FFR2 Gm 66: PHI 5, WSH 2 - The Tough Get Goaling
The going has already gotten tough. And we're still standing strong.
One injury, two fights, five goals, and countless scrums later, the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 5-2 over the Washington Capitals. It may have been "just another" regular season game, but you could easily mistake this for a playoff game. On the day one month before the final day of the regular season, tonight's intensity and physicality was heightened to levels few regular season games can match, even one between divisional rivals fighting for seeding.
And not just any seed. We're talking first in the Metropolitan Division, a spot the Capitals have occupied four straight seasons. It guarantees home-ice advantage for the first two rounds (if you can make it there, says Caps fans deeply disturbed from years of heartbreak, albeit most healed by their 2018 Cup). It's also a source of pride, and in theory, it gives you one of the two easiest first round match-ups (again, that doesn't always play out as panned). But it's never a bad thing to have the odds on your side. Winning the division does just that.
Who would've thought the Flyers would be serious contenders to do that? With all the adversity this season has had - losing Oskar to cancer, Nolan to migraines, and other key pieces at random for multi-week stretches, being in the hunt for the Metro crown would have sounded like a pipe dream in October.
I wasn't crazy about starting Brian Elliott tonight. Carter Hart could have really benefitted from another strong road start, and the Capitals have more firepower than the also good Hurricanes. And it's not like Elliott (.894 save percentage entering play) has been Vezina worthy on the road. But it proved to be the right decision, as Elliott had a strong start and never slowed down, stopping 25 of 27.
It took no time for the game to escalate from zero to one hundred. Call it chippy, feisty, physical, whatever you want - the point is, both teams were throwing the body and going at it after (and sometimes during) play. Barry Trotz once said the difference between the regular season and the playoffs is that in the playoffs, "everybody hits." Everybody hit tonight, from puck drop to the final horn. Nate Thompson and Robert Hagg fought Tom Wilson after big hits, the second coming after Wilson tried to cheap-shot Claude Giroux (shocker for him, I know). It was a game like no other the Flyers have played this season.
Yet despite maybe being a little out of their element, the Flyers found their footing after another iffy start and increasingly dominated as the game progressed. Lars Eller struck off the rush late in the 1st, beating Derek Grant to the middle and Brian Elliott stick side. Then the second period began, and the Capitals took a penalty. The Flyers didn't score, but began to pressure. Then the Capitals took another penalty. The Flyers pressure increased, but they still didn't score. Then the Capitals took another penalty. And the Flyers pressured, pressured, and...scored?
*Rolls eyes* "nO gOaL" - Refs
Travis Konecny shot this puck out of a netmouth scramble, and even though everybody in the building knew the puck was in, there wasn't a replay angle where the puck could be seen. Except this one, which NBC didn't bother to show until after the refs had already confirmed the no-goal call. It's safe to say every Flyers fan was infuriated by this call. But there's two ways to go about it. Sure, you can sulk and pout and blame the officials for costing you the game.
Or you can score the goal you rightfully deserve less than a minute later! On the same power-play, Travis Konecny swatted in the rebound of a Provorov point-shot to keep the Flyers power-play red-hot, tying the score in the process. The Flyers depth would follow TK's example. Moments later, an incredible, over 9000 hockey IQ kick pass by Derek Grant set up Kevin Hayes for a tap-in backdoor. Less than three minutes later, the Capitals were caught so far back the Flyers literally had a FIVE-on-two. Michael Raffl sauced a cross-crease pass that must have landed in a Chuck E. Cheese, because it's time to throw a Pitlick Party!
Pitsy's eighth goal of the season put the Flyers up by a comfortable two goals. But before the Flyers could kick their feet up at intermission, the Caps took advantage of an over-aggressive Scott Laughton, and Garnet Hathaway went bar-down on a 2-on-1. By this point, the game was firmly in playoff mode. Both sides were throwing late hits, most of which went uncalled, even though the refs handed out ten power-plays in the contest (five for each side). It seemed like the grind-it-out, tight-checking style would continue in the third, meaning the Flyers would have to survive a war of attrition against one of the deepest, most talented teams in the league.
