Flyers 4, Blue Jackets 3: Owen Tippett shines, scores game-winner in home finale
In the Flyers' final home game of the season, Owen Tippett proved that he is him.
This can be an exciting time of year for some NHL squads. With the season winding down, some have their eyes on clinching a division title or simply sneaking their way into playoffs with a couple last-minute wins to get them over the hump. For other, less competitive teams, this time of year can be just the opposite – a painful, disappointing drag with basically nothing to play for in the homestretch.
That's the camp the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets belong to.
Tuesday night, the Flyers and Blue Jackets met for a battle of the two worst teams in the Metropolitan Division. And with both teams falling far short of qualifying for the postseason, there was little to play for other than pride.
But watching Owen Tippett, you'd think he was playing in Game 7 of a playoff series.
Tippett was awarded the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the Flyers' most improved player minutes before puck drop. Appropriately, he responded by putting together one of his best performances of the year, scoring a pair of goals, including the game-winner in overtime, to earn the Flyers a 4-3 over the Blue Jackets in their final home game of the season.
Tippett, 24, has been downright stellar in the second half of the season. It took time, but he's developed into a legitimate offensive weapon since being acquired from the Florida Panthers in the Claude Giroux trade last year, and there's no doubt that he will be a key part of the Flyers as they begin their rebuild.
"He's starting to turn a corner in that aspect as far as becoming a goal scorer," said Flyers assistant coach Rocky Thompson, who filled the role as head coach while John Tortorella took in the game from the press box.
"I saw him in junior. I coached in the OHL at that time, and he was a natural goal scorer. But I think his game is evolving, not just as a shooter, which we're seeing, and that's maturing, but I think he makes good plays too. I think he can be very hard to play against because of his speed, not just when he has the puck. He can forecheck and take advantage of those attributes that he has.
"Definitely the offense has come. He's been put in a good situation this year to succeed, and I think he's taken advantage of those opportunities. The future is very bright in my opinion moving forward."
Before Tippett took the game over, the Flyers didn't get off to the hottest of starts. They fell into an early 2-0 hole when Liam Foudy and Trey Fix-Wolansky (that's a real person, I checked) potted goals in the opening stanza.
The Flyers responded quickly, though.
Soon after Fix-Wolansky's marker, Joel Farabee scored his 15th goal of the season to cut the Columbus lead in half. And less than a minute after Farabee's tally, James van Riemsdyk, who may very well have played his final home game as a member of the Flyers, scored his 300th goal to tie it from the faceoff dot.
If this truly is the end of the road for JvR in Philadelphia, it's a pretty cool sendoff as he gets set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
"Before the year actually, (Flyers senior advisor) Dean Lombardi pulled me aside and was kind of letting me know where I stood with some of those things like with career goals and milestones like that, so obviously knew it was within reach in this year," said van Riemsdyk.
"Excited to get it here in Philly. Obviously a winning effort is always nice too, so that was definitely a cool little reception from the fans also."
The Flyers and Blue Jackets went into the first intermission tied at two goals apiece, but it took Tippett just 47 seconds to break the tie once the middle frame began.
During a Flyers power play, Tippett turned on the jets to chase down a puck entering the Columbus zone. He then muscled his way past a pursuing defender, cut toward the net, and beat Michael Hutchinson to give the Flyers their first lead of the night.
Sean Kuraly scored the game-tying goal in the third period with a redirection in front of Carter Hart to ultimately send the game to overtime. And as the five-minute 3-on-3 period unfolded, it appeared the tilt was destined to be decided via shootout.
But then Tippett happened. What a performance from the Flyers' up-and-comer.
The Flyers have just one game remaining in their campaign. They'll be on the road Thursday night taking on the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. Then, what is expected to be a very busy offseason will officially begin.
The Flyers are now locked in at 26th place in the league standings. With losses against Columbus and Chicago, there was the possibility the Montreal Canadiens could have leapfrogged them with wins in their final two games of the season. But this win erases any possibility of the Flyers improving their draft lottery odds.
Now, the Flyers officially have a 6.5% chance of winning the May 8 lottery.