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Flyers 2, Avalanche 1: Win, win, win no matter what

The Flyers slowed down the torrid Avs for most of the game, then held on for dear life in the game’s final minutes to pick up a pair of points that they very desperately needed.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Colorado Avalanche Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never easy.

In the past 48 hours, the Flyers have ... seen some stuff. They saw an opponent score a game-winning goal on a 2-on-0 to break an eight-game losing streak. They saw a goalie get back on the ice for the first time in six weeks and fail to get through half of his first start back, forcing them to put a goalie who has been very bad lately back into the lineup. They saw the final eight minutes of a hockey game go by without really controlling the hockey puck at any point during that time.

And yet, through it all, they’ve managed to get through a back-to-back in Dallas and Colorado with three out of a possible four points in the standings. Their playoff hopes are undeniably in a better spot than they were in 48 hours ago, and they’ll head back to the east coast for the foreseeable future now as they gear up for the last week of the regular season. Their win has them (for now) back in third place in the Metropolitan division, and it, coupled with a Florida Panthers loss in Toronto on Wednesday night, has put them in a position where just one or two more wins would make missing out on a playoff berth very difficult.

Sure, maybe it’d be nice to make these games a little less ... exciting, so to speak. Maybe it’d have been cool if we were winning games like this in early March, so we didn’t have to cut through a 1-6-1 stretch that made this current run necessary. Maybe games like this are just signs that this team isn’t going to do anything of note once they reach the postseason.

But we’re at the point in the season where the maybes and qualifiers just don’t matter. No matter where you currently are on the spectrum of satisfaction with the team and organization, we’re all hungry for postseason hockey. And the Flyers are on a seven-game point streak and have collected four wins in that time, including last night’s. That they never controlled the puck in the game’s final eight minutes is largely irrelevant, because they ended the night with more goals than the other team (another team, by the way, that’s in a similar situation to the Flyers, in a playoff race, and is just as hungry as they are).

We could complain. Lord knows we’ll find something to complain about. But any quibbles and qualms about last night’s events are secondary to the fact that the team took a big, biiiiiiig step towards playing more than 82 games this season. That’s worth celebrating.

Three big questions:

1. What happened to the Flyers at the end of the third period?


That’s not an exaggeration — officially, the Flyers did not have a single shot attempt in the final 7:44 of the game. After that moment, one marked by a Scott Laughton try that went high, Colorado would get every one of the game’s final 26 cracks at the other team’s net. The closest the Flyers would get in that time to the Colorado net would be on a pair of icings; outside of those, the Flyers were more or less setting up camp in their own zone at the tail end of this one.

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering “hey, what does 26 shots in just over seven minutes look like in graphical form?”, here is that:

via Natural Stat Trick

This was a perfect storm of circumstances, one that clearly started with the fact that the Flyers were just gassed. Skating with Colorado is tough on any night. Skating with Colorado in their (high-altitude) building, when they’re well-rested, in the final minutes of the game, when your team’s on the second half of a back-to-back, is clearly a lot to ask, and after the Flyers had held their own for the better part of this one, the dam just broke late.

Every race to a loose puck was won by a guy in blue and maroon. Any clearing attempt by a Flyer failed to make it out of the defensive zone. Colorado was able to more or less fire at will on Petr Mrazek, and whether or not they had a ton of golden opportunities in that time — Natural Stat Trick only counted three high-danger scoring chances for Colorado in the entire third period — they sure were able to make it feel like a backbreaking game-tying goal was coming.

To their credit, the Flyers — again, clearly exhausted and not quite playing at the levels they’re capable of — attempted to remedy the situation by placing themselves between the Avalanche and their goalie as much as humanly possible. Of those 26 shot attempts that Colorado took, 14 of them were blocked by a Flyer before they even got to Mrazek. And in the final minute and a half of the game, when Andrew Hammond was off for an extra attacker, they got in the way of five of the seven shot attempts that were officially counted.

So yes, there’s a “gutsy” side to this for the Flyers. And as we discussed, at the end of the day a win is a win, and with the playoffs starting less than two weeks from today, there’s no time to worry about what exactly the win looked like. But let’s make the ending a little less exciting next time.

2. Can you envision a world in which the Flyers have multiple healthy, functional goaltenders?

I don’t even know what that sequence of words next to one another could possibly mean.

One of the most surreal moments on a Flyers broadcast this season came just beyond the halfway mark of last night’s contest, as Colorado headed towards the Flyers’ zone on a rush as a penalty had expired. Tyson Barrie took a shot on net, and it was right around that point that Jim Jackson — and, in his defense, probably most of the viewers at home — realized that the guy making the save on Barrie was not starter Michal Neuvirth, but instead Petr Mrazek, who had slipped onto the ice in Neuvirth’s place almost three minutes earlier during a commercial break without anyone really noticing.

In regards to Neuvirth, going into detail on this feels like piling on, but it simply has to be said at this point. Based on footage of his stretching out in the second, the guess here is that whatever injury he suffered set in on his last save of the night, a brilliant sliding stop on Mikko Rantanen that kept the Flyers ahead. Wednesday night was Neuvirth’s first game action in nearly six weeks, and the injury-prone netminder — who, thanks to the unsteady play of the two guys manning the net in his place, had a chance to really run with the job and potentially make his case to be the starter in the playoffs with some good play in these last few games of the season — made it 28 minutes before needing to be replaced.

