By Sarah Baicker in Philadelphia
For days, they've talked about playing "Flyers hockey," about hitting the ice with a complete-team, complete-game effort. But until Sunday afternoon, the Flyers had just been talking theoretically.
There were elements of greatness in four of the five games that preceded Game 6, but none of them lasted all 60 minutes of regulation. Sunday, though, the Flyers operated on all cylinders - and to show for it, earned a 5-1 victory that sent the Pittsburgh Penguins home for the summer.
"If you look at everybody, it was probably one of the best team efforts of the whole season long," Scott Hartnell said. "Guys were sacrificing their bodies to block shots, paying the price, taking hits to make plays. It was awesome to see and just a great feeling."
From solid goaltending to tough defence and a potent offence, the Flyers simply commanded every minute of Game 6. They blocked shots, they generated chances, they remained disciplined.
"I thought today was probably our best team game," coach Peter Laviolette said. "You look at the sheet, and at the end of the night, when you see 40 blocked shots, you know that there's a team that's committed to something, that wants to get to the next round. They're phenomenal with what they did."
It took only 32 seconds for Claude Giroux to crush Sidney Crosby along the boards, carry the puck into Pittsburgh's zone and score the first goal of the afternoon. He simply set the tone of Game 6 for the Flyers.
"To me, he's the best player in the league right now," Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen said. "He's our motor, our engines. As he goes, we go."
Giroux finished the afternoon with three points, completing the series with 14 - the most any Flyer has racked up in a single playoff series since Tim Kerr had 15 in the 1989 Patrick Division semifinals.
"He was possessed," Briere said. "I think he set the tone, just plain and simple as that, he set the tone for the whole game. His first shift, he took charge. That was beautiful to see, showed the sign of a great leader right off the bat.
Getting in the way
The Flyers blocked a remarkable 40 Penguins shots on Sunday, helping to clear the space in front of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov while getting under the skin of the Penguins forwards.
"Where has that been?" Timonen joked of the 40 blocked shots. "When you do that as a team, it's great. We want to help Ilya Bryzgalov out, that's the one way we can help him, block every shot. A lot of teams are doing it in Europe so it's a great team effort and everybody was doing it."
Out of luck
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is a generally affable, personable guy. He just doesn't have any well-wishings for the Flyers right now.
"I want to congratulate the Flyers organization on the series win," Bylsma said, "but I really can't wish them good luck, though."
Rookie blue-liner Erik Gustafsson played in only his second-ever NHL playoff game Sunday afternoon, but you wouldn't know it from the way he played.
Gustafsson led the Flyers with seven blocked shots. Time and again, he won battles along the boards with Penguins sniper Evgeni Malkin. And, as an added bonus, he scored the goal that put the Flyers up 3-0 in the second period.
"Every time Gus gets sent back to the minors, I always said it was never about his play," Laviolette said. "He never got sent back because he couldn't cut it here or he couldn't do it. We had numbers and depth at the time and based on injuries and where we're at, Gus had an opportunity to step in today.
"The way he handled the minutes and his opponents - because a lot of the time it was against the Malkins and Crosbys of the world - that's not an easy task. I thought defensively he played a heck of a game. The goal was great. He walked in and he shot one and he got a big goal for us. But the game he played defensively was outstanding."
Sarah Baicker reports on the Flyers for CSNPhilly.com. Follow her on Twitter @sbaickerCSN.
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