MANY PEOPLE EXPECTED a ferociously competitive battle between two evenly matched in-state rivals. Pittsburgh had won the regular-season series 4-2 over the Philadelphia Flyers, but each team finished with 99 points in the standings and nearly identical numbers of goals scored and allowed. But those stats were deceiving: While the Flyers were a tepid 13-10-2 down the stretch, the Penguins, galvanized by the February arrival of coach Dan Bylsma, had produced a torrid 18-3-4 run to a playoff berth that had once seemed out of reach. That contrast held in Game 1 in Pittsburgh with the aggressive Penguins making the sloppy Flyers, the NHL's most penalized team, pay for transgressions and turnovers.
A first-period power-play goal—Evgeni Malkin's shot pinballing off Sidney Crosby's skate, the post and Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron—was upheld after review, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead. It was the first of several breaks, bounces and calls that went their way in the series. The frustrated Flyers, down 4-1 late in the game, resorted to fistic measures, but that backfired too, as enforcer Daniel Carcillo earned a suspension for Game 2 by delivering a shot to Maxime Talbot's head.
"We know that's their style," said Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-André Fleury. "But it's nice to see how the guys handled it with no problem and just moved on."
Philadelphia played markedly better in Game 2, but penalties again haunted the team after Malkin set up overtime by tying the score 2-2 at 16:23 of the third period. In OT a cross-checking call on Mike Knuble quickly followed by slashing on Claude Giroux gave the Penguins a five-on-three, and 38-year-old winger Bill Guerin settled matters with his second goal of the game, making this only the third overtime playoff match since 1933 to be decided by a two-man advantage.
Home for Game 3, the Flyers donned their Broad Street Bullies persona to the delight of 19,745 raucous fans and rode the intensity of a fight-filled first period to a 6-3 win. If the tide was turning, Fleury checked it in Game 4 with a clutch 45-save performance under relentless pressure. "All you can say about Flower is that he makes the saves when we need them," said defenseman Brooks Orpik. "He's been doing it for a while now."
Meanwhile, Flyers center Daniel Brière vowed, "We're not dead," and was proved right as his desperate team won Game 5 in Pittsburgh 3-0 with a brilliant Biron making 28 saves. Back in Philadelphia for Game 6, the Penguins found themselves down 3-0 in the second period, but their all-for-one spirit was roused when Carcillo went after Talbot again. It took 14 seconds after the bout for Ruslan Fedotenko to score the first of Pittsburgh's three goals in a 12-minute span; the Pens tied the game when Guerin's shot popped out of Biron's glove only to be batted into the net by Crosby, silencing the howling Wachovia Center. Sergei Gonchar's slapper and Crosby's empty-netter allowed the Penguins to happily depart with a 5-3 win and the series.
"We've had huge rivalries over the years," said Crosby, who had eight points in the six games. "It's a loud building, so to hear a little silence was gratifying."
The peace and quiet was brief. A sterner test with yet another rival lay ahead.