The Flyers will play three more games this week to close out their season before heading home for a while. But let's be real here: for all intents and purposes, this afternoon was the last important game the Flyers will play this season, and boy, did they make it a fun one for us to watch.
That's certainly not to say this was the best game the Flyers have played. This wasn't last Wednesday's game, when the Flyers beat the Penguins up and down the ice for 60 minutes. Quite the contrary, even -- if we're being totally honest here, from a hockey perspective, this was probably closer to one of the worst games the Flyers have played in a while. It took them a while to get going. The Penguins took 22 shots in the first period and 47 in total. Were it not for some outstanding special teams work and multiple ridiculous efforts by Steve Mason in the first and third periods, who knows where this game even goes.
But it is painfully obvious by now to anyone who's watched these two teams over the last couple of years that the Flyers don't need their best effort, or really need to do much of anything, to beat the Penguins.
All it takes is one little stupid thing -- in this case, we'll call it Penguins Trade Deadline Rental Daniel Winnik cross-checking Sean Couturier towards the end of the first period, leading to a Flyers power play goal -- and you'd forget that they owned the entire first period. It just takes one little lucky bounce -- such as, say, Brayden Schenn having a puck pop off from his stick on the ice over everyone and into the net for the eventual game-winner -- for things to really start shifting. It takes just one little slip-up -- I don't know, maybe Evgeni Malkin hitting the post on a wide-open net with a chance to tie the game in the third period -- and suddenly all 40 players on the ice and benches know exactly how the game is going to end, and start playing like it.
It's not something I can totally explain, given (if we're being honest here) the discrepancy in talent between these two teams. But at this point, with today's 4-1 victory being the Flyers eighth straight win against our in-state rivals, it's something that we all see as sort of an inevitability whenever these two teams get together. It leads fans in the stands -- ones who are as ready for this miserable season to end as anyone -- to, 100 percent correctly, chant "you can't beat us" at their rival who sits 13 points above them in the standings. And it's lots of fun.
And man, in a season like this, it's great to have something fun to count on.
* Point-and-laugh-ing aside, that first period really was a disaster. The Flyers had a number of breakdowns that Steve Mason had to cover for, including ...
... this one. God damn. Gotta love that Flyers-Penguins Magic(TM) that led to Winnik taking that aforementioned penalty and basically making it all for naught though!
* In a season full of Ridiculous Steve Mason Games, this one was probably one of the most Ridiculous Steve Mason Games of all. Mason stopped 46 out of 47 Pittsburgh shots, a season-high in a regulation game, and while that one above was the most impressive of all of them, there were plenty of others that were worthy of praise. Carey Price has the Vezina completely locked up, but Mason is closing out the season by making a legitimate case for one of the other two finalist spots.
* It was nice to see the power play really get back on track the way that it did today, as three of the Flyers' four goals came with some kind of man advantage. Jakub Voracek had maybe the hardest shot I've ever seen him let go on that first goal. And on the second goal, very heads-up play by Ryan White in front to not touch Brayden Schenn's pop-fly that was heading in, despite being in position to do so, knowing it would likely be a high-stick.
* Speaking of Schenn, he and Sean Couturier and Matt Read all had really solid games today while on a line together. Couturier's spot to White on the goal that sealed it was the prettiest of the bunch, but all three of them were up attacking in the second and third period despite spending most of their ice time against (guess who!) Sidney Crosby and his line. Coots (four points in his last three games) and Schenn (six points in his last three) are doing what they can to close out the year by giving us more hope that next year is the year that the offense really comes around for them. But in the short-term, that's a line worth watching over the season's final week.
* Chris Kunitz shot the puck on an empty net on a delayed penalty for the Penguins. He missed it. He also got the Flyers to come and hit his stupid face by doing so, ultimately negating the penalty the Flyers had drawn earlier in the shift. It was a bad call by Paul Devorski, who was officiating his final NHL game. I will choose to ignore that, and will instead point and laugh at Kunitz for missing a wide open net, because he is bad.
* Michael Del Zotto had a goal in the final seconds of the game on the power play after Pittsburgh had clearly stopped trying, but today he seemed to be noticeable all over the place -- even beyond his scoring efforts. He was among the most physically engaged Flyers on the ice, which in a game against this team is always saying something, and seemed to get under Evgeni Malkin's skin at least once or twice (granted, not a terribly difficult thing to do). With him due up for an interesting contract negotiation this summer, he's clearly also trying to end the year on a strong note.
* LASTLY: It's still very unlikely that the Penguins miss the playoffs. A lot would need to go wrong for them and right for other teams. That said ... the Ottawa Senators can get to within a point of them tonight, and those two teams will play on Tuesday night in Ottawa. No pressure, Pittsburgh. Noooooooooo pressure.
And now back to the not-as-fun. Carolina on Tuesday. Alllllmoooooost there. Happy Easter to those of you celebrating. Go Flyers.