PITTSBURGH -- Just a few days, and a few million heart attacks ago, the widespread expectation was that Flyers-Penguins would be spectacular bloodsport. People saw the way the regular season ended, and the history of animus between the franchises, and the closeness of the two teams in the standings, and figured the whole thing for seven games of vicious, magnificent hell.
Instead, we have been strapped into a carnival ride whose only purpose is to induce dizziness.
And we have witnessed a series of comebacks by the Flyers that have defied several laws of logic, reason and gravity.
No one -- and I mean no one -- thought the Flyers could win the first two games of this series on the road. Most people didn’t think they could win the series at all. But here we are. When Jaromir Jagr scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal with 9 minutes, 13 seconds gone in the third period on Friday night, the crowd at Consol Energy Center could barely summon the energy to boo a player they consider a traitor -- such was their exhausted disbelief.
It could not have been happening, but it was. A lot of the cast has changed since the last time, in 2010, that the Flyers spent their springtime tiptoeing across a tightrope -- but this bunch has begun to duplicate that group’s efforts. You dare not change the channel on this Flyers team -- or even go to the bathroom, for that matter.
Too many things might happen while you are gone.
The Flyers scored two shorthanded goals in Game 2. Rookie Sean Couturier had a hat trick. Claude Giroux also had a hat trick, the last one into an empty net with 6.9 seconds remaining. Sidney Crosby scored a goal for Pittsburgh just 15 seconds after the puck was dropped. Couturier scored one of his goals with just 2.8 seconds left in the second period.
Too much. Too much.
Flyers 8, Penguins 5.
Wednesday night, the Penguins blew a 3-0 lead and lost to the Flyers in overtime. Friday night, the Penguins blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1 and found themselves tied with the Flyers at 4-4 at the end of the second period. Breathtaking absurdity had been heaped upon breathtaking absurdity at that point. And on it went.
With a weak backhand, Tyler Kennedy put the Penguins ahead by 5-4 with 1:04 gone in the third period. Couturier tied it 17 seconds later with his second goal of the game, unassisted. It was all happening so fast that there was little time for all of it to register.
Stanley Cup hockey is something that usually is made to be savored. But this had become a long, exhilarating blur.
When it finally ended, the Flyers celebrated and the Penguins slinked away. The building was eerily silent. Again, no one saw this happening, and no one certainly saw it happening this way.
Meanwhile, someone in the NHL office is missing out on a marketing opportunity if they don’t call immediately and get the rest of the series sponsored by Dramamine.
The Penguins could not hold a lead with oven mitts at this point, and there is no reason to believe that is about to change. The Flyers cannot seem to wake up and pay attention until they are leaning over the edge of the cliff, and there is no reason to believe that is about to change, either.
The Pens have speed and skill in abundance. The Flyers have carloads of confidence and gumption. Through two games, the collision between the two has littered the ice with unpredictable fallout. Very little of this currently makes sense.
But here we are.
That the Flyers now control this thing goes without saying. But remember: they did not even have a lead during either game until the middle of the third period.
Be advised, then, that after everything we have seen, it still probably makes sense to keep the seat belts fastened for a little while longer.