PHILADELPHIA – At no point did the Flyers ever focus on a .500 record, but, if it’s a checkpoint on the way to where they want to go, they’ll take it.
And they’ll take a scrappy 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday in a game that was close, tight, chippy, emotional and downright entertaining.
It was a match between two goalies playing a game of can-you-top-this? It was the kind of game that breeds in March, intensifies in April, and becomes legend in May and June.
That is to say, there was a lot on the line, it was a game filled with contempt and, no matter what it was going to come down to the bitter end.
And on this day, Ilya Bryzgalov was just a little better than his opponent Ben Bishop.
On this day both penalty kills were flawless. On this day the Flyers got a win to get back to .500 … in their seventh try this season.
And they rode the back of Bryzgalov, who in this season of retribution has been the most reliable Flyer, and were able to come away with two points because he was able to turn aside 33 shots, including 14 in an opening period that looked to belong to Ottawa.
“I think he has been playing well all season,” said Wayne Simmonds, who scored the game-winning goal for the second straight game and third in the last four. “So, he stole a couple for us already this year, and tonight was another one.
“He got his confidence back. You can tell when a goalie has his confidence nothing really fazes him. He’s calm in the crease. He’s observing pucks and he’s playing really well.”
Bryzgalov made big save after big save, including one on a breakaway by Erik Condra. He also had Patrick Weircioch’s number thwarting all six big blasts from the big-gunned defenseman.
“Bryz was really good,” said coach Peter Laviolette. “The first period we had lots of chances to score goals but you know we made some mistakes early on as well and he was sharp early and then at the end as well.”
Bryzgalov, who picked up career win No. 200, also came up with 11 third period saves, many of which came with the Senators pressing to tie the game.
“He’s playing very well,” said Jake Voracek, who scored the first Flyers goal. “I think he’s our best player right now and all through the season we had many ups and downs but he remained the same. He’s been very good for us, very solid and he won us a couple of games; so it’s huge.
“It’s not easy when everyone thinks you’re not doing well or everyone blames you. This year he’s playing pretty well; like I said he very solid and his confidence is higher than last year and it’s showing on the ice.”
Bishop did his best to match Bryzgalov by making 39 saves for the Sens, but he just let in one more goal – and that was the difference.
After a scoreless first period, Voracek got the Flyers on the board with his ninth goal of the season when he gathered a loose puck, blew past Dave Dziurzynski and snapped a shot through Bishop to make it 1-0.
As big as Bishop is (6-foot-7) there’s not a lot of room to shoot the puck, but if you shoot five hole, you have a chance – and with the way Voracek has been shooting lately, odds are even better.
“Shooting wise, I don’t think I’m more confident than I was last year,” Voracek said. “I feel the same; I’m just shooting the puck more. That’s obviously creating more chances and we’re picking up more points.”
A few minutes later Simmonds scored what would be the game winner when he took a beauty of a pass from Brayden Schenn, cut hard on Bishop and slid it between his pads for 2-0.
Marc Methot was able to fire a slapper over Bryzgalov’s glove later in the second period to get the Sens within a goal, but that was the only blemish in an otherwise strong game for Bryzgalov.
The Flyers penalty kill remained superb, killing off all five chances by the Senators but the power play struggled, going 0-for-5 itself and failing to generate much of anything with a two minute five-on-three situation in the third period.
Still, the Flyers, (11-11-1, 23 points) moved back into the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference with the win and will look to hold onto that spot next week with a three-game gauntlet forthcoming against the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh and Boston.
However, it is a test the team feels it’s prepared for.
“I think these are the games we have to get comfortable with, obviously,” Simmonds said. “Especially trying to make a playoff push and all. I think a lot of games going down to the back half of the season are going to be like that. So, obviously we need to get comfortable in games like that. We’ve been fighting to get to .500 for a long time and we can’t stop now. We just have to keep going ahead.”
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