PHILADELPHIA – There’s no question the odds were stacked against them.
The Flyers were down two goals. They had been trailing by two or more goals this season nine times. They came back to win the game exactly once.
They trailed heading into the third period. With that being the case the team was 0-7-0 this season.
And, they got off to yet another horrible start and got behind early again, which was somewhat alarming coming off a loss at home two days earlier against Florida.
But for once, the Flyers didn’t let the trends get in their way. For once they bucked the system. For once they tuned the tables on their own demise.
And they did so by scoring four unanswered goals, and netting three on the power play as they defeated the Winnipeg Jets 5-3 in a physical Saturday afternoon contest at the Wells Fargo Center.
The two teams combined for 73 hits, three fights and 18 penalties in a game that certainly had more of an urgency-driven tone than the loss to Florida.
Brayden Schenn had a big game, scoring twice and adding an assist. Jake Voracek stayed white hot with three assists, running his total to 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in the last five games. And Wayne Simmonds registered his second Gordie Howe hat trick in three games. By contrast Howe himself only accomplished the feat named after him twice… in his entire career.
As for Voracek, his offensive production is through the roof lately. He became the first Flyer since Peter Forsberg in 2005 to register at least 12 points in five consecutive games and vaulted himself into the NHL scoring race as well. He is tied for fifth in the league with 22 points and is only three points behind scoring leader Thomas Vanek of Buffalo.
And it was a stellar comeback for the Flyers, who really made some pretty passes to set up their tying and winning goals, but it didn’t start so well. Not so well at all.
“Well the first ten minutes weren’t pretty, but after that I thought we took over the game,” said Danny Briere, who had a good seat for the game, playing less than nine minutes because of special teams circumstances. “We didn’t give them much. It was pretty amazing the way we stuck with the game. The first ten minutes I think we had one shot on net, and then after that we just started coming. It was a complete effort, after the first ten minutes.
“They came out hard. I think we talk about our starts all the time, we were on our heels, afraid to make mistakes. All the sudden it’s like, we’re in the hole already, and we’re down 1-0, let’s see what we can do. I think that’s what happened here.”
Evander Kane scored that first goal when a wrap-around effort by Nik Antropov was aborted because of a bouncing puck.
Antropov had to stop on a dime and slide the puck back in the direction it came, only Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov kept going with the original move allowing Kane to tap it in easily for the first goal.
That came in the middle of a dreadful span at the start of the first period. At the 10:17 point in the game, the Flyers were being outshot 12-1.
As for the rest of the period, they outshot Winnipeg 16-0 – and were able to tie the score to boot.
Schenn was Johnny-on-the-spot to tie the score when Danny Briere fired a shot that Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec saved, but Briere poked it through his pads and Schenn was on the back door to dunk it home.
Of course, this was all motivated by a good fight between Simmonds and Chris Thorburn, which seemed to spark the Flyers.
Yet, despite the lopsided play in which the Flyers spent the entire second half of the first period in the Jets’ end, they couldn’t beat Pavelec a second time.
This allowed Winnipeg to regroup, and in the second period they struck twice for goals.
First it was Olli Jokinen with a surprise turn-around shot to beat Bryzgalov to the five-hole, and that was followed by a nice deflection by Alex Burmistrov that stretched it to 3-1.
“You know, he caught me on the movement,” said Bryzgalov, who improved to 9-8-1 this season by making 34 saves, of the Jokinen goal. “I just stopped and in that time he took the shot. I was not set yet for the shot because I followed him and I didn’t stop fast enough.”
But the Flyers clawed back within a goal when Claude Giroux fired a slapper from the top of the left circle past Pavelec on a 5-on-3 advantage for the Flyers to make it 3-2.
Which set up the third period – and the emergence of the Flyers power play.
“We just said in the second intermission, we have to be able to thrive in situations like this,” Schenn said. “Whether we are up 3-2 or down 3-2, we have to find a way to win hockey games and tonight we did. It was a huge two points to keep on climbing up in the standings, clawing our way back to a playoff spot.”
Schenn scored the tying goal on a power play after Giroux made a sick dangle at the blue line to get the puck to Voracek who threw a no-look pass into the slot and right onto Schenn’s stick for a wrister that beat Pavelec.
A little more than two minutes later, the Flyers were back on the power play and this time it was Schenn on the giving end of a pretty pass, deking brilliantly to get Pavelec to slide out of position before dishing off to Simmonds for an easy stuffer.
The power play was 3-for-6 in the game, while the penalty kill wiped out all four chances for the Jets, which continued a very telling trend.
In the nine games the Flyers have won this season, the power play is 13-for-38, or 34.2 percent. In the 11 losses (including the shootout loss) the power play is 4-for-44 (9.1 percent).
Conversely, the penalty kill has killed 36-of-40 in the wins (90 percent) and just 34-of-45 in the losses (75.6 percent).
Says a lot, no?
Zac Rinaldo (12 hits in the game) finished off the scoring with an empty-net goal with one second to play and the Flyers (9-10-1, 19 points) vaulted into the No. 8 position in the Eastern Conference – for the time being – as both the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning could pass them with a win tonight.
Nevertheless, it was an important victory for the orange and black.
“There was a different attitude in there today,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “It’s easier when you have the energy, the jump, and when you’re not coming off of that game in Pittsburgh the night before. We needed to be a little sharper and play better than we did against the Panthers and we didn‘t.
“The guys got the rest they needed. They came out today and played a much more spirited game… The guys didn’t quit at times and we kept going.”
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