it is that economy in the early rounds pays dividends later. Oh yeah, the Penguins also learned that when Fleury plays like he did in Philly on Tuesday night, they stand a good chance to go deep in the playoffs.