TO BE the best, you've got to beat the best.
Since the puck dropped on the Flyers' season in October, the knock against them hasn't been their attitude. Or their personnel. Or their health.
The knock against the Flyers, instead, is that they can't beat the league's best teams.
Heading into yesterday, Pittsburgh and Boston were a combined 51-0-2 when leading after two periods. Somehow, the Flyers found a way - trailing by two goals Saturday at Boston and again yesterday against the visiting Penguins - to steal three out of four points against teams that had given up a combined two points all season when taking leads into the third period.
Yesterday, Scott Hartnell won the game without a second to spare. He capped the Flyers' hair-raising comeback with 0.9 seconds remaining in overtime - the latest overtime winner in franchise history - to deliver a 3-2 win over the Penguins.
The Flyers halted Pittsburgh's 11-game winning streak and prevented the Penguins from pulling into a first-place tie with the Rangers atop the Eastern Conference. The Penguins are fourth in the East, two points ahead of the fifth-place Flyers.
"We knew they were the hottest team in the NHL," Jaromir Jagr said. "We knew if we were to lose this game, it would be tough to try and come back and finish first. We had to win that game no matter what. [Pittsburgh] gave us that chance."
Now, despite a combined 7-9-3 record against the Rangers, Penguins, Devils and Bruins this season, the Flyers are just three points back of New York.
But you wouldn't know that based on the way the Flyers played in the first two periods yesterday. They went a total of 18 minutes and 9 seconds - from late in the first period until late in the second period - without a shot on goal.
In fact, a power play with 30 seconds remaining in the second allowed the Flyers to barely avoid tying a franchise record (1) for fewest shots in a period.
Instead, they used the power play as motivation to start the third period. Up until that point, Ilya Bryzgalov was the only reason they still had a puncher's chance in the final frame. Bryzgalov is now 10-2-1 with a 1.69 goals-against-average, .941 save percentage and four shutouts since being pulled against Pittsburgh in their last meeting on Feb. 18.
"He might be a quiet [story line] because 'Hartsy' did this and [Sean Couturier] did this and Kimmo [Timonen] jumps in with that . . . but there were countless big saves after that to keep it from going to 3-0 or 3-1," coach Peter Laviolette said. "You need to get that from your goalie. He gave us a lot of big saves we needed him to make to give us an opportunity to get back in the third."
The Flyers used the wraparound power play to net a goal in the first 31 seconds of the third, when Timonen's blast from the point snuck over Marc-Andre Fleury's shoulder.
From there, it was a complete 180-degree change. Defensively, they held Pittsburgh without a shot for 11:32 in the third period and outshot the Penguins, 17-13, in the final 25 minutes after being crushed, 27-10, over the first two periods.
"That is the sign of a good team," Timonen said. "You're down 2-0 against a team who has won 11 in a row and they've got all their big shots back. And we came back and won the game. That was a playoff atmosphere."
Suddenly, the Flyers have won five games in a row at the Wells Fargo Center. They've got 10 games left, seven at home. Two of their three remaining road games are in Pittsburgh, against their most likely playoff opponent.
After this weekend, the Flyers feel they can play with the big boys.
"The weekend, we played the Bruins, the Stanley Cup champs," Laviolette said. "They had an attitude because they lost a few games. We battled back and played hard. The Penguins are on a roll. Everybody is talking about their team. I can't say enough about our guys. They didn't cave. That's a great sign from your team, when they don't cave. And that's happened a lot this year."