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Rakell’s 2-Goal First Period, DeSmith’s 31 Saves Just Enough to Take Down Flyers, 4-2

(Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Pittsburgh Penguins completed the season sweep of their cross-state rivals after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2.

Give credit where credit is due, the Flyers fought back valiantly once again as they were trailing 3-0 entering the third period. They created a lot of scoring chances, they were looking dominant in stretches with the Penguins caught napping or flat-footed, but in this penalty-filled affair, the outright skill of the Penguins prevailed with some help from some stout goaltending in the form of Casey DeSmith.

Rickard Rakell scored 2 goals in 3:13 midway through the first period to give the Penguins a commanding 2-0 start. Bryan Rust then added to the misery of the Flyers by scoring his 19th of the season, giving them an unassailable 3-0 lead heading into the final period of regulation.

Nicolas Deslauriers chipped in with his 6th of the season to break the shutout before Travis Konecny scored his 29th of the season and 2nd since his return with 2:29 remaining. Ryan Poehling iced the game with the net empty as the Flyers couldn’t get set up a second time with the net empty.

Casey DeSmith made 31 saves and some ten-bell stops including, 3-4 on Konecny alone and a huge diving blocker save on Owen Tippett on a late power play. Samuel Ersson collected his second consecutive loss on the season but he made some big saves to keep the Flyers in the game when the Penguins momentum was at its apex. He made 27 stops on 30 shots.

James van Riemsdyk, Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Tony DeAngelo each recorded an assist as the Flyers dropped consecutive regulation games in consecutive nights. The Flyers were 0/5 with the man advantage, the Penguins were 1/4, and Evgeni Malkin racked up 18 penalty minutes, including 4 consecutive minor penalties.

For the Penguins, these were 2 very important points in a tight playoff race for the Wild Card spots. The New York Islanders, who were holding onto the top spot of the Wild Card, dropped their match against the Carolina Hurricanes as they now hold a very slim 1 point lead over the Penguins, who leap-frogged the Florida Panthers. The Islanders have 87 points with 4 games remaining, the Penguins have 86 points with 5 games left, the Panthers have 85 points with 5 games left, and the Buffalo Sabres – who defeated the Flyers last night – have 81 points with 7 games remaining.

On the backend of their back-to-back, the Philadelphia Flyers visited the Pittsburgh Penguins for the third and final time this season looking for that illustrious win against their once venerated rival. The Flyers’ 7-game point-streak came to a screeching halt last night against the Buffalo Sabres as they were powered by an Alex Tuch hat-trick and 3 goals in the first 3:46 of the second period that kept the Flyers at bay.

Rasmus Ristolainen was ruled out tonight with an upper-body injury as the Flyers went back to a 12-6 formation. Justin Braun remained in the lineup as the 6th defenseman and Kieffer Bellows made his return. Carter Hart was still sidelined with a lower-body injury and with Felix Sandström having played last night, Samuel Ersson received his first NHL start since February 25th.

John Tortorella returned behind the bench and tinkered with the lineup once more. Noah Cates, Travis Konecny, and Wade Allison started the game. Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Owen Tippett remained a trio, Kevin Hayes was with Kieffer Bellows, and James van Riemsdyk, and Scott Laughton was seen centering the fourth line with Nicolas Deslauriers and Brendan Lemieux. Justin Braun was partnered with Travis Sanheim in the lone change on the backend.

As for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they came in with a rather inconsistent look that we haven’t really seen for over a decade and a half. They were on the outside looking in of a playoff spot, something that hasn’t happened in 16 years. They were 3-7-0 in their last 10 entering tonight, fell to the Boston Bruins yesterday, and were one point back of Florida for that coveted final playoff spot with 1 game in hand – that game being this one tonight.

Sidney Crosby has quietly continued to light the lamp as he paced the team in points with 86, Evgeni Malkin right behind him with 78, Jake Guentzel with a team-leading 35 goals, and Rickard Rakell had put up 54 points. Kris Letang skated in his 1,000th game today, which is somewhat poetic since his first ever career game came against the Flyers as well. Casey DeSmith earned the start, looking to build on his previous victory against the Flyers the last time these two teams met.


6 minutes into the game, Mikael Granlund looked to have tripped up Cam York but the referees called both players for a penalty, hooking for Granlund and embellishment on York.

