Flyers
After a sluggish start to say the least, the Flyers pulled off an improbable rally and a potential signature win in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

If you listen closely, you can hear the sounds of sportswriters across Pennsylvania spamming their delete key for days. Myself included. The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 4-3, in incredible comeback fashion, over the Pittsburgh Penguins. A game that looked over less than four minutes in turns into a potentially signature moment, keeping the Flyers in a playoff spot in the air-tight East Division.

After their three-game losing streak came to an end in their first of three straight in Pittsburgh, Alain Vigneault shook things up. Granted, his hand was forced by the red-hot Joel Farabee taking Sidney Crosby’s place on the NHL’s COVID list. Alain Vigneault said post-game he changed every single line this morning after Farabee was put on the COVID list. Scott Laughton and Jake Voracek moved up and Claude Giroux and Nolan Patrick moved down and over to center.

But not every change was out of necessity. Vigneault also shuffled around the defense; Justin Braun played alongside Ivan Provorov for the first time since the start of the season. Shayne Gostisbehre, coming off a tough game, returns to Robert Hagg’s side. And rather than going back to Carter Hart, Brian Elliott entered the crease once again.

I have to say, I wasn’t thrilled with any of these changes before the puck drop. Moving Giroux back to the middle makes some sense to counter Crosby’s return. But losing Farabee would’ve made it easy to keep Patrick at wing. And more importantly, Braun proved early in the year he’s not cut out for a top-pair role at 34. Dropping the confidence-driven Shayne Gostisbehere after one bad game seemed a little knee-jerk to me. But I’m sure it won’t have a drastic effect.

Flyers

Bruh.

The start of this game was definitely unacceptable, but there was also some bad luck involved. It looked like the Flyers were in for trouble when Bryan Rust nearly scored 14 seconds in. They survived that, but then the onslaught started, rather innocuously in fact, with a bad bounce off Travis Sanheim’s hand. Kris Letang’s point shot knicked his glove and went fluttering past Brian Elliott. 1-0 Penguins.

That’s a tough yet manageable break… but then the wheels came flying off. Phil Myers couldn’t keep a Tristan Jarry clear in at the boards, leading to a Pittsburgh 2-on-1. Brian Elliott made an excellent 2-on-1 stop, only for Claude Giroux to bat the rebound right back into the slot. And guess who buried the rebound?

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@OldTakesExposed

I asked SO nicely! And yet after Mark Friedman registered an assist yesterday, tonight he buries NHL number one. Friedman has been speaking glowingly about how great things are in Pittsburgh (including after Tuesday’s game), which certainly sounds like a partial shot at his old organization. It’s an incredible feel-good moment for Friedman, but a gut-punch and a half for Philly. I’d say Nate Prosser would never, but, well, he actually has. Still, it’s not good a look for the organization whose biggest weakness is defense, even if Friedman may very likely never play the top-four role the Flyers need to fill.

And yet the onslaught didn’t stop. The Flyers proceeded to give up another odd-man rush, as Evgeni Malkin picked off a pass to the point by Sean Couturier. With no froward support to be found, the Penguins perfectly executed the 3-on-2, ending in a Jared McCann tip-in. That’s three goals separated by just 71 seconds, and much to the visitors’ dismay, the game seemed over by the four-minute mark.

Keyword: probably. The Flyers did play legitimately strong over the final 16 minutes after Alain Vigneault used his timeout in Peter Laviolette-esque fashion to calm things down. Travis Konecny hit the crossbar twice. Philadelphia began figuring things out in the neutral zone. Their forecheck came back to life a little bit. They even got back on the scoreboard with a Couturier power-play snipe. If nothing else, the Flyers were telling the Penguins it was going to take a 60-minute effort, not a 4-minute one, to win.

The second period brought some more of the same. The Flyers had some truly dangerous spurts, none more so than the one that cut the lead in half. The new-look third line of Oskar Lindblom, Giroux, and Nicolas Aube-Kubel put on a clinic in the offensive zone. After several great saves by Tristan Jarry, Oskar Lindblom found himself alone in front with the puck and the Penguins’ netminder at his mercy. Jarry made another highlight-reel stop, but couldn’t save the rebound, which Claude Giroux deposited to give the Flyers legitimate life.

Pittsburgh was able to turn this one into a little more of a slogfest as the game progressed, limiting chances at both ends. Usually, that’s the way a team-leading a one-goal game wants things to break, and for a while, it played to the Penguins’ benefit. Brian Elliott had to make some big saves, including a 10-bell glove grab on Evgeni Malkin, to keep Philly within striking distance. The Flyers were still getting some chances and making the limited crowd at PPG Paints Arena start to sweat. But with seven minutes left in the third and the lead still in tact, vain looked it might prevail over valor after all.