Even if this was just a temporary scare and Neuvirth is fine for this Sunday’s game against Boston, it feels like it’d be extremely difficult for the Flyers to have a ton of confidence slotting Neuvirth into one of their two active goalie spots come playoff time, simply due to the uncomfortably high likelihood that he won’t be able to make it through a game. That doesn’t mean that they won’t give him one of those spots — you’ve all seen the alternatives — but we’re going to be holding our breath even more than usual whenever Neuvirth’s out there going forward.

And to his credit, Petr Mrazek stepped in and played a strong second half of the game, particularly given the circumstances and the fact that he played a full game last night. His rebound control wasn’t fantastic, but his movements in the crease seemed more controlled than they usually are. It was just one game that isn’t going to override the rest of what he’s done so far in Philadelphia, but it’s something for Hakstol to consider if he’s got to make a decision on who his starter will be on Sunday.

3. In a battle of two similar teams, did the Flyers’ depth win out?

In some ways, the Avs and Flyers are pretty similar teams. Colorado has a dynamite top line that does most of their heavy lifting, led by a forward that some believe should be getting Hart Trophy consideration. They’ve got a lineup beyond those stars that has some intriguing young players. They’ve got a few pieces both in the forward ranks and on defense that are probably not NHL players at this time. And they’ve got a bit of a mess in net (or, at least did on Wednesday, as Semyon Varlamov was sick and Andrew Hammond made his first NHL start in over a year). If that all sounds familiar to you, it should.

So, generally speaking, the formula for trying to beat Colorado isn’t that different from the one teams have to follow to beat the Flyers: try not to get totally carved up by the top line (in this case, led by Nathan MacKinnon), and get your licks in on more or less everyone else in the lineup.

To an extent, that’s how the Flyers managed to get the job done on Wednesday. At 5-on-5, the two teams more or less broke even in terms of shot attempts (38-37 Flyers) in the ice time that MacKinnon wasn’t on the ice for; in the 52-ish minutes of game time prior to the aforementioned onslaught that took place late in the third, that edge was 38-26 Flyers.

Given this Colorado team’s limitations, any night in which you can keep MacKinnon and his linemates off of the scoresheet and win your battles elsewhere is one in which you’re giving yourself a pretty good chance to come away with two points. Strong efforts from the Jakub Voracek-led second line (unsurprisingly) and the Matt Read-led fourth line (somewhat more surprisingly) helped the Flyers’ depth keep Colorado at bay here.

Stray thoughts:

  • Claude Giroux’s bomb of a shot on the Flyers’ first goal gave him his 27th goal and 93rd point of the season, the latter of which ties a career high. Not nearly enough has been said about how remarkable Giroux’s season this year has been, and his likely setting a career-high at some point during the next week is something worthy of celebration. Hopefully it happens at home where the fans can give him his due.
  • Following his (game-winning) goal on a laser of a shot late in the first period, here is a complete list of NHL defensemen this season that have more goals than Ivan Provorov: Dougie Hamilton. That’s the entire list. (Provorov is tied at 15 with five other players.) I expected a lot out of Ivan Provorov this year, as I think we all did. Can’t say I expected him to be a top-10 goal-scorer among defensemen.
  • Valtteri Filppula did not play last night. There was some mystery as to who would be out of the lineup, as Filppula skated pre-game (as did the entire forward and defense lineup, plus Robert Hagg, who was scratched for the fourth straight game), but the guess here is that he was unavailable due to the injury he suffered in Dallas on Tuesday that took him out of that game. Dale Weise drew into the lineup in Filppula’s place, while Scott Laughton actually took Filppula’s spot as third-line center.
  • I don’t quite know if I can prove it, but I think the Flyers’ penalty kill has been better lately. Had a rough go against Pittsburgh on Sunday (gave up one goal plus a delayed-penalty goal), and they gave up a goal on Tuesday in Dallas, but they were nearly spotless on Wednesday night in three tries against Colorado, and hadn’t given up a goal in five straight games prior to Pittsburgh. They’ve been aggressive and haven’t really let opponents get set up much in the offensive zone, and that was the case last night against the Avs, who had only three shots on goal in three power plays.
  • Finally, quickly putting the non-Flyers developments of the night into context: Florida’s loss in Toronto puts them seven points behind the Flyers. They’ve still got seven games left on their schedule (compared to four for the Flyers), so they’ll have chances to make up ground, and technically, as long as the Flyers don’t win out, the Panthers can still catch them. However, those seven games come in a span of just 11 days, and they include three more games against the Bruins and a game against Nashville. Even if the Panthers win five of their final seven games and collect 10 points (which would be no small feat given their schedule), the Flyers would only need wins in two of their last four games to ensure that they’d end up ahead of Florida. Sure, the Flyers could still blow it — it’s the Flyers, after all — but the likelihood of that happening is getting smaller.