The story of the season for the Philadelphia Flyers has been one that plagued the franchise for years, even if in recent seasons it had been dormant and hibernating. The goaltending, last year maybe the team’s biggest strength, was consistently letting the team down, taking dominant efforts and turning them into losses on a nightly basis.
Against the Minnesota Wild, however, netminders Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth turned the clock back to 2015-16.
A weak early goal allowed by Neuvirth aside, Philadelphia’s goaltending finally did its job, stopping 25 of 27 shots en route to a 3-2 Flyers victory. Neuvirth fell prey to a knee injury late in the first period, but Mason was a hero in relief, stopping 19 of 20 shots, including a number of enormous saves late with the Wild pressing. Brandon Manning, Michael Del Zotto and Brayden Schenn scored for the Flyers, with the latter delivering the game-winning goal on a third period power play.
To start the game, however, it looked like the Wells Fargo Center would be treated to the same old poor netminding. A turnover by Radko Gudas ended up right on the stick of Nino Niederreiter, who was able to beat Michal Nevuirth through the short side that he should have been covering. Just like that, the Wild jumped out to a one goal lead, and it was looking like deja vu all over again, to quote Yogi Berra.
Just 20 seconds in, the Flyers are down 1-0 pic.twitter.com/WMGi6s2L4y— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 13, 2016
If that goal wasn’t bad enough, true disaster appeared to strike the Flyers just minutes later. Minnesota’s Jason Zucker slapped at a rebound and hit Claude Giroux directly in the mouth with a follow-through, sending the Philadelphia captain first to the ice and then to the locker room. Luckily for the Flyers, he would return late in the period following repairs, but the team was absent the services of their top scorer for the majority of the opening stanza as a result.
Giroux gets hit high, very obviously shaken up pic.twitter.com/g3WfmG4aMZ— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 13, 2016
To the Flyers’ credit, they kept pushing despite the temporary loss of Giroux. After Travis Konecny drew a penalty on Zucker, head coach Dave Hakstol sent adjusted power play units out on the ice, and they were able to put constant pressure on Minnesota goaltender Devin Dubnyk. While they could not cash in on the power play itself, the pressure continued even after Zucker left the box. Brandon Manning finally beat Dubnyk just 23 seconds following the conclusion of the penalty, the beneficiary of a massive screen in front and a failed pass by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare that actually served to fake out the Wild and open up the entire left side of the point for Manning to wrist a top corner shot.
Following the horrific goal to open the game, Neuvirth had actually settled in and bailed out the Flyers on a number of high-quality chances. But the injury bug would strike him with about five minutes left in the period as a result of stretching out to break up a Mikael Granlund chance. While Neuvirth would last through the remainder of the period, Steve Mason would lead the Flyers out the tunnel to begin the middle stanza, presumably because Neuvirth was not able to continue the game.
Video of Neuvirth's injury pic.twitter.com/stdUqxv8yj— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 13, 2016
In the end, the first period followed a similar script as most of the Flyers’ season thus far — an edge in shot volume and the overall territorial play, but short in terms of quality opportunities. Philadelphia blasted 22 shot attempts during 5v5 play at Dubnyk and allowed just 17, but lagged behind in scoring chances 9-2 and high-danger chances 6-1. Strong play by Neuvirth to close out the period helped the Flyers keep the score tied after 20 minutes, but that was all they’d receive from the Czech goaltender tonight.
With Mason coming in cold to start the second period, it sure seemed like the Flyers made a conscious effort to tighten things up in front of him. Cycle coverage was more consistent, specifically in front of the net, and they were no longer bleeding scoring chances against. And even though Philadelphia didn’t have a massive edge in shots, it felt like they were getting the better of play and had possession of the puck far more than the Wild.
They had a real chance to jump out to their first lead of the game after Eric Staal decided to go low on Jakub Voracek in the neutral zone, sending him sprawling to the ice and putting the Flyers on the power play. Philadelphia had everything going for them — clean entries, efficient formation set-ups, a barrage of shots and chances — but couldn’t seem to beat Dubynk, and game remained tied.
Just minutes later, Minnesota took advantage of the Flyers’ only truly poor defensive sequence of the period to (of course) take the lead. After Giroux mistimed a check in the neutral zone, Michael Del Zotto gave up way too much space to Mikko Koivu on a zone entry, allowing him to create a dangerous chance that was buried by Mikael Granlund. As has happened so many times this year, all it took was one bad play and the Flyers were staring down a deficit.
Koviu dances around Giroux and Del Zotto to put the Wilk up 2-1 pic.twitter.com/0EKoIH7bzO— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 13, 2016
Del Zotto was determined to redeem himself, however. With a little less than two minutes remaining in the period, Del Zotto executed an extended give-and-go with teammate Michael Raffl, first springing the Austrian winger in the middle of the ice for a clean zone entry, and then jumping into the play as an attack to provide an outlet for Raffl in the middle of the ice. Raffl found the hard-charging Del Zotto, who redirected the puck into the net to tie the score at 2-2.
Fantastic play by MDZ to tie this game at two!! pic.twitter.com/z1nSVJj3OP— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 13, 2016
The third period began as a tight-checking affair with very little in the way of offense. But with how much the Flyers’ power play had been buzzing, it seemed like they were almost waiting for an opportunity to break things open with the man advantage. Michael Raffl finally provided that chance, drawing a penalty on Koivu with 11:29 remaining.
It took barely any time at all for the Flyers to capitalize. Wayne Simmonds kicked off the play with a beautiful no-look pass from behind the net to Brayden Schenn, who hesitated just long enough to fool Dubnyk and give Philadelphia its first lead of the contest.
R.I.P Dubnyk, Schenn just schooled him pic.twitter.com/gRvSyCG6OT— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 13, 2016
From then on out, Steve Mason took over. He made one immediate tough save in the very next shift following the goal, and held up for the final nine minutes. For maybe the first time this season, the Flyers could say that they received a “clutch” goaltending performance, especially in the waning moments.
Steve Mason with the save of the game pic.twitter.com/d152dzRwoS— Broad Street Hockey (@BroadStHockey) November 13, 2016
With tonight’s win, the Flyers move to 7-7-2, and won’t play again until Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. Until then, they’ll enjoy this victory that broke a three-game losing streak.