Flyers rally to hand Penguins stunning, brutal loss

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Sometimes you can make too big of a deal out of one game.

It is easy to get caught up in the moment and overstate things in the immediate aftermath of a win or a loss.

But it may not be overstating things to suggest that the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night could end up having a pretty significant impact on the East Division playoff race.

Not only did the Flyers win in regulation, making it a four-point swing in the standings, but they did so while overcoming a 3-0 deficit against a team they are in direct competition with for one of the four playoff spots in the division.

Even before the puck dropped on Thursday this had the feel of a significant game. The two teams were tied in total points (with the Flyers having two games in hand) and any win in regulation was going to be a big shift in the standings. Given the games in hand situation it is one the Penguins probably needed more, and four minutes into the game it looked like they were well on their way to getting it thanks to three goals in a 71-second stretch to jump out to a commanding lead.

So what happened?

Instead of finishing the job, they went into a 56-minute shell, allowed Philadelphia to dictate the pace of the game, and slowly watched their lead evaporate until it was completely gone.

It was the same story they have been dealing with all season when they have struggled. Bad defensive zone play, careless play with the puck, and a power play unit that has completely sucked the life out of their games every time it hits the ice. Their two attempts at the man-advantage on Thursday perfectly captured the self-destructive force it has been all season.

Their first attempt came just a couple of minutes after Jared McCann scored to give the Penguins a 3-0 lead. It was an opportunity to build on their lead and bury an opponent that had clearly stumbled at the start.

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The Penguins responded by recording zero shots on goal, never getting set up, and never looking organized. Just a few minutes later the Flyers scored on their power play opportunity and the tide had officially shifted. Their second opportunity came in the third period when they were still ahead by a goal with a chance to add on some insurance, and it was just as futile. The Flyers tied it just a few minutes later, setting the stage for Claude Giroux‘s game-winning goal with less than three minutes to play.

Pittsburgh’s power play has the talent to be a game-changing force. But it’s only changed games in the wrong direction for them.

Their defensive zone coverage and puck management are big issues, and both hurt them on Thursday. But do not excuse the consistently bad power play.

Why this game matters so much

Yeah, it’s only one game. Yeah, the two teams play again on Saturday. But this game is so significant because of the nature of the shortened season and the playoff format. You don’t have as much time to make up ground. You are only playing against teams you are competing with directly for playoff spots. If you are the Penguins, entering that game in the position they did (out of a playoff spot), and jump out to a 3-0 lead against a team you are in close competition with, you absolutely can not come out of that game with zero points in the standings. You just can’t. You need something out of that.

When you look at the standings you see the Penguins sitting in fifth place, two points back of the Boston Bruins and Flyers.

That may not seem like a lot. It is one game. But keep in mind that the Penguins have already played two more games than both teams.

If you look at the current point projections you see just how much work the Penguins have to do to make up that ground.

That is a lot of ground.

If there is a positive development for the Penguins it is that they have already played the most challenging part of the schedule, and it concludes on Saturday with their next game against the Flyers.

The second half of their season features several games against the New York Rangers, as well as all of their games against the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres. So there is a chance to make some ground and collect points, assuming they can beat the teams they are supposed to beat. But as they approach the halfway point of their season they have quite an uphill fight sitting in front of them.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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