FFR2 Gm 61: PHI 4, CBJ 3 (OT) - Top Rope
Talk about a Hollywood ending!
For the second time in as many games, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 4-3, in OT, over the Columbus Blue Jackets. After overcoming two two-goal deficits, the Flyers have swept the season series against CBJ for the first time in franchise history.
When Flyers fans talk about the "different feeling" the 2019-20 season has, this game is exactly what they mean. Last season, the Flyers lost all four games against the Blue Jackets. On Thursday night, defenseman Justin Braun sat with the flu, backup goalie Brian Elliott started, and the Flyers found themselves down 2-0 nine minutes into the game.
The first ten minutes of the game were the very definition of weird. Oliver Bjorkstrand lifted a shot 44 seconds into the game that everyone in the building thought caught the safety netting. Turns out, it hit the other net - the one Brian Elliott was supposed to defend. The puck lodged itself in the top of the net, and upon replay the Blue Jackets became the second team in Brian Elliott's last three starts to beat him with their first shot.
If the first goal was ugly, the second goal was flat out beautiful. Nick Foligno poked a bouncing puck away from Ivan Provorov for a partial breakaway. Moose went for the poke-check, but Foligno went all L1-R3-right stick up, shooting the puck through his own legs to make his 900th NHL game one to remember.
But just 23 seconds later, the Flyers would respond. Apparently, the Flyers bench took a second look at the Bjorkstrand goal and decided, "anything they can do, we can do better!" Travis Sanheim flipped a puck to the net that bounced off Travis Konecny, who was in the process of drawing a penalty, and...where did it go? Nobody knows - oh wait, it's a goal! Travis Konecny's goal total can now legally drink - *clinks glass* - and the Flyers were right back in it.
However, after scoring on their first shot on goal in the first period, the Blue Jackets slacked off in the second and decided to wait until their third shot to light the lamp. Boone Jenner flipped a shot that appeared to squeak through Elliott, but on further reviewed was tipped in by Stefan Matteau. Who has been under contract for two days. Who hasn't scored a goal in the NHL since DECEMBER 2015. "And what team did he score that goal against," you ask-oh come on, you already know the answer.
So the Flyers are trailing by two goals against a divisional rival that allows barely two goals a game at home and would leap them in the standings with a regulation win? Guess it's comeback time. Even with their depleted lineup, the Blue Jackets still have a great structure and commitment to defense that slows down even the quickest offenses. But leave it up to a NAK attack at full-speed through the neutral zone and a snipe through the legs of CBJ defenseman Vadislav Gavrikov and glove-side on Merzlikins to cut the lead in half! Nicolas Aube-Kubel's fifth goal of the season was a thing of beauty, and it tipped the scales in Philly's favor.
Less than two minutes after NAK's tally, Foligno took a penalty, sending the Flyers to their first (and only) power-play of the night. It started with a weird formation, as Claude Giroux stood on the right face-off circle, a spot he has struggled at for most of the season. No sooner did I voice my displeasure than the sound of a puck that must have been shot out of a cannon (it is Columbus after all) going off the post and in. Coots found G with a slick below the goal-line pass, and the Flyers all-time power-play assist leader figured he'd get started on the goals record, tying the score at 3!
The third period was nothing short of a total clock watch. The Flyers took two penalties in the final minute of the 3rd - a confusing extra minor on a Sanheim-Gerbe fight, the other a total make-up call on Hayes after the refs missed a blatant two-handed slash by Matt Niskanen. However, with some help from Elliott (who's best save actually came during the 5-on-4), the Flyers killed the whole thing off. Columbus controlled the beginning part of the third, though the Flyers evened out the play as the period progressed.
Then, before the heart-attack that is 3-on-3 overtime, a near nightmare. Elliott missed a pass to Provorov that led to Oliver Bjorkstrand getting the puck all alone less than five feet away from the goal-line. Elliott once again challenged the shooter, this time prevailing with a clutch poke-check. It didn't exactly help the puck dribbled into the crease with Elliott's momentum taking him to the far post, but Provy was able to clear the puck out to center with the tie still intact.
