PHILADELPHIA - Sometimes hockey is a game of inches. On Saturday, it was a game of even less.
An offsides call late in the game negated a Claude Giroux breakaway that could have tied it, and the Philadelphia Flyers went on to lose 3-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the season opener for both teams.
A revved-up crowd of 19,994 - a Wells Fargo Center record for the regular season - was loud from well before the first puck dropped, releasing pent-up energy from the 113-day NHL lockout. The fans saw a close game between bitter rivals who last played each other when the Flyers eliminated the Penguins from the playoffs last season.
The Penguins led 2-1 with 10 minutes, 56 seconds left in regulation when Giroux took a long pass from the defensive zone right at the blue line. The Flyers' best player had the puck one-on-one with goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, but the linesman whistled the play dead immediately.
"I would've had a breakaway so obviously I wasn't too happy, but it was a tough call," Giroux said.
Slow-motion replays appeared to be inconclusive as Giroux's second skate crossed the blue line almost simultaneously with the puck. Opinions on social media seemed split. Giroux and coach Peter Laviolette said shortly after the game that they hadn't seen the replay yet.
"It was a very, very tight call," Laviolette said.
That wasn't the only time the Flyers were oh-so-close to scoring. They had a number of excellent opportunities after a lackluster first period, but a Giroux goal off a pinpoint pass from Scott Hartnell was the only time they were able to beat Fleury.
Philadelphia went 0-for-5 on the power play.
"We had power-play chances," defenseman Andrej Meszaros said. "We just have to execute more. We have to score some goals because the season is short and power plays are going to be important."
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh got goals from Tyler Kennedy and James Neal in the first 7:20 of the game, and that was enough. Chris Kunitz sealed it with an empty-netter in the closing seconds.
Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov played a solid game, making 24 saves. Kennedy's goal appeared to be redirected in front by Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn, and Bryzgalov said he didn't see the shot on the second goal.
"He had some big saves," Meszaros said. "He was terrific for us."
Giroux, in his first game since being named captain on Tuesday, said the Flyers were "sloppy" in the first period. The intensity was substantially down from the last time these teams played each other.
Laviolette said it was evident that there had been just one week of training camp and no preseason games after the lockout.
"There seemed to be a little bit of rust out there," the coach said. "Our passing was a touch off. We had a lot of passes that seemed to go into the skates. … I think that will come with time."
It will have to come quickly. The Flyers got on a plane to Buffalo shortly after the game, and they will play the Sabres at 12:30 p.m. today (NBC).
"You never want to sit on a loss too long, so we made sure of that with a 12:30 start," Laviolette said with a dry smile.
The coach said he expects his team to be ready to play, though. Only two Flyers - defenseman Kimmo Timonen and Wayne Simmonds - played more than 20 minutes against Pittsburgh.
"We rolled the lines pretty good tonight," Laviolette said. "Nobody really got that taxed."
The Flyers - and every NHL team - will have to get used to that. Philadelphia plays 10 sets of back-to-back games during the condensed, 48-game season due to the lockout.
"We've got to make sure we jump on the plane, get some good food in us and go to bed," Giroux said.
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