The 4-on-4 produced a scoring chance for both teams as Travis Konecny set up Morgan Frost with a perfect saucer pass for a one-time attempt that was stopped by Casey DeSmith. The Penguins then countered with an odd-man rush of their own but Travis Sanheim came in at the very last second and disrupted the shot with a good stick check.

With 8:20 left in the first period, the Penguins opened the scoring off a fortuitous bounce off the glass to get them an early 1-0 lead.

After winning the offensive zone face-off, Brian Dumoulin set up Rickard Rakell for a one-timer that went high off the glass but bounced back in front of the net, off the back of Samuel Ersson, and into the net for his 26th of the season.

It was Pittsburgh’s 1st first period goal in 9 games and Rakell’s 5th point in his last 5 games

Then with 6:35 remaining, Travis Sanheim was called for a slashing minor even though Jake Guentzel was slashing and hacking just as much, sending out a hungry power play that was looking to avenge their 0/6 mark from yesterday’s game against Boston.

It was tic-tac-toe for Rakell after he redirected a perfect shot-pass from Evgeni Malkin in the slot for his second goal in the game with 32 seconds left on the man advantage.

The Penguins were swarming the entire power play and were bound to score with the personnel on the ice. Sidney Crosby fed Malkin from below the goal-line to the point before the veteran Russian sent a slap-shot-pass to the redirecting stick of Rakell for his 27th and 2nd goal in 3:13.

The Flyers started the game with 4 shots in less than 7 minutes, which was culminated by the massive save from DeSmith on Morgan Frost’s one-time attempt on the 4-on-4.

Rakell’s 2nd goal of the period represented the 11th straight shot from a Penguins stick as the Flyers were still searching for their 5th. 8 minutes since Frost’s attempt, Owen Tippett took a rather easy shot from the wing to end the Flyers’ shot drought with a shade under 4 to go.

Only moments later, Travis Konecny looked to have possibly cut the deficit in half with his 29th of the season but was absolutely robbed by the glove of DeSmith after being set up by Noah Cates. The referees reviewed it and DeSmith not only caught the shot with his glove but was able to keep it from crossing the line as he was able to pin his glove on the post to make sure it didn’t cross over.

The Penguins entered the first intermission with a commanding period as they led 2-0. The Penguins also held a 15-7 shot advantage and took 13 of the final 16 shots of the period.


The Flyers didn’t back down as they came out for the second period with a lot of fight and gumption, and although they weren’t throwing the kitchen sink towards DeSmith in the same fashion as they did last night against Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, they were getting some great chances.

Joel Farabee started the period with an odd-man rush and as he decided to shoot instead of making the pass but his shot went just wide of the glove. Owen Tippett then had a great one-time chance in the slot that was kicked away by the goaltender. Moments later, James van Riemsdyk redirected a shot towards the net that was stopped by the pad but DeSmith let out a juicy rebound to Kevin Hayes, whose opportunity went wide of the net with the outstretched goalie trying to regroup.

The Penguins had a few chances of their own as well where Ersson had to come up with some big saves to keep the deficit at 2. The first chance came from a Malkin one-timer from his knees on the rush that was stopped by the pad, and then moments later Brian Dumoulin came in all alone on the goaltender but he gave him nothing and didn’t fall bait to any of his dekes as he was able to swallow the puck.

Travis Sanheim was called for another minor penalty as he tripped up Sidney Crosby with 12:42 remaining in the second period. Fortunately 13 seconds into the man advantage, Evgeni Malkin was called for a hooking minor on Ivan Provorov as he was trying to get control of the puck for a clearance.

Coming out of the penalty box, Malkin had a crease-front scoring chance that was stopped by Ersson but as the Flyers collected the puck, the Penguins’ all-time leader in penalty minutes got his stick in on Nick Seeler and was whistled for a hooking minor at the 10:31 mark.

The Flyers failed to connect on the power play and the Penguins took advantage as they countered from defense to offense for a commanding 3-0 lead late in the second period.

Bryan Rust forced a turnover along the boards on Nicolas Deslauriers, played a little pitch and catch with Sidney Crosby before the future hall-of-famer delivered a perfect saucer pass as Rust made a few moves to beat Ersson for his 19th of the season at the 13:23 mark of the period.

Nick Seeler was caught pinching on Crosby, which forced DeAngelo to follow him towards the boards as he entered the offensive zone. Unfortunately, that allowed Rust to break free into open ice with 2 Flyers defenders trailing on the play and even though Seeler slashed and hacked away several times, clearly it did nothing to impede Rust’s route to the net as he finished it off with relative ease.