Both the Flyers and Blue Jackets have plenty of experience in 3-on-3 this season, this being the 37th combined game the teams have played more than 60 minutes. The Flyers controlled play for most of the extra session, but found themselves being a little pass-happy once they worked into the high-danger areas. Then, with just under two minutes to go in OT, Kevin Hayes took a stretch pass up the right-wing and cut into the slot. Defenseman David Savard decided he didn't want to cover Barstool Sport's Hart pick and tried to switch with Nick Foligno. Foligno was too slow in completing the poorly organized switch, allowing Hayes to walk into the slot, pick his target, and close the game out with a glove-side snipe!
Kevin Hayes, championship belt celebration and all, from the top rope to top the Blue Jackets for the second time in three days! It's Hayeser's second overtime winner of the season (his first was the only victory of the holiday road-trip in Anaheim) and the fifth for the Flyers this season, keeping the Flyers at third in the Metropolitan Division.
After the dust settled, a lot of people have started looking up in the standings. The Capitals and Penguins are currently tied for first in the Metro with 80 points (Pittsburgh has the tie-breaker, playing 59 games to Washington's 60). That's only five more points than Philadelphia (61 games). "Two weeks ago we were battling for the wild card," Kevin Hayes said post-game (it was more like two days, Kevin). Now we’re battling for home-ice."
Listen, I love the aggressiveness. If you're the Flyers, the goal should absolutely be to finish as high in the standings as possible. Home-ice advantage in the playoffs would be amazing. But making it there is far from a guarantee. Despite these two huge wins, the Flyers are just two points clear of Columbus (WC1) and three ahead of Carolina (WC2), Toronto (3rd in the Atlantic), and the Islanders (out of a playoff spot for the first time since October). Florida and the Rangers aren't far behind.
Right now, I think it's best for the Flyers to just stayed focused on their own game, and I'm sure they are. It's easy to be caught looking ahead, and no one wants that to happen. Maybe that's just the nerves of the stretch run overtaking my judgment, but that's my gut feeling. If the Flyers maintain their focus and continue to play their game (just clean up those first periods, boys), they'll give themselves a great chance of not just making the playoffs, but beginning them in advantageous position. If there's anything we know, the 2019-20 Flyers are a tough team, and when the going gets tough, the tough get winning.
Expect a Flyers news update article tonight or tomorrow morning - there have been many off-ice events recently, too many to cover here.
The Flyers and Blue Jackets are trending in opposite directions on special teams, and it showed in the home-and-home. The Flyers new look PP was a perfect two-for-two. Columbus' power play, which is 1 for its last 14, went 0-3 Thursday and 1-6 overall. Philadelphia's PK (17 for its last 18) shut them down.
There's just something about Orange and Black that seems to transcend Nick Foligno to another level. The Jackets captain hadn't scored in his last thirteen games; he now has 17 goals in 42 career games against the Flyers, his highest total against any team.
Not only have the Flyers used a lot of rookies (eleven) this season, they've gotten a lot out of them. Philadelphia rookies have combined for 60 points this season, the fifth most in the NHL.
Claude Giroux has been a man on a mission lately. The Flyers captain has four goals and eight assists in a season high seven-game point streak.
With the Flyers and Blue Jackets always hovering around the bubble for most of the last few seasons, it's no surprise they usually play close games. For the eleventh time in their last twelve meetings, the game was decided by one goal. Thursday was the ninth time in that span the game has required overtime.
No POG Helmet Tweet by the Flyers for this game. Will update the standings assuming we get a look at Thursday's winner after the next win (how about tomorrow? I'd be down).
1st - Kevin Hayes (PHI) - OT-Winning Goal (19), Assist (16)
2nd - Nick Foligno (CBJ) - Goal (7), Assist (19)
3rd - Travis Konecny (PHI) - Goal (21), 2 Assists (32, 33)
PHI - 2/22 vs. WPG (32-25-5, W3)
CBJ - 2/22 @ NSH (29-23-7, L1)