The Philadelphia Flyers have said all the right things about playing in the Eastern Conference final without the services of top defenceman Kimmo Timonen.
But Game 1 showed just how glaring his absence could be over the course of this series.
Evgeni Malkin scored two goals and added an assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins took Game 1 by a score of 4-2 over the Philadelphia Flyers at Mellon Arena on Friday.
Sidney Crosby and Petr Sykora each added a goal while Marc Andre Fleury made 26 saves for Pittsburgh in the win.
Mike Richards scored both Philadelphia goals while Martin Biron made 17 saves in a losing effort.
Both teams capitalized on early miscues during a sloppy first period, but the Flyers woes were compounded without Timonen, who will be out for the series with a blood clot in his left foot.
Timonen has been essential to the Flyers' defence with his ability to make smart plays in his own zone and he has also drawn the defensive assignment of the opposing top forward in Philadelphia's first two series.
Both of those qualities were sorely lacking on Friday as Malkin was left largely unchecked on both his goals, the first of which broke a 2-2 tie to put the Penguins ahead for good.
"You turn pucks over and give up rushes against Crosby and Malkin, that's a game you can't play," said Flyers head coach John Stevens. "Every time you get an odd-man rush error... it favours them. Those are things we can't do.
"When we turn pucks over in the neutral zone, they come with too much speed, and they get you on the rush."
After Philadelphia attempted to dump the puck in the dying seconds of the first period, Ryan Whitney alertly picked it up and fired a quick cross-ice pass to a wide-open Malkin at the Flyers blue line.
The centre skated into the Flyers' zone unchallenged from the side boards and wired a wrist shot that beat Biron stick side with just seven seconds remaining in the period.
"That's a huge moment in a hockey game," said Penguins winger Marian Hossa. "That was a huge goal by Malkin, it's the kind of goals that kill a team."
With Brooks Orpik serving a two-minute holding penalty early into the second period, Malkin was hammered into the boards in the Flyers' end and was slow to recover as play went back up ice.
But no one picked him up when he reached the neutral zone, where he stayed until defenceman Sergei Goncahar sprung him on a breakaway. Malkin skated right up the middle of the Flyers' zone and unloaded a slapshot on Biron from between the hash marks that went right through the goaltender's pads for an insurance goal.
"At the last second I just decided to shoot that puck as hard as I can," Malkin said through an interpreter. "I didn't think about where to shoot or to make any moves. Just (shoot) as hard as I can."
Wild first period sees bulk of scoring
The Flyers had the Penguins playing in their own end early on, but it was the home team that capitalized on a defensive gaffe to open the game's scoring at 6:19 of the first.
After a Flyers' turnover in the neutral zone, Malkin picked up the puck at centre ice and passed to Ryan Malone on his left wing.
Malone skated down into the Flyers' zone and sent a perfect cross-ice pass to Sykora, who was left wide open as Malkin attracted multiple Pittsburgh defenders near the net.
Sykora went to his backhand, waited for Biron to go down and then roofed the puck to give the Penguins a 1-0 lead.
But the Flyers regained their composure and used strong forechecking to tie the game.
With the Flyers continuing to apply pressure in the Penguins' zone, Richards was able to pick up a wayward shot that caromed off the end boards and banked a wraparound attempt off Fleury and in for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
Philadelphia took the lead at the 12:50 of the first with Richards again finding himself in the right place at the right time.
A huge scramble for a loose puck in front of Fleury resulted in the puck squirting out to Richards, who flipped it over a sprawling Fleury for his 12th point in his past 11 games.
"I thought we had a kind of slow start," said Therrien. "We know how they're going to score their goals. They throw a lot of pucks to the net. And not playing in a week, the competitiveness level wasn't there for us at the beginning."
But 80 seconds later, a defensive gaffe allowed Sidney Crosby to tie the score 2-2.
Biron controlled what appeared to be a harmless Penguins' dump in behind the Flyers' net but he blindly backhanded the puck around the end boards and right onto the stick of Hossa.
Hossa fired a pass to a cutting Crosby in front of the net and the Pittsburgh captain deftly deflected it past Biron, who was out of position, for his third goal of the playoffs.
"We did a great job of capitalizing," Crosby said after the win.
The much discussed bad blood between the two teams was nowhere to be found early on, outside of some chatter between both benches.
"We love each other out there and we just want to make sure each other knows it," Malone told CBCSports between periods.
But words eventually led to action late in the third as a Scottie Upshall cross-check with 1:28 to play drew a crowd and potentially stoked some hostilities for Game 2 at Mellon Arena on Sunday (7:30 pm ET, CBC, CBCSports.ca).