FFR2 Gm 28: TOR 1, PHI 6 - 6ix-Hole
You get a goal in the final 4 minutes! You get a goal in the final 4 minutes! You get a goal in the final 4 minutes! EVERYONE gets a goal in the final 4 minutes!
The Philadelphia Flyers WIN their fifth straight game and sixth of their last seven (and even the loss was in a shootout!), pulling away from the Toronto Maple Leafs with five unanswered 3rd period goals en route to a 6-1 victory.
To come out and score 6 goals against any team is impressive. But it's one thing if you're doing it against a bottom feeder like Detroit, and another if it comes against a Leafs team that entered the WFC 4-1-0 under new head coach Sheldon Keefe and with Vezina hopeful Frederik Andersen between the pipes.
Yes, the score was propped up a little thanks to an empty-netter and two garbage time goals (though the goals themselves were absolutely beauties). But none of that would've been possible without the tremendous early play of Carter Hart. The first period was by far the worst for the Flyers; Toronto outshot them 15-7 and were expected to outscore the Flyers 1.15-0.45. And yet when the horn sounded, the actual score was 0-0, largely thanks to Hart. Whether it was at 5-on-5, where he kicked out his right pad on a point-blank Tavares backhander, or on the penalty kill, when Hart made a 10-bell glove save on Auston Matthews from the right hash marks, Hart was sensational early and often.
That set the stage for the second period, where the Flyers began to turn the tide of the game. After Andersen denied the Giroux-Frost-Konecny line on a few great chances, Kevin Hayes' line jumped over the boards. After relying on dump-ins most of the first, the Flyers (as they plan to) shifted their focus to controlled entries in the 2nd, which Hayes was able to generate. It looked like Justin Holl or Auston Matthews would knock the puck away, but Hayes pushed forward with the determination of a mother of five at 6 AM on Black Friday. Hayes incredibly powered all the way to the Toronto goal, where Scott Laughton got his stick down and tipped in his centering pass, capping off a highlight reel goal and giving the Flyers the 1-0 lead.
The Flyers definitely should've been able to stretch their lead out farther. They drew two consecutive penalties against the Leafs, only for the best chance on either power play to be a 2-on-1 for Toronto (where Hart stopped Frederik Gauthier's wrister). But Oskar Lindblom and especially Michael Raffl found themselves with great chances in front, set up expertly by Jake Voracek... only for both to hit the post.
A Scott Laughton deflection of a shot-disguised pass from Provorov kept the narrative going early into the 3rd. With Toronto's level of skill, you knew it was likely only a matter of time before the Flyers would rue these missed chances. Granted, Carter Hart was playing so great it almost didn't matter. But on a night where Starter was absolutely locked in, of course a fluky goal would be the one that tied the score. Travis Dermott flipped an innocent shot from the left point that turned into the reincarnation of the Malkin goal from the Stadium Series, popping a mile high of Hart's right shoulder before double-doinking off his back and into the net.
Wait a sec. These aren't the old Flyers who would let a bounce like that weigh them down and never recover. The Leafs have plenty of speed and skill, but now we have a lot of that, too! If the Flyers just stick to their game-plan, chip away at the Leafs weak defense, maybe they can squeak this one out in the dying seco-oh wait, they scored already?!
Just 82 seconds after the Dermott goal, the top line (top line? top line.) went to work in the offensive zone. Phil Myers, who made up a dynamite 3rd pair with Shayne Gostisbehere tonight, stepped up at the right boards and jabbed the puck deep. That led to Travis Konecny getting the puck below the goal-line, where Toronto decided to try a bold strategy - everyone look at the guy with his back turned to the net instead of the guy wide open in the slot!
Oh, you thought I was kidding?
"I always feel like, somebody's watching me" - TK, probably.
That mistake didn't cost the Leafs much, just the eventual game winning goal, nothing special. TK went from chilling in Gretzky's office to finding Captain Clutch Claude Giroux for a textbook one-timer that whistled past Andersen like it was shot out of a cannon, putting the Flyers on top for good!
In fact, the Flyers basically put this game out of reach before the Leafs could get into super-try-hard-offense-goalie-pulled-score-effects mode. Phil Myers tipped the puck around a pinching Travis Dermott, creating a 2-on-1 for TK and Giroux. The Flyers did fall into their old pass happy habit a bit Tuesday, but when it mattered most, TK pulled the trigger. Travis finds twine for the second straight game, joining Lindy in the double-digit goals club with a snipe right through the wickets of Andersen.
Our fun appeared to come to an end less than a minute later when Ivan Provorov's long-range empty-net bid popped off the post and was promptly punched in by Joel Farabee, effectively sealing the deal. But the Flyers didn't want to just win this game. They want to win next game, and the game after that, and all of the games after that. And in order to do, you need to get everyone (or close to everyone) going.
