Back when the Flyers went on a nine-game point streak that spanned much of February, there was a lot of talk about how the team -- despite clawing back into the playoff race -- wasn't really playing particularly good hockey, squeaking by most nights thanks to some fortunate luck and circumstance.
Since that streak ended, there's been a bit of a weird reversal of fate -- the Flyers went into tonight 2-3-1 in their previous six games, but one can pretty reasonably make the case that the past couple of weeks have seen some of the Flyers' best hockey of the season (and had also seen some bad luck in the process).
So it was anyone's guess how things would go tonight against the Rangers, who came into tonight with just one regulation loss in the previous month, and who -- as you know if you've watched any Flyers-Rangers game since, oh, I don't know, early 2011 -- have a habit of skating the Flyers into the ground every time they play to the point of comical levels of frustration.
And it was maybe the best possible endorsement of the Flyers' recent play that, for the most part, this wasn't one of those Flyers-Rangers games we're used to seeing.
That's not to say the Flyers were a dominant machine start-to-finish in tonight's 4-2 win over the Rangers. It was a fairly back-and-forth affair for most of the contest, and New York kept the Flyers scrambling big-time in the final 10 minutes while they searched for a tying goal that they never found. But this was an open, fun, back-and-forth showdown of a game. Both teams were trading chances routinely, both sides missing out on glorious opportunities. One side pushed, the other pushed back, and the Flyers were the one who caught the last couple of breaks that they needed.
So after watching the dozens of Rangers losses over the last few years wherein the Flyers slowly cave in and watch the inevitable defeat loss topple over them any time New York started to take it to them ... this was fun, y'know? The Flyers, basically, played like a team that knew it was going to have to play a little crazy for the next six weeks to have any chance at making the playoffs. And it worked. More fun than sitting back the whole game and praying for the goalie to bail you out, right?
* Well, before we get to the actual happenings, an opening note. This game very nearly began with the most Flyers-Rangers start to a game of all time, when -- following a Mark Streit turnover -- Derek Stepan let a shot go from well behind the blue line and it knuckled right in front of Steve Mason and made it through him for a goal, seven seconds into the game. Fortunately for the Flyers, two Rangers were offsides as it happened, so it was quickly waived off. But one would understand if that left you feeling a little uneasy for the rest of the night.
* The Flyers' best player of the night didn't score a goal, but with two assists and probably four or five other times where he came close to getting on the scoreboard, Sean Couturier had what was one of his best games of the season. He had the initial shot on the rush that led to Matt Read's opening goal, he made the play in the neutral zone and the perfect spot to Michael Del Zotto to set up the short-handed game-winner, and he juuuuuuuust missed on a number of chances. It's fair to say he needs to start finishing some of these chances out, but he was consistently buzzing around the net throughout the entire game tonight. Putting him on a line with Jakub Voracek has seen him take off in these past few games. Great to see.
* As was just mentioned, Michael Del Zotto scored the game-winning goal tonight (against his former team!). It was the exact same game-winning goal he scored last week against Washington, where he got a pass while streaking up the left side and sniped a shot into the top-right corner. Which is to say that it's basically the same goal he's scored a bunch of times this season. Fun!
* Another really solid night for the penalty kill on the whole, by the way, as they shut down all three Rangers power plays in addition to the aforementioned shortie. The Flyers managed as many shots on goal while shorthanded as the Rangers did with the man advantage (two each). So, so nice to have a fully functional penalty kill again.
* After his weird relief appearance on Thursday, Steve Mason made his first actual start in three weeks tonight, and he was again up to the task when the team needed him to be (well, after the bizarre opening-seconds snafu). In particular, a sequence with about seven minutes left in the third where the Rangers put seven shots on goal in about 30 seconds -- including multiple from directly in front of Mason -- was where the Flyers' goalie truly re-announced his presence on the ice. With due respect to Rob Zepp's efforts the past couple of weeks, it's nice to have the starter back.
* No video of it yet, unfortunately, but that stretch pass Mark Streit made to spring Jakub Voracek on a breakaway in the final minute of the second period was probably one of the prettiest passes I've seen a Flyer make all year.
* The Rangers' goal that briefly put them ahead in the second period was a slapshot from defenseman John Moore that bounced off of Braydon Coburn's skate and into the net. Somewhere in Canada, our friend John is smiling triumphantly.
* Some news that's bad on a number of counts came early in the second period, as Nicklas Grossmann went down hard with an injury and did not return. Grossmann went to the ice to block a Rick Nash shot, and it was tough to tell what happened from there, as the shot looked like it bounced off of his shoulder, then hit the back of his helmet. Grossmann stayed down from there and had to be helped off the ice, and was ruled out of the game with an upper-body injury. Could be a shoulder issue, a head issue, something else -- it's tough to say based on those replays we had. Still, best wishes to Grossmann, who has had serious concussion problems in recent years and who already missed time earlier this year with an undisclosed upper-body injury. And for those who were hoping to see Grossmann dealt before Monday's trade deadline, this would certainly appear to hinder the chances of that happening.
* P.S.: If Grossmann is healthy, STOP PAIRING HIM WITH LUKE SCHENN. ANY PAIRING THAT REQUIRES LUKE SCHENN TO TAKE ON PRIMARY PUCK-MOVING RESPONSIBILITY (see: the Rangers' first goal tonight) WILL END POORLY. THANKS.
* With Vincent Lecavalier back in the lineup, the Flyers' fourth line ... was actually its third line, as all of Lecavalier, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, and Chris VandeVelde got more ice time than all of Brayden Schenn, Ryan White, and R.J. Umberger. Hmmmmmmm. Maybe something to watch out for there next time around.
* Boston and Florida both won today. Flyers sit six points back of the Bruins for that No. 8 spot in the East. For those who are checking, and all.
Calgary on Tuesday. Will this roster look similar to how it looks now? Probably! But we'll see. Go Flyers.