On a night when Pittsburgh rookie Sidney Crosby almost spoiled their march to first place, the Flyers got some late heroics from Peter Forsberg and Mike Knuble.
After blowing a three-goal lead and sitting back in the opening minutes of the third period to watch Crosby's one-man show, the Flyers were lucky to escape with a 5-4 win over the Penguins on Friday night at Mellon Arena.
The victory lifted the Flyers past the Rangers into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division with 47 points, one more than New York has.
"It's a pretty good accomplishment, especially after the year the Rangers have had and the year that we've had, with what we've had to overcome," Knuble said, referring to Flyers injuries.
Heading into the Christmas break, the Flyers have won five of their last seven games. Friday night's contest began an 11-game trip that continues tomorrow in Florida against the Panthers. The trip will stretch into three weeks, even though the Flyers will return home between some games.
The Flyers were up by 3-0 before the Penguins cut the deficit to one goal going into the third period.
That's when Crosby took over. The rookie, who was snubbed by Team Canada this week for the Olympics, scored two goals 44 seconds apart, turning a 3-2 deficit into a 4-3 lead.
"He stepped up," Knuble said, "and he had momentum and the crowd on his side."
On his first goal, Crosby sped into the Flyers' zone past Forsberg and managed to freeze defenseman Kim Johnsson. Crosby then shifted to his right and shot the puck between Johnsson's legs to beat goalie Antero Niittymaki and tie the score, 3-3.
Less than a minute later, Crosby came off the bench to get a cross-ice pass again going into the Flyers' zone. Cutting left to right into the slot, Crosby backhanded the puck over Niittymaki, giving the Penguins the lead at 2 minutes, 27 seconds.
As brilliant as Niittymaki looked Thursday against Ottawa, he appeared a mere mortal against the Penguins.
Forsberg, who scored twice, tied it at 4 with a wicked shot from the right circle that nicked off goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 15:27.
Then Knuble blasted one a minute later to regain the lead for the Flyers. It was his sixth goal in five games.
It was easy for the Flyers at the start.
Simon Gagne notched his 25th goal in his 29th game 5:34 into the opening period on the power play.
Johnsson set it up with a pass from above the left circle into the high slot. Gagne sent the puck to his stick with his skate, then rifled a shot that beat Fleury for a 1-0 lead. The power play has produced at least one goal in the last five games.
Pittsburgh had a couple of power-play chances in the period but didn't really test Niittymaki - except at even strength. And that's when the goalie had several good stops, including a lower body save on Crosby in the crease.
Among the Flyers, Seidenberg has perhaps the hardest slapshot, but he rarely uncorks it from the point. But with the teams skating four-on-four, the German defenseman, named to his country's Olympic team this week, shot the puck at 11:01 and it sailed high into the net.
It turned out that the puck was tipped at the last second by Forsberg, changing the trajectory. It was Forsberg's 11th goal of the season. Had Seidenberg scored, it would have been his first goal in nearly three years, with the last coming on January 5, 2003, at Atlanta.
Funny thing is, these things have a way of working themselves out. The Flyers got a power play early in the second period. This time, Forsberg fed the puck to Seidenberg high between the circles. Again, Seidenberg unloaded. This time, the puck went in without touching another stick. The goal made it 3-0.
The Penguins got one back at 10:17 as Crosby outwrestled Mike Richards for the puck in the corner and sent a pass into the slot for Tomas Surovy. He beat Niittymaki low to the ice from 10 feet, cutting Pittsburgh's deficit to 3-1.
Twice in the period, the Penguins had some dazzling passes that just eluded the stick of former Flyer Mark Recchi and Crosby for what would have been an easy give-and-go shot at the net.
As it was, Erik Christensen made it a one-goal game with a power-play goal at 15:58.