But for the second straight game, the Flyers parlayed a Tristan Jarry turnover into a huge third-period goal. In fairness, this wasn’t Jarry’s fault at all. Mike Matheson just couldn’t control a simple pass from his net-minder, letting the puck slide to Travis Konecny. TK found Giroux wide open in the slot, and with a little help from Scott Laughton’s pants, the puck found the back of the net, tying the game for the first time since the game’s first two minutes.

Getting so much as a point out of this game would’ve been a major victory. After all, every team lays an egg as the Flyers did occasionally. But not every team responds like the Flyers did tonight. They were determined not just to forget the first four minutes, but to make the last four minutes a moment to remember.

With just over two minutes left in regulation, the third line pounced again. A relatively routine shot by Oskar Lindblom took a Flyers bounce off Matheson in front of the goal right to NAK. Aube-Kubel, the only Flyers forward without a shot on goal, decided not to change what was working for the line. NAK tucked a curt backdoor pass that Giroux barely nudged towards the gaping cage. But he got just enough off the puck to skidder it over the goal-line, improbably giving the Flyers their first lead of the night.

Thankfully, it would also be the last goal of the night. Philadelphia kept playing strong defense with an extra Pittsburgh attacker out, although the Penguins got a few dangerous looks. A couple of huge shot blocks, some fumbles at the blue-line, and a last-second denial by Elliott completed the Flyers’ first win when trailing after 40 minutes in 2021.

Obviously, this was an incredible effort from the Flyers over the last 56 games. It’s been fourteen months since the last time they lost consecutive regular-season games in regulation, a streak that seemed destined to end tonight. But this is another example of what the full-strength Flyers are capable of. The borderline AHL squad they came out of their COVID outbreak with couldn’t have done this. The Couturier-less group that danced through the raindrops to a 7-2-1 start couldn’t have done this. It takes everybody to pull off a special victory like this, and everybody made plays, big and small, down the stretch to make this comeback possible.

This is what I meant when I said the peak Flyers were awfully close to returning at the end of last weekend. Of course, there will be speed bumps along the way; I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they don’t run the table. But the Flyers didn’t let a total breakout snowball as it did at Lake Tahoe. They didn’t wilt in the guts of the game. Instead, this group pulled out a massive two points while keeping the Penguins from earning any. Saturday’s rubber match will be pivotal in hopefully steering the Flyers in the right direction. But the fact that’s the narrative is impressive considering the likely alternative 3:57 in.

Check out some more hockey talk on the 100th episode of That’s Some Cheese!

Lindies

This was the Flyers’ first 3-0 comeback victory since October 26, 2016. Down 3-0 after 40 minutes, Travis Konecny started the comeback with his NHL goal, propelling the Flyers to a 4-3 shootout win over the Sabres.

Claude Giroux’s impressive performance snaps a 9-game goalless drought dating back to January 28 at New Jersey. The captain has been playing great most nights (this is his second three-point game in eight days), it was just a matter of time before he got a bounce.

Since January 26, only Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid have a higher points-per-game rate than James van Riemsdyk. JVR was shutout tonight, but his screen on Jarry was instrumental to Couturier’s tally.

Brian Elliott continues to impress, stopping the last 23 shots he faced. That being said, it’s worth noting Carter Hart hasn’t started three consecutive games since the Flyers’ first three of the season. Yes, Hart has definitely struggled a bit this season, although maybe not as much as the numbers say. I understand riding the hot hand, and in hindsight starting Elliott definitely worked. But I wonder if letting Hart play through his struggles is better long-term. At least Hart is staying sharp.

Speaking of Coots, Sean Couturier’s eight-game point streak is the longest currently in the NHL and of his career. He’s scored a point in every game he’s played in this season (not counting the Flyers’ second game, which he left after just 0:45 TOI with an injury).

And speaking of injuries, despite the goal, this wasn’t a perfect night for Mark Friedman. Friedman took several big hits, the last of which came from Nolan Patrick and left him looking woozy and caused him to exit for good. However, the Flyers also lost Phil Myers on another awkward hit where Myers looked shaken up. Neither hit looked dirty to me, but obviously, you never want to see someone go down as those guys did.

The fact that 17 of the NHL’s 31 teams currently allow fans to attend games is a good sign. There’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel, but the world isn’t out of the woods yet. So if you go to a hockey game in the near future, or basically anywhere for that matter, please wear a mask. And I do mean an actual mask, as opposed to a virtual one. This goes for fans of all teams; let’s do what we need to do to get through COVID-19 as soon and as safely as possible.

3 Stars

3rd: Jared McCann – Goal (4), 3 Shots

2nd: Nicolas Aube-Kubel – 2 Assists (4, 5), 4 Hits

1st: Claude Giroux – 2 Goals (2, 3), Assist (14), 4 Shots

Next

3/6, 1 PM – PHI @ PIT

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