Malkin was then called for his third penalty of the game as he was nailed for high-sticking Cam York with 5:37 remaining. This time it was the Flyers who mitigated their own power play with a penalty as Noah Cates was called for an interference minor only 22 seconds into man advantage.

The Penguins caught the Flyers napping and flat-footed during the early parts of the 4-on-4, but they were lucky that Ersson was on top of his game and making the tough saves. Konecny was able to jump on a loose puck and a fallen defender but his five-hole attempt off the rush was stopped.

With 3:02 left in the period, the Flyers looked to have chipped away to the Penguins lead after Noah Cates’ shot with traffic in front of the net ended up in the back of the net, but the goal didn’t count with Joel Farabee being guilty of goaltender interference. Farabee was backing into the goaltender and got in his way without any Penguins’ player impeding or getting in the way.

At the end of the second period, the Penguins held what looked like an unassailable 3-0 lead. The Flyers outshot the Penguins 13-10 in the second period but were down 25-20 after the first 40 minutes. The glaring difference in skill was glaringly obvious in this one.


1:49 into the third period, Evgeni Malkin was called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after giving it to the referees on a missed high-sticking call on Cam York.

He was angry because of the missed call but also because it led to a scoring chance in the blue paint for Travis Konecny – that was stopped once again by DeSmith. Malkin kept bickering and yelling so the referees gave him a 10-minute misconduct to boot, just adding to his franchise-leading totals.

The Flyers couldn’t generate much of anything as their passes weren’t crisp, their entries were okay, but once settled in the offensive zone they were moving way too slow to create any chances.

5:57 into the third period, Nicolas Deslauriers broke DeSmith’s shutout with a net-front redirection goal that was set up by Tony DeAngelo from below the goal-line.

The Flyers kept the puck in the zone, and Kevin Hayes passed it dangerously to Ivan Provorov at the point who quickly tipped it forward. Deslauriers won the stick battle that allowed the puck to get behind the net, where the Flyers caught the Penguins napping and fumbling, which allowed DeAngelo to gather the puck and find Deslauriers in the middle of the ice for his 6th of the season.

With the Flyers looking dangerous and finally carrying momentum, Travis Konecny was guilty of an offensive zone hooking infraction with 12:28 remaining in regulation. The Flyers’ Scott Laughton had an incredible opportunity to cut the deficit once more but his slot shot was shouldered aside by DeSmith. The Penguins corralled the rebound and set out with Sidney Crosby coming in on a breakaway but his opportunity was steered aside by Ersson.

At the 10:25 mark of the period, Ryan Poehling was guilty of a delay of game penalty which would’ve sent the Flyers back on the power play but as the puck was sailing over the glass, Konecny slashed Mark Friedman in the shins after a hit he had just delivered that he was unhappy about.

The penalties kept on coming as Crosby was guilty of slashing the stick of Noah Cates, who had a net-front opportunity. It was by far the best power play of the night for the Flyers as Konecny rang one off the post, corralled his own rebound, and set up Tippett on the faceoff dot for a one-timer but he was absolutely robbed by the sliding blocker and tip of the stick of DeSmith. In their last meeting, Tippett was denied by DeSmith as well in a similar game-changing moment.

With 3 minutes left, Ersson was pulled for the extra attacker and Konecny finally got one by DeSmith with 2:29 remaining.

The Flyers were quickly cycling around and zipping passes as Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Konecny played tic-tac-toe of their own with the shot beating the goaltender high-glove for his 29th of the season and 2nd in as many games since returning from a 16-game absence.

Ersson raced to the bench with 110 seconds left in regulation and Jeff Carter came within inches of breaking free from 3 white jerseys to ice the game with 1:30 left, but as the play continued and the Flyers tried setting up in the offensive zone, Granlund made a great diving play to get the puck away from Joel Farabee.

Tony DeAngelo, who was stationed at the point bobbled Granlund’s clearance attempt, which allowed Poehling to race in all alone and put the finishing touches on a very important victory for his 7th of the season.

That would be all as the Pittsburgh Penguins swept the season series over the Philadelphia Flyers despite a late comeback attempt from the visitors.


The Flyers hit the road to take on the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Tuesday night (8:00pm ET, NBCSP).

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