FFR2 Gm 43: PHI 4, CAR 5 (OT) - Raleigh Cap
What doesn't kill you makes you want to scream at your TV and throw a pillow across the room. And maybe a little bit stronger.
It doesn't take a genius to tell you that this has been a horrible, no good, very bad road trip for the Philadelphia Flyers. The club started this trip comfortably in a playoff spot, pushing for a spot that would grant them home-ice advantage to start the playoffs just eleven days ago. They ended in with a loss, 5-4, though it was in overtime, over the Carolina Hurricanes. After spending the last forty-eight hours on the outside looking in, the Flyers are back as the #8 seed in the East.
Trying just to merely hang on to that spot for dear life will almost certainly result in earlier than acceptable ending to the Flyers season. Just like trying to hang on to a 2-0 1st period lead, their first and only multi-goal edge of the road trip, backfired spectacularly. Yes, the Flyers were able to take advantage of some glaring Carolina miscues in the opening minutes. TK beat James Reimer from a spot no goalie should ever be beat from, and Michael Raffl lit the lamp off a beautiful slap-pass from Jake Voracek, benefiting from an egregious Haydn Fleury turnover to jump on top by two just 8:57 in.
Then they bent. And then they broke. Despite the two early goals, the Flyers never really controlled play for any extended part of the first period. Carolina easily could've tied the game between TK and Raffl's goals if not for a breakaway save by Elliott. It wouldn't take long for the game to be knotted up again, however; not even the rest of the period, as a matter of fact. Lucas Wallmark beat Elliott in a net-mouth scramble, and Warren Foegele went roof daddy after receiving a perfect pass from Jordan Staal. Carolina's stellar 68.29% Corsi and 1.73-0.69 edge in Expected Goals paid major dividends.
The second frame started equally lame as the Flyers completely their collapse thanks to two snipes from defensemen Jake Gardiner and Joel Edmundson. Gardiner's was a great look set up by the ever underrated Sebastian Aho, but Edmundson's was just an unscreened one-timer from the point that Elliott has to stop. Suddenly, the Flyers were on the verge of being blown out, just like they had been nearly every other game of the trip, setting up a fitting end to this road trip from hell.
Then, something weird happened. They responded, pushed back, answered the Hurricanes call. It didn't come easy, and it didn't come quick. But the Flyers never let the Hurricanes take control of the game. Carolina came close, but they were never able to Thanos snap the Flyers will and hockey abilities out of PNC Arena. Philly was able to cut the lead in half by the end of the period, thanks to a half-snipe, half-softie, courtesy of a NAK attack, Nicolas Aube-Kubel's 2nd NHL goal. Shayne Gostisbehere nearly made it all square before the final horn of the period, hitting the crossbar late in the frame.
Carolina, a notoriously fast-paced, offensively minded club, did a tremendous job of slowing down the game in the 3rd period. Neither team was able to generate much of anything; there were only four shots on goal COMBINED over the first 10 minutes of the 3rd. It may have looked the Flyers were a bit slow, but I don't think that was the case - the effort seemed like it was there, but other than a Carolina penalty the Flyers couldn't capitalize on (well, not legally - more on that below), their efforts had bore no fruit.
But as the clock ticked down, the Flyers play ramped up. They started to win more races to loose pucks, more battles along the boards, and started to spend more time in the offensive zone. However, it was going to take an act of sheer will for the Flyers to crack the Canes stellar defense and avoid their fifth regulation loss in their last six games.
Enter Sanman. Travis Sanheim took a cross-ice pass along the boards just outside the left face-off circle. Sanheim went for an absolute ride, swinging behind the Hurricanes net, coming out the other side, and turning to his forehand in the slot. James Reimer was just a bit off his angle and his left pad moved off the ice as he tried to stay with Sanheim. That inch was all Travis Sanheim needed to find the back of the net and tie the game 4-4!
While it was a huge goal, it would have been massive if the Flyers were able to finish their comeback off. By all means, they deserved to. The Flyers dominated 3-on-3, coming as close as inches away from victory when a Jake Voracek 2-on-1 one-timer dinged off the crossbar. In the end, the Flyers were dealt one more bad break that was too much to handle. Sanheim broke his stick defending, and Dougie Hamilton used him as a screen to beat Elliott and score the overtime winner.
That goal serves as the final bruise to a wounded Flyers team on this nightmare holiday road trip. They finished 1-4-1, and are now 3-17-2 in their last five road trips, which have become a tradition thanks to Disney on Ice stealing the Wells Fargo Center's spotlight. This trip has obviously done a number on Flyers, dealing blows to their health, their confidence, and their position in the standings. At this point, it's not just a bruise; it's a full-on scar.
But a scar is not a reminder of defeat. It is a reminder of survival. And that's exactly what the Flyers did in this road trip: they survived. The Philadelphia Flyers are not dead. Far from it, actually. They even still control their own destiny if that's a thing you were worried about in January. The Flyers are wounded, but a cure is not as far away as you think. And now they mercifully return to Philadelphia tomorrow night with a game against the powerhouse Washington Capitals.
I said on Sunday I don't think they'll win that game, and while I haven't necessarily changed my mind, they've got a greater chance they did when I said that. Hey, I said they'd lose this game, too - I was half-right, but also half-wrong. And I wouldn't hate to be full-wrong Wednesday night. These last six games have been annoying, frustrating, even depressing. But what happens is the next six is far more important. Don't forget that.
To add injury to insult, the Flyers are going to be without defenseman Justin Braun until at least the All Star break with a groin injury. Braun has quietly put together a good season, leading all Flyers blue-liners in Corsi and doing some great work on the PK. The Flyers will miss him. Robert Hagg took his spot tonight, and probably will for the entire absence, though it's possible someone from the Phantoms (Mark Friedman?) could get a look.
Some scary moments for the Flyers in the first period. Brian Elliott took a shot to the head as Lucas Wallmark deked to his backhand. He went down, and it looked like a concerned Carter Hart would have to enter the game, but Elliott stayed in. Then, moments later, Ivan Provorov took a shot to the face (perhaps saving a goal in process). He went down in a heap and play was blown dead, but he appeared to be fine and played out the game as well. His 289 games played streak should be fine for the time being.
Michael Raffl's first period goal broke a 24-game slump. It's his first goal since October 26 vs. Columbus.
Remember to cast your ballots for Claude Giroux as the Metropolitan Division's "last-man in" for the ASG. Vote up to 10 times a day through January 10 at NHL.com/vote
I have to give credit where credit's due. The "scar" line is not mine - it's from Steve Dangle, the popular hockey YouTuber/hockey Twitter and SportsNet personality/Leafs mega fan/the inspiration behind all 125 articles whose title starts with FFR. He coined it in one of his amazingly entertaining LFR videos a week or two ago. It's an amazing line, and one I knew would come in handy describing the Flyers at some point. I wish I didn't need to use it this soon, but alas.
3 Stars (Advanced Stats are 5-on-5)
1st - Dougie Hamilton (CAR) - OT Winner, 58.97% Corsi, 59% xGF
2nd - Jake Gardiner (CAR) - Goal, Assist, 60.87% Corsi, 60.83% xGF
3rd - Warren Foegele (CAR) - Goal, 58.82% Corsi, 73.11% xGF
PHI - 1/5 VS. (AT HOME!!!!) WSH (30-9-5, W3)
CAR - 1/10 vs. ARI (25-16-4, W4)
*Advanced Stats from Naturalstattrick.com