On Tuesday night, the Flyers grabbed the inside track for the final spot in the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot by roaring out to a dominant start and hanging on from there to pick up a key win.
Tonight, in a game against the reigning Stanley Cup champions, they followed a bit of the opposite track, as the orange and black were forced to weather a poor start to the game, claw back on their own, and then clamp down defensively in the third period.
The end result was the same, though -- and this time, the Flyers don't just have the inside track on the final spot: they're in it.
Yes, for the first time since the season's opening weeks, the Flyers find themselves in one of the East's top eight spots in the standings, as they wrapped up a tough back-to-back with their second win in as many nights by way of a 3-2 win in Chicago over the Blackhawks.
As mentioned, the start of this game could have gone a bit better. The Flyers spent most of the opening minutes of this game thoroughly chasing the play of the defending champs. Chicago managed to collect the first five shots of the game and had several more attempts that managed to just miss Michal Neuvirth's cage, all while the Flyers failed to generate much of anything in the offensive zone.
Yet, despite all of that, in a cruel twist of fate it would end up being the power play where the Flyers would finally pay for their first-period follies. A shot attempt from Shayne Gostisbehere at the point turned into a broken stick, and a pursuing Marian Hossa quickly had a shorthanded breakaway opportunity in alone on Michal Neuvirth. He'd make no mistake there, and the 'Hawks would be rewarded for their early dominance with a 1-0 lead.
The Flyers were then forced to kill off nearly two full minutes of a 5-on-3 penalty not long after that very goal, but with that initial surge behind them, the tide slowly started to turn and they began to catch up a bit as the first period neared a close. With just over a minute left in the frame, they'd manage to tie things up by -- of all things -- an Andrew MacDonald point shot on the power play that was deflected into the net by Ryan White right in front of goalie Scott Darling, allowing the Flyers to escape from a period in which they were largely outplayed with a tied score.
Chicago managed to get out to another pretty strong start to the period in the second frame, and a sequence of errors in the defensive zone allowed them to take the lead about five minutes into the period. A series of chances to clear the puck out of the zone by the Flyers went for naught, and after three or so initial chances by the home team, Jonathan Toews managed to roof a rebound over Neuvirth to give the Blackhawks the lead.
But for the second time in the evening, the Flyers managed to turn the tide a bit after allowing Chicago to take a lead, and this time the game-tying goal was about as pretty (and expected) as one could have hoped it would be. A great pass out of the defensive zone by Brayden Schenn sprung Claude Giroux up-ice, and just as Duncan Keith managed to catch up with Giroux near the Blackhawks' net, the captain spun around and found Schenn trailing on the other side of the slot. An absolutely perfect pass from Giroux was one-timed home by Schenn for his 24th goal of the season, and the Flyers had yet again tied the game up.
By the time the second period was over, the Flyers had even managed to take a 25-22 lead in shots on goal -- a noteworthy change of pace after being outshot 12-8 in the first frame.
The third period got off to a fairly slow start, with neither team getting a shot on goal through its first five minutes. Chicago's first real chance of the game was a doozy, as Michal Neuvirth had to turn aside another breakaway from Hossa, this one at even strength off a great feed from Artemi Panarin.
But the Flyers continued to put the clamps on the home team, and this time it was them who got the lucky bounce in the offensive zone, as a shot from the blue line by Radko Gudas (!) deflected off of Christian Ehrhoff's stick, bounced on the ice, and made its way over Darling's pads and into the net to give the Flyers the lead right around the halfway mark of the period.
The Flyers held the Blackhawks' attack down for a few more minutes after that goal, as they'd only allow that one single shot on net until there were about five minutes left in the period (and the game). But at that point, the pressure really ramped up from Chicago, somewhat unsurprisingly. Chance after chance came in waves towards the Flyers' net, and some heroics from Neuvirth were required to keep the Blackhawks from tying the game several times over.
But the Flyers -- between a willingness to get in the way of the puck in the third period and a good show by Michal Neuvirth in net -- didn't let that tying goal in, and after a frantic final minute or two with the goalie pulled, they would pick up a huge road win and, for now, move into a playoff position.
What a friggin' run this is, you guys.
* Chris VandeVelde may be getting a call from the Department of Player Safety for this hit on Jonathan Toews at the end of the first period. He was called for two minutes for elbowing on the play.
* The goal by White was the Flyers' fourth consecutive power play goal that was scored by the team's second unit. Has that happened at any point in the last four or so seasons? I can't imagine it has.
* Schenn's goal marked his 48th point of the season. That's a career high for him, with 13 games left in the season. Not bad.
* The Flyers swept their season series with the Blackhawks. I feel like that's noteworthy.
* On that note, the Flyers have played five straight games against teams that were in playoff spots at the time of the game and have picked up nine out of a possible ten points. If the Flyers are playing hockey beyond April 10, we're going to remember this stretch of games as the reason why.
Questions to Answer:
- The Flyers started last night's game with their single best period of the season. Is there any way they can get out to even a remotely similar start tonight on a back-to-back? They did not, as Chicago more or less did to the Flyers in the game's first 12 or so minutes what the Flyers did to Detroit last night. They managed to come away from it tied 1-1, though, so it certainly could have been worse.
- Neuvirth's turn in net after a strong five games from Steve Mason. How's he do? For a lot of the game, Neuvirth wasn't asked to do a ton, but in the first and last 10 or so minutes of the game, they needed him to come up big, and with rare exception, he did.
- Arguably the two frontrunners for the Calder Trophy are in the building tonight. Who has a bigger night: Shayne Gostisbehere or Artemi Panarin? Joel Quenneville literally called him "The Bread Man" on national television. Seriously, man? You're a grown-ass 57-year old head coach calling one of your players "The Bread Man" in a TV interview. Get the hell outta here, dude. Anywho, I will admit to being rather impressed by Panarin, who had a game-high five shots on goal and was overall very active across the ice. Neither star rookie had a point tonight, though, and the Flyers won, so who's the *real* winner here, huh?
- Toews and Kane have been moved to the same line after being apart for just about the entire season. How do the Flyers try and match up with them, and does it work? The Toews/Kane line mostly went right up against the Giroux line, and Chicago definitely got the better of those matchups more often than not. But Giroux and Schenn's work on the second goal helped make us all forget about that.
- Are the Flyers in a playoff spot by the time tonight ends? You're god damn right they are.
Comment of the Night:
"What a shot by MacDonald! Not sure he meant to do that".
-- mtitanic, c/o Pierre McGuire, talking about a shot attempt by MacDonald in the first period
Pittsburgh on Saturday, as if you weren't excited enough already. Go Flyers.