Through All the Excitement, Flyers Stay in the Moment
Through 40 minutes of Thursday’s game, the Flyers were doing exactly what they needed to do against the Hurricanes. In fact, the entire second period may have been one of their best in recent memory, completely shutting down the opposition and scoring another goal to extend their lead to two. An eighth straight win was certainly in their sights.
But for most of the year, Alain Vigneault and company have talked about the parity of the league and how many good teams there are in the league. With Carolina battling for their playoff lives with every game now, it’s easy to forget that this team dubbed a “bunch of jerks” a season ago reached the Eastern Conference Final. So with the Flyers legs expected to become weary in the final period of a back-to-back and a much-fresher Carolina team likely turning up the heat, there would probably be some point of survival for the Flyers.
So when Justin Williams was on the receiving end of a friendly bounce that finally allowed the Hurricanes to solve Carter Hart and get on the board, the Flyers were going to be tested to stay the course again.
It is one of the qualities about the Flyers that has not only made them a contender in the league, but made them such a likable group. In years past, a goal for the opposition at that spot may have set the stage for even more of a desperate push with the Flyers sitting back and hanging on for dear life. Instead, the Flyers took full advantage of a bad turnover by Carolina just over two minutes later and, smelling blood, added another insurance goal 26 seconds after that.
Game. Set. Match.
It was smooth sailing for the Flyers from there, as they secured their eighth straight win and briefly moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division as they awaited the final result from Washington’s game in New York against the Rangers.
Before you can even look to the rest of the division, it’s important to note how often those in-game situations of adversity have come up just over the eight-game winning streak alone. The Flyers streak started with a win over Columbus on home ice on Feb. 18 with a rather convincing 5-1 win on the scoreboard, despite the team saying it was not their best performance. In the second game of the streak, the Flyers fell behind 2-0 and 3-1 in Columbus before rallying and scoring the overtime win.
The next four wins didn’t come without small moments either. The Flyers were locked in a 3-2 game with Winnipeg for most of the third period before an insurance goal tilted it in their favor. They came out of the first period of their game against San Jose, one day after the Sharks were clear deadline sellers, in a tie and pulled away with a strong second and third. They allowed the first goal of the game to the Rangers last Friday only to come back and score the next five. They took a 4-0 lead on the Rangers on Sunday and were ahead 5-1 before two quick power-play goals made it a game again.
It’s not like the games the Flyers have played haven’t been close. There have been moments that can tilt the ice in either direction. Carolina’s goal early in the third had that potential. And it’s not just that the Flyers are coming out of those situations unscathed. It’s that they are getting contributions from the unsung heroes of the lineup in the bottom-six. That is a quality that you find in top teams that make a run.
“Yeah, I think so,” Sean Couturier said, “especially when you’ve got third and fourth line guys contributing, scoring some big goals. I think it just relaxes the whole lineup. Our depth is really good right now, everyone’s going and it’s different lines making the difference each game. Good teams down the road, when they make playoff pushes, they have those depth players that make differences and tonight was another example of that.”
It is a mindset that Vigneault has put into this team. Adversity strikes in all different ways over the course of a game. It’s rare to see a team play perfect hockey over 60 minutes. There may be one or two small moments that go against you, maybe leading to a goal, and the challenge is overcoming them. Thursday was just another example of the growth the Flyers have shown as a team.
“That’s definitely the response that we’re looking for as a group,” Vigneault said. “You talk about building, talk about growing, that’s the response that we needed right there, not to play on our heels but to go North-South and that’s what we did. We capitalized on one of their mistakes and made a great play on our fourth goal.”
For a few fleeting moments, the Flyers had completed the ascent to the top of the Metropolitan Division, hockey’s most competitive this season. When the horn sounded on the Flyers 4-1 win over Carolina, there were seven minutes remaining in Washington’s game against the Rangers and the two teams were locked in a 4-4 tie. The Rangers scored with 1:42 to play on a power play. The Capitals tied it with 43 seconds remaining to force overtime and get the point that made it a tie atop the Metro.
By virtue of tiebreakers, the Capitals edge out the Flyers for the true division lead, but the Flyers are now right there knocking on the door with 16 games remaining in the regular season. For as level-headed and as focused as the Flyers have been on the task at hand and staying in the moment in every game, notably when adjustments have to be made, it’s only natural that some of the excitement is setting in.
“I think it’s quite normal for everybody to be excited. Players, coaches, Flyers fans, hockey fans,” Vigneault said. “This is great hockey. The competition is unreal and we’re playing well right now, so everybody should be excited.”
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.