FFR2 Gm 67: CAR 1, PHI 4 - Cane Do Spirit
Only fifteen minutes of first tonight, but we'll be back for more soon enough.
The Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals are TIED with 87 points for 1st place in the Metropolitan Division. Sadly, because the Rangers blew a 5-4 lead in the last minute, allowing the Caps (who have the tiebreaker edge) to gain a point, putting the Flyers back into second place in the Metro.
But that doesn't discredit that the Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 4-1, over the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina is the third Metro team that the Flyers earned at least one point from every game this season (3-0-1). Last year, the Flyers went winless against the Canes, Caps, and Columbus; this year, they were undefeated against that trio in regulation (10-0-2).
This was a bit of a weird game in terms of rest. Generally, a team playing on the second half of a back-to-back is at a disadvantage, but the Hurricanes haven't played a game since Saturday. That rest is nice; Carolina will need it, as they have an insane March scheduled with back-to-backs every weekend. However, that much rest can translate to rust, and though the Hurricanes hung around physically, it was clear the Flyers were the more skilled team.
Granted, some of that has to do with injuries. The Flyers are without JVR, in addition to Patrick and Lindblom, but they have enough forward depth to survive. However, the Canes have lost their top two defensemen (Dougie Hamilton and Brett Pesce) for the season, and their top two goalies (James Reimer and Flyers legend Petr Mrazek) are also injured. Sami Vatanen, one of the d-man the Canes picked up to make up for those injuries, is also hurt as well and just suffered a set-back. With the current health situations, the Flyers are definitely the superior team on paper, and Thursday, they showed they were the same on the ice.
This game had the same playoff vibe that Wednesday's game did, as both teams were extremely physical early. Robert Hagg laid a crushing hit early in the game that got the crowd going, and players from both sides joined in on the hard-hitting fun. The referees were very lenient, calling just two penalties on the night (both on Carolina) and letting a lot of clear infractions go.
With Carolina's third-string goalie Alex Nedeljkovic getting the start, the Flyers had a great opportunity to put a crooked number up on the scoreboard, so long as they could get pucks to the net. It may be cliche, but it bore fruit late in the 1st, when Nedeljkovic left a big rebound in the slot from an Ivan Provorov wrister. Provy picked the puck up, dragged it to his backhand, and buried his thirteenth goal of the season, extending his four-game point streak and opening the scoring in one fell swoop.
The Flyers strong surge from the end of the 1st would continue in the 2nd. After a couple power-play attempts went for naught, the Flyers again turned to their outstanding depth for a critical goal. A quick transition from the third line saw Tyler Pitlick spring Michael Raffl on a breakaway pass, and the Austrian Rocket beat Nedeljkovic upstairs to double up the lead with eighth goal of the season!
However, as a game goes along, the team on the second half of a back-to-back usually wears down and is outplayed in the third. Even a team as good in the 3rd period as the Flyers can't avoid that forever. And so when Justin Williams buried a beautiful cross-crease feed after a broken play in the Flyers slot to cut the lead in half 2:55 into the third, it was understandable to think the Flyers lead might be in jeopardy.
And then came the clearest example of this new, wonderful feeling this season has had to date. The Flyers fourth line went to work on the forecheck, and got a little lucky when the puck slid of Brady Skjei's stick right into the slot. Nedeljkovic recovered in time to stop Nate Thompson, but had clearly lost his composure and technique. Seeing that, Nic Aube-Kubel called bank from below the goal-line, and the puck pin-balled off Nedeljkovic's left pad and in, restoring the two-goal lead.
That in itself counts as an amazing response. But the Flyers weren't done. The big boys decided they wanted in on the fun, and 26 seconds later, another Carolina turnover gave the Flyers a dangerous chance at the goal-mouth. Jake Voracek was stopped twice point-blank, but elite 1st line center Sean Couturier popped attempt lucky number three off the post and over a sprawling Nedeljkovic for his 22nd tally of the year. In less than half a minute, the Flyers went from nail-biting to high-fiving. The game was never in doubt from there on out.
Sure, it would be better if the Flyers were in first place all by themselves. I'd be lying if there isn't a tinge of dissatisfaction in me right now, especially with how close the Rangers were to winning in regulation. But if you're a little bummed because your team is only tied for first place in their division, they're probably playing alright. In fact, the Flyers might be just a little bit better than alright lately.
The bottom line is that if the Flyers continue playing like this the rest of the way, they'll put themselves in a great spot to go deep. Odds are they're not winning out, but it's the process that usually matters most in the regular season, especially when you're as far ahead of the cut-line (11 points) as the Flyers are right now. In may win them the Metro, it may not. But the Flyers are clearly firing on all cylinders right now.
Saturday against Buffalo will be a critical game for the Flyers. It's easy to look ahead at next week's measuring stick games against Boston and Tampa Bay and ignore the struggling Sabres. But great teams don't overlook their competition - they focus on the task at hand, and remember that the most important game is the next one on the schedule (and give hugs to Wayne Simmonds, that is also important). Every point matters in a race as tight as the one the Flyers are in right now. Just stay the Flyer way, and, for a change, everything will be alright.
Before the game, AV gave an update on JVR. van Riemsdyk broke his right index finger. Vigneault described it as similar to Scott Laughton's injury earlier in the season, which sidelined him from October 26 to November 23. The official timetable is four to six weeks; the playoffs start five weeks from last night.
The Flyers eight-game winning streak is their longest since January 14 - February 4, 2019. That win streak barely brought the Flyers back into playoff contention. This one has brought them to the top of the Metro. What a difference a year makes.
Ivan Provorov scored in consecutive games for the third time in his career, the first since Oct. 30 - Nov. 1, 2019 (at Anaheim and at LA). In the process, he extended his point streak to a season-high four games (three goals, two assists).
With van Riemsdyk hitting the shelf, the Flyers will need their depth to continue playing well. Joel Farabee had a solid first game back, but was unable to finish on a couple prime scoring chances. Scott Laughton continues to light it up - per the Inquirer's Sam Carchidi, Laughts has 9 points in his last 6 games after his two assist performance Thursday.
It was great night for the Flyers new guys. Derek Grant recorded another assist on Provy's goal, his third in the last five minutes. Nate Thompson had a helper as well, his first point as a Flyer. Both were solid in other areas as well, playing solid defense and holding their own. So far, so far good for Grant; Thompson has been more meh, but that was expected, and tonight was a nice step up for him.
Carter Hart was solid, not spectacular Thursday, but that's only because he didn't have to be. The Canes only generated a couple great chances, two of which saw defenseman Joel Edmundson miss the net. On all the others (except the fluky Williams goal), Hart held down the fort, even though most of his saves won't make a highlight reel.
POG Helmet Standings Update!
Also, find someone who looks at you the way Phil Myers looks at Ivan Provorov.
Moose, Da Snake - 4
Raff, Gobs, Teeks - 3
Steady Eddie, Coots, Laughts, Pitjet, #OskarStrong, Hollywood - 2
Starter, Phil, Snowman, Timon, Lyon King, Hagger, G, Unknown, Grant, Thompson, Provy - 1
1st - Scott Laughton (PHI) - 2 Assists (13, 14)
2nd - Ivan Provorov (PHI) - Goal (13)
3rd - Nicolas Aube-Kubel (PHI) - Goal (7)
CAR - 3/7 @ NYI (35-22-8, L3)
PHI - 3/7 vs. BUF (29-30-8, L5)