One would probably have to be a most optimistic Flyers fan to look at the game the Flyers had played on Wednesday night in Brooklyn and thought from there that the Flyers had a good chance at sweeping two games this weekend -- with the second being in a building where the Flyers haven't won since February 2011. And yet, hey, look where we are now!
A tremendous team performance in the final 40 minutes and an offensive breakthrough from a line that's played some excellent hockey in recent weeks was exactly what the Flyers needed, and the end result was a 3-0 win in Madison Square Garden, the place that's given them nightmares for five seasons now. The win was the Flyers' first regulation win since November 7, and it could not have come at a much better time or setting.
What was actually a fairly good start for the Flyers went haywire about halfway through the opening frame, as New York defenseman Dylan McIlrath laid a massive (and clean) hit on Nick Schultz. The hit was quickly followed by Luke Schenn jumping to his teammate's defense by fighting McIlrath -- a noble gesture by Schultz's teammate, but one that was almost certainly unnecessary given that the hit was clean.
With Schultz out for the remainder of the game and Schenn sitting in the box for 17 minutes, what ensued was probably one of the rougher stretches the Flyers have played in a while, as New York consistently kept the puck hemmed in to the Philadelphia end for most of the remainder of the first period while the Flyers got almost nothing going in the way of offense. It looked like a familiar script may have started to play out yet again.
But that's not what happened! After killing off a penalty at the start of the second period, the Flyers -- without Schultz -- turned up the heat on their division rivals, with every line spending some time in the Rangers' zone at different points. Having seen the Flyers struggle against their bitter rivals so frequently as these games drag on, it was nothing short of heartwarming to see them outshoot the Rangers 18-7 in the middle frame.
And yet despite what was a fairly well-rounded effort, it was the Flyers' second line of Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, and Matt Read that were ultimately the ones responsible for bringing home the second win of the weekend. A bit of a give-and-go between Simmonds and Read set up the first goal just past the game's midway point, as a perfect feed from Read around the red line sprung Simmonds for a breakaway, and he cashed in with an incredibly smooth move in front of Antti Raanta to give the Flyers the lead. (More from them in a second.)
With every Flyers fan bracing themselves for the inevitable third-period push from the Rangers that we've seen so many times in the past half-decade, it never came. That same pressure from the second period never really went away, and while the Rangers got their chances, a combination of improved defensive zone coverage and aggressiveness and solid goaltending from Steve Mason kept them ahead.
All of which led to that aforementioned second line -- which has played so, so, so well in recent weeks, despite the goals rarely being there to show for it -- closing things out. An initial shot from Simmonds rebounded out to Couturier, who put the second crack at it through Raanta and in the net for the insurance goal. And it was that same line that was out at the end of the game, giving Simmonds a chance to close out what was probably his best game of the season with a shot all the way from the Flyers' own end into the empty net.
A very solid team win to close out an excellent weekend of wins against two good teams, ending an incredibly frustrating run of futility against a division rival in the process. Not bad!
Additional observations to follow on Sunday morning.
Comment of the Afternoon:
There is something very satisfying about watching Rags fans watch their team be shut out at home. Especially the ones that pay so much to sit on the glass.
-- mtitanic, referring to good folks who pay in hundreds only