So, maybe if you just took a quick look at the box score you wouldn't care about Philly's two goals in the final minute, separated by just 12 seconds. But dig a little deeper. Shayne Gostisbehere has looked off for most of this season. Alain Vigneault told him that the Flyers might be going with a three-man rotation on the 3rd pair with him, Myers, and Hagg. A defenseman with a Calder runner-up and Norris votes in his back pocket is better than that. Tonight, he showed it, and he showed it everywhere on the ice, even in his own zone. It would've been a great game for him without a goal. But an absolute rocket that brings back 2016 vintage Ghost Bear memories? That's something concrete for him to build off going forward.
If Ghost has been the most frustrating Flyer defenseman, then who holds the honor among forwards? Probably James van Riemsdyk, a goal-scorer who had four goals in the Flyers' first 26 games. It's not like he's played terribly; JVR ranks 5th among Philly forwards in Corsi (that's shot attempt differential, in case you forgot, or haven't read the pinned Tweet), and ahead of all Flyers not named Sean Couturier in Expected Goals For%. And a beautiful breakaway backhander through Freddie's 5-hole to put six up on the scoreboard against the team from the 6ix will have his teammates, the fans, and most importantly, himself screaming "JVRn't you glad he's a Flyer?" once again.
At the beginning of the season, the Flyers asked us a simple question: Fly or Die? Well, it's only been 28 games, but where are we now? Ghost and JVR are close to turning a corner (each has 2 goals in their last 3 games). Kevin Hayes has a point in 7 of his last 8 games. Stars like Giroux, Couturier, and Provorov have been stars. Carter Hart has a .931 save percentage since November; Brian Elliott's is .926. The penalty kill was perfect again tonight and is tied for 3rd in the NHL. They're 8th in the NHL in Corsi and hold an xGF% above 50%.
There's still a long way to go, but so far, the answer to that question is clear. This team is flying higher than almost anyone thought, and what a sight it is to see.
If there's one thing you can critique about the Flyers right now, it's their power play. It's an ice cold 9 for their last 64 attempts (14.1%) and looked flat in three chances Tuesday. Had the Leafs capitalized on a few more of their chances, we could be looking back at this as a game the Flyers lost because of their power play, not one they won in spite of it.
The only other bad news coming out of this game? Michael Raffl becomes the second Flyers bottom-six forward to break their finger this season. He'll be out 4 weeks with this injury.
Speaking of injuries, if you're looking for an update on Nolan Patrick, the Flyers tweeted a video of him talking to the media earlier today. It was kinda heartbreaking to watch; it's clear he wants to get out there, but migraines are an extremely difficult thing to deal with. "I expect to play this year," Patrick said. Hopefully he does, but regardless Flyers fans, please stay on this kid's side.
In case you lost count, Phil Myers finished the night with his first career 3-point game, assisting on the Giroux, Konecny, and JVR goals. His last helper was an absolute beauty - a lob from his own zone all the way to the Toronto blue-line with the right speed and distance to perfectly spring van Riemsdyk. It was a pass with Tom Brady-esque touch.
Farabee's empty-netter was his first goal in 13 games; it also extended his point-streak to 4 straight contests.
Travis Konecny is just the 13th different Flyer to score at least 150 points before turning 23, the first to do since since Simon Gagne.
The Giroux goal was scored at exactly the 10:00 mark of the 3rd period. I don't why I'm putting that here, but I think it's important or/and satisfying. Looks like Mike Eurizone's got company.
Claude Giroux has also cemented himself as a Leaf killer - and not just in shootouts. He now has 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) in 37 career games against Toronto.
Hayes' assist will make all the highlight reels, but arguably his best play of the night was ragging the puck for the final 20 seconds of a Toronto power play. You'd like a little more scoring for over $7 million per season, but plays like the latter are just as much a reason why the Flyers went out and signed Hayes last summer.
POG Helmet Standings Update!
Raff, Steady Eddie Nisky, Moose, TK - 2
Starter, JVR, Lindy, Coots, Phil, Frosty, Jake the Snake, Pitsy (Pitlick) - 1
The Flyers now have an 11-game point streak on home ice (7-0-4), their longest since a 12-0-2 run from November 16, 2008 to January 10, 2009 (per NHL PR). If that doesn't tell you what direction this team is trending, maybe the fact they're fifth in the entire NHL will. Wow, this team is good right now.
1st - Carter Hart (PHI) - .964 SV% (27/28), 1 GA on 1.88 xGA
2nd - Travis Konecny (PHI) - 1 Goal, 1 Assist, 92% Corsi, 98.7% xGF
3rd - Claude Giroux (PHI) - GWG, 88.46% Corsi, 88.1% xGF
TOR - 11/4 vs. COL (16-8-2)
PHI - 11/5 vs. ARI (16-9-4)
*Advanced Stats are 5-on-5 and via Naturalstattrick.com