PHILADELPHIA – This was cathartic for the Flyers.
By no means does it mean they have completely rebounded from their struggles. A shootout win doesn’t suddenly erase all the inconsistencies that have plagued the team. One complete game effort does not suddenly turn a team’s fortunes around.
But a 2-1 win against the Devils – shootout or not – after losing seven straight to that frustrating bunch from New Jersey –and doing it the way they did, was certainly a coming of age, and that’s good to see.
For playing the Devils is often aggravating; often frustrating; often inducing the yanking of one’s hair from one’s head one root at a time.
And the Flyers have often fallen into that New Jersey trap, being completely unnerved and unraveled by the Devils dastardly style.
On this night, it was different. On this night the Flyers did the things they needed to do. They were patient. They were smart. They were disciplined – mostly. They were sharp. They were competitive. And most importantly – their goalie was spot on.
Ilya Bryzgalov, somehow left off the star sheet, made 27 saves and was brilliant throughout the game, but especially in the third period and overtime, to secure his 13th victory of the season.
“We played a more patient game,” said Danny Briere. “The Devils are a team that can frustrate you. The last game we started forcing the issue especially when we were down a goal or two early in the game. We were trying to press on them and that's when you get in trouble, but today right from the get go we matched their intensity. We got better as the game went on.
“The most important part I think is we waited for our chances. We didn't force anything for no reason. It paid off for us in the shootout."
Matt Read and Claude Giroux each scored for the Flyers in the shootout while Bryzgalov poke-checked David Clarkson and forced a Patrik Elias shot wide after allowing a goal by Ilya Kovalchuk to secure the win for the Flyers.
“It was really needed,” said Max Talbot, who scored the Flyers first goal and has now scored three times in the last eight games after not scoring in the first 21 games of the season. “We talked about it at the start of the week. It was a must win, we lost the last one there so tonight was all about coming back and staying in the race.
“It’s fun. I think It’s a challenge. It’s the playoff race right now, its spring hockey and there are a lot of games left to be played but they’re all going to be as important as the others.”
Talbot finished off a pretty passing play that went from him to Matt Read to Simon Gagne and back to Talbot as Gagne showed his veteran savvy and waited patiently for the play to develop in front of him before slipping a pass to Talbot for the goal at the side of the net.
“It was a beautiful play,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “It is a fine line you walk between wanting rubber at the net and making good decisions with the puck. I think there were other times tonight where we tried to make those plays and New Jersey did a good job with their sticks in the defensive end and ends up turning it over and heading the other way.
“That one though, I think just by the lane that [Gagne] had to the net and the way he sold it opened up something else. He had his head up and he made a real nice play on it. So it was certainly the right choice at the right time.”
Aside from Bryzgalov and the overall improved play by a team that learned from what cost them just 48 hours earlier, the unsung hero for the Flyers in this game was the penalty kill.
The Flyers killed off all five Devils power plays, two huge ones in the third period but perhaps most importantly was a 5-on-3 situation in the first period with the game still scoreless.
“The penalty kill was very good tonight,” Laviolette said. “That was certainly one example. When you have to do it for two minutes, that’s a long time on the 5-on-3 and they have some big guns out there. It was a really nice job.
“Even more to the point was in the third period when our team needs to win a hockey game and they find themselves down and really did a good job eliminating chances at the end of the game on the penalty kill.”
With the win the Flyers (13-15-1, 27 points) climbed back to within three points of a playoff spot with 19 games remaining.
After an off day Saturday the Flyers will practice Sunday before flying to Tampa to take on the reeling Lightning and then have a rare stretch of five days off before resuming play the following Sunday in Pittsburgh.
And by then it will certainly be crunch time.
"I think from this point on for us they are only going to be must win [games],” Briere said. “Sadly we've put ourselves in a rough spot. There's no other way around it. We're not going to be allowed to drop too many games from here going out. I wish we could change some of the outcomes especially in the last week, but we can't change that anymore we've got to move forward.
“We can't worry about what happened last week. It's in the past. We have to look forward and try to win as many games [as possible].”
And if they learn from how they played tonight, they just might be able to win enough.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37