But it wouldn't take long for the Flyers to get flashy. Just a few minutes into the period, Jake Voracek took a beautiful pass flying down the slot. Braden Holtby stopped his five-hole shot, but that chance had the Flyers buzzing. Just a few minutes later, Voracek found Ivan Provorov at full-speed in the same spot and nothing but open ice ahead. Ivan the Archer took out his bow-and-arrow and sniped it top shelf, allowing him to pull it out again for a downright sick celly, doubling up the Flyers lead!
After TK and Hayes hit iron in the third, Scott Laughton drove home the dagger with a centering pass that banked off a Washington skate and in. Elliott and the penalty kill held down the fort the rest of the way. The Flyers more than hung with the Caps physicality, but also never fell too far into playing Washington's game. Tonight capped off a dominant season series that saw the Flyers finish 3-0-1, allowing zero power-play goals and ZERO Alex Ovechkin points for the first time ever. Just more symbols of an incredible season that still has a long way to go. And I mean that as a reason to be excited. Wow, they're good.
Sadly, it's not all sunshine and rainbows for the Flyers. James van Riemsdyk broke his right hand blocking a shot in the first period. Obviously, that's a huge loss. JVR has 19 goals on the year, is a premier net-front presence, and has been playing really well on the third line with Pitlick on his right and Grant (previously Laughton) down the middle. AV said the severity/timetable has not yet been determined. Prayers that the injury doesn't require surgery; it that's the case, JVR could (maybe even should) be ready for the playoffs.
In response to JVR's injury, Joel Farabee has been re-called from the Phantoms. The Flyers are down to to two non-emergency call-ups remaining for the rest of the regular season, assuming the Flyers don't/can't qualify this as an emergency promotion.
Tom Wilson has a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the NHL. Apparently it's rubbed off on his teammates. The Caps were laying questionable hit after questionable hit all night long and mostly getting away with it. It was nice to see Wilson called for an instigator for challenging a fight after a clean-hit, and Brendan Dillon receive the lone penalty for a scrum caused by an after the whistle boarding of Scott Laughton.
Flyers defensemen have scored 43 goals this season (Ivan Provorov has 12 on his own), the most of any team in the NHL. Crazy they've done that with Ghost having such a down year.
The first shot that Travis Konecny took will probably start counting as soon as this year's playoffs, when sensors will be put into every single puck that allow its location to be tracked at all times. The puck Konecny actually put in the net (technically, probably still the same puck as before) was his 24th of the season, tying a career-high.
Speaking of goal-scoring records, The Flyers have scored at least four goals in seven straight games. It's the first time they've had such a streak since an eight game stretch from January 7 - January 24, 1993.
After a dismal start on the road (highlighted by three straight loses after the Lindblom diagnosis and going 1-4-1 after Christmas), the Flyers are 7-2-1 in their last ten road games, winning four straight away from the WFC.
POG Helmet Standings Update!
Moose, Da Snake - 4
Raff, Gobs, Teeks - 3
Steady Eddie/Steadzo Glensky (gotta love it), Coots, Laughts, Pitjet (finally gave him a proper nickname), #OskarStrong, Hollywood - 2
Starter, Phil, Snowman, Timon, Lyon King, Hagger, G, Unknown, Grant, Thompson (again, we'll work on a nickname) - 1
You probably know this by now, but here's an artist rendering of Tom Wilson:
I apologize to any trash cans I may have offended with this comparison.
EDIT: Almost forgot this gem!
Can't argue with the facts.
1st - Kevin Hayes (PHI) - Goal (23), Assist (18)
2nd - Ivan Provorov (PHI) - Goal (12), Assist (23)
3rd - Derek Grant (PHI) - 2 Assists (8, 9)
PHI - 3/5 vs. CAR (35-24-5, OTL1)
WSH - 3/5 @ NYR (35-27-4, L3)