You had to know a game like this was coming eventually.
During the month of February, the Philadelphia Flyers have been slowly cutting into the deficit that separates them from an improbable playoff berth. Along the way, they've certainly had their fair share of deserved wins. But there have also been quite a few games where the Flyers have essentially stolen points to keep their hot streak alive. Overtime losses against Montreal and the Islanders come to mind immediately.
Tonight, the Flyers were on the other side, seeing two points slip away in a game that should have at the very least made it to overtime.
They fell behind early, allowing two first period goals despite the game feeling fairly even in terms of zone time and shots. In many ways, it felt like a 0-0 or a 1-1 period, and certainly not a 2-0 game. In the second, the Flyers proved that they weren't outmatched, absolutely dominating the contest and not allowing the Columbus defense or Curtis McElhinney any time to breathe. The late goals that tied the game before the second intermission were no surprise considering Philadelphia's level of play.
The Flyers imposed their will in the second. The third seemed like the perfect time for Philadelphia to finish off their Metropolitan Division rivals and leave the Wells Fargo Center trailing Boston by only four points in the standings.
Unfortunately, two terrible plays - one by Vincent Lecavalier and one by Ray Emery - extinguished that hope. Lecavalier's atrocious defensive zone turnover gave Columbus the lead back, and Emery's poor rebound control on a weak Scott Hartnell shot iced it.
Overall, the Flyers were the better team tonight. They could have easily scored five goals in the second period, and had multiple chances to beat McElhinney in the first and third. But unfortunately, the streak had to end somehow.
Philadelphia continues to teeter on the edge of playoff contention. Blowing a very winnable game like this against a below average team hurts, and it pretty much forces the Flyers to have a strong showing this weekend against the stellar Nashville Predators and the always-dangerous Washington Capitals. After those games, we should have a better understanding of whether this season is effectively over, or if postseason hope still remains.
Some more observations on tonight's game:
- After another unimpressive first period from the first line, Craig Berube finally made the change that fans have been clamoring for - he demoted Brayden Schenn and returned Michael Raffl to the top unit. The effect was immediate. Jakub Voracek was more comfortable carrying the puck into the zone than he's been in weeks, and Claude Giroux was involved with scoring chance after scoring chance. They didn't light the lamp tonight, but expect that to change very quickly.
- Michael Del Zotto had one of his most impressive games of the season tonight. And I'm not just talking about his game-tying goal and his assist on Wayne Simmonds' tally. Del Zotto's pinches into the offensive zone were expertly timed, helping the Flyers to sustain forechecks without allowing any dangerous transition rushes. Would be nice to get this defenseman an extension instead of a much older and less dynamic one.
- Wayne Simmonds was basically impossible to knock off the puck tonight, and it was great to see him rewarded with an even strength goal. The experiment of placing Simmonds with Sean Couturier and Matt Read on the tough minutes line is working out really well for all involved, and their strong play continued tonight.
- I thought Voracek, despite missing on a few golden opportunities, looked as close to pre-all star break Jake as we've seen in weeks. Expect him to get back on the scoresheet against the lowly Sabres on Thursday.
- I'm praying that Claude Giroux scores an even strength goal during this homestand so everyone shuts up about it. Let's get on that, captain.
- Why does it always have to be Brandon Dubinsky who kills the Flyers?