It's official. The Flyers are playoff bound.
With Carolina already clinching over the weekend and Pittsburgh playing Tampa tonight, we knew a win was important tonight. We knew that it wasn't going to be easy, with a desperate Florida team coming in to face off against our Flyers. Simply put, Philadelphia needed to take care of its business.
Well, Carolina and Pittsburgh both won. In fact, the Hurricanes scored enough goals for three wins in a 9-0 win over the Islanders, but thankfully the standings don't work that way. The Penguins barely hung on to beat Tampa 6-4, but with their win they also clinched a playoff spot tonight.
And Florida didn't make things any easier for the Flyers. They came out in the first period and played like the desperate team that they are. They controlled the offensive flow in the first period, but thanks to solid defensive play by Philadelphia and superb goaltending from Martin Biron, the Panthers were kept off the scoreboard.
They would break through early in the second though on a Brent MacLean goal, but that would be the end of the Florida offense. It seemed to wake the Flyers up, and from then on, the ice was definitely tilted in favor of Philadelphia. Shift after shift, the chances just piled up for the Flyers, and with about four minutes left in the period, Joffrey Lupul broke through. His 24th goal of the season deflected off his skate, hit the far post, and bounced off of Panther goalie Tomas Vokoun to tie the game at 1.
The pressure continued through the intermission and into the third period, where the Flyers reeled off six straight shots before the Panthers could even get one chance on Biron. Seven and a half minutes into the third, Jeff Carter picked the loose puck up in the corner, walked to the goal line, and somehow found the back of the net from an almost impossible angle. Vokoun may have misplayed it, perhaps not expecting Carter to shoot, but I mean come on. He should've known better. His 45th (!) goal of the year made it 2-1 Flyers, and that's how it would stand as the final horn sounded.
Andrew Alberts was the unsung hero of this game. Leading up to the Carter game winner, he had several furious shifts full of excellent defensive work, timely hitting, and even a shot that rang off of the post. When playoff time comes, you need different guys stepping up every night. It's nice when a guy like Alberts, who for whatever reason rarely gets praise, has a great outing.
Alberts' impact was probably magnified by the absence of Ryan Parent. He left in the second period with one of those mysterious lower body injuries and did not return, forcing the Flyers to rotate five guys on defense for the remainder of the game. Parent was seen in the locker room following the game in street clothes and did not appear to have any significant injury. Coach John Stevens didn't seem too concerned, either.
"He was just playing the game," Stevens said when asked about how Parent sustained the injury. Wow, really John? "He's got a lower body injury... but I don't think it's going to be too serious."
Good to hear, as Parent is a major piece of the defense heading into the playoffs.
While the news is obviously great news for us, it's a serious blow to the Panthers' playoff chances. The Rangers, who came in to the night tied in points with Florida, defeated Montreal 3-1 at MSG to take sole possession of eighth place. They also stopped the Habs from clinching a playoff spot with the victory.
Now, ironically, as I mentioned in the pregame, the Panthers fate falls in the Flyers hands. With two games remaining between Philly and the Rangers, two Flyer wins could be all the help Florida needs to secure it's first playoff berth since 1999/2000. They're Flyer fans in South Florida for the next couple of days, considering the Rangers can clinch a spot of their own with a win over the Flyers on Thursday in NYC. Personally, I love seeing the Rangers in agony, and the Panthers franchise really needs playoff hockey to help out their situation. So let's help them out, end the Rangers season, and take home ice advantage with us, shall we, Flyers?
All in all, I thought tonight was an excellent all around effort from our boys. When the offense had some trouble getting going, the defense was there to bail them out. They took care of their business and kept pace with the rest of the pack. That's how teams win come playoff time, and now we can say we're officially invited to the party.
Questions With Answers
- Does Florida get off to a weak start, and do the Flyers jump on it? The Panthers had been struggling with weak starts, but they didn't have one tonight. The Flyers were able to weather the storm, however.
- 60 minute effort? I'd say so. The effort was solid, although the offense was definitely flat in the first. I'd say that had more to do with Florida simply seizing the momentum right off the bat than the Flyers not wanting it, though.
- We're back to this again: does Biron give up a softy? Nope, Marty was solid as well. The only goal he allowed was legitimate.
- Jeff Carter wins the Bobby Clarke Trophy? Nope. It goes to Mike Richards, and I mean, really, it's hard to argue that one. It was pretty much a toss-up. I still believe that Carter deserved it, but I don't think we should lose any sleep over it.
13 trips to the playoffs in 14 years. Go Flyers.