The Penguins faced two teams at home this weekend who fit the part of a team scratching, clawing, doing whatever it takes to find themselves in the playoffs. Two teams in desperation mode.
Against the Blues, it was a constant onslaught and relentless scoring that did the Penguins in. They weren't up to the challenge, Matt Murray was run out of the building, and it looked like a reciprocal of the performance Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y.
On Sunday, the Flyers found an extra gear when it was needed.
First, it was to tie the game; make it a three point game, get whatever they could out of a game the Penguins looked to be taking home. Then, it was the Penguins pouring everything into the 3-on-3 overtime, getting plenty of chances ... just for Carter Hart to steal the show, as he did all game. The Flyers found just enough desperation left in the tank to win the game with seconds remaining in overtime. At 4:56 of the extra frame, to be exact.
From where I was sitting, however, the biggest act of desperation came before either of those goals was scored and when the game's number one star, Hart, was stuck, helpless, on the bench.
"For [Ivan Provorov] to come back like that, that saves our game right there," Hart told me after the game.
Of course, he's talking about the effort his defenseman gave to beat both Nick Bjugstad and Patric Hornqvist to the puck with the net empty -- the ultimate desperation play in a game chock-full of them.
Provorov was in a foot race with Hornqvist before taking to the the ice horizontally to get his stick on the puck first. Bjugstad was coming in at a bit of an angle, looked like he was going to use his length and be the first one on it, but he missed the puck.
It looks like his blade jumps right over the black cylinder and his acrobatic pool shot never connects with the game-ending 8-ball. Provorov got his stick under No. 27's and swept the puck away from danger.
Here's the sequence of photos I shot of the game-saving dive. Take a look at the third image. It shows just how close Bjugstad was to connecting with the puck and either scoring or setting up Hornqvist to finish. Unfortunately for the Penguins, it also shows just how far away he was:
That final image: Bjugstad's face tells the rest of the story. He missed his chance, and the Flyers got theirs -- and capitalized on them.
"Provy is a big time player and he steps up at key situations, and that just goes to show," Hart concluded.
Hart is a young guy, just 20-years-old, but he's already dang good at this talking to the media thing. Made the gang of reporters holding phones and recorders in his direction laugh on multiple occasions, but also gave such even-keeled responses to game changing moments.
Not sure I'd be so composed as a rookie, starring in a rivalry game during desperation season, and so calmly compliment my teammate who saved our team from almost certain playoff elimination.
SPEAKING OF HART
At the beginning of the game, just after the spotlights flipped off and the house lights kicked on, I noticed Hart grab his water bottle for a little fun. Most goalies have things they do with their hydration source.
Murray, for instance, leaves his mask down, takes a squirt of water, hits the back of his neck with a second squirt and puts the Gatorade branded bottle back into its sleeve behind the cage.
Some goalies take a drink and send it right back out. Mikko Koskinen of the Oilers, for instance, gets a mouthwash-like rinse and spits the water right back over his net:
[caption id="attachment_793292" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
Others will spray straight into the air like Goldberg making a return to the squared circle. No matter what, every. single. goalie. has something they do like that with the water bottle. Of course, we aren't even going to touch Braden Holtby and his mumbling -- that's another day's View.
Hart's big move? He takes the bottle, holds it out in front of him, points it forward, squeezes, swings it up and makes a big arc of water as if it's a Gatorade protractor and he's a design student.
He watches the rain fall, watches it hit the ice and then fixes his helmet up. Really unique, fun, and makes a great photo. I noticed it early, but didn't get the shot I wanted until late in the third period:
[caption id="attachment_793293" align="aligncenter" width="640"] MATT SUNDAY / DKPS[/caption]
As always, the rest of the game's best images are up top behind the image of Provorov's diving effort.