Flyers
The Flyers, down one in the third, fought back to tie the game on Sean Couturier’s goal (above) and won it in overtime off the stick of Travis Sanheim. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

That’s one! The Philadelphia Flyers WIN, 3-2, in overtime, over the Boston Bruins. It isn’t the perfect regulation win, four-point swing Flyers fans were hoping for. But it’s a promising and productive start to a week featuring two more head-to-head meetings with the Bruins team the Flyers are desperately chasing for the East Division’s last playoff spot.

Every Flyers fan and member of the organization knows how critical this week is. Specifically, the three head-to-head meetings with these Bruins. Boston entered Monday four points ahead of the Flyers with two games in hand. This “series” (which is separated by games on Thursday; for PHI: @ NYI, for BOS: @ WSH) gives the Flyers a chance to take back control of their season. It also gives the Bruins a chance to effectively end Philadelphia’s playoff hopes by doing what the Flyers did so well down the stretch last year: planting a dagger, then burying it.

Other than a lot of early icings (the majority of which went against the Flyers), the game started pretty evenly. The Bruins got a few hair-raising chances, but the Flyers probably spent more time in the offensive zone. The first bounce(s) went Philly’s way, but it came from luck they made happen. Ivan Provorov kept a puck in at the point and sent a fluttering shot towards Dan Vladar through a Jake Voracek screen. Vladar made the save but inadvertently paddled the puck to a wide-open Travis Konecny. TK made no mistake with a yawning cage, snapping his 12-game goalless drought just 10:15 in.

The Flyers immediately went back to playing with fire, however, giving up several dangerous chances. Brian Elliott stopped a few; the post denied a howitzer from Charlie McAvoy. But a failed exit (that was partially induced by a non-call, as Jake Voracek was clearly tripped) gave Boston a chance too good to pass up. Carson Khulman channeled his inner-Pastrnak with a beautiful curl and drag snipe high on the short side. It wasn’t another goal within two minutes of the Flyers scoring (it came 7:18 after TK’s goal), but it still stung.

Philly perhaps got the short end of the refereeing shaft when Sean Couturier missed gaining the red-line by a half-inch late in the first. Refs will often give players the benefit of the doubt, especially veterans like Coots. But that didn’t happen this time, and Shayne Gostisbehere compounded the issue by taking a late tripping penalty. The Flyers killed off the first forty-one seconds to reach intermission even. But forty-six ticks into the period, Patrice Bergeron, who was buzzing all game, tipped a slick feed past Elliott to put Boston on top.

That was the only goal of a pretty evenly played second period. The Flyers PP got a couple of looks of their own, but after some amazing saves by Vladar early in the first opportunity, fell silent. But they got another look in the third period when Michael Raffl drew a holding penalty. After some solid pressure from the first unit, the Flyers’ second unit took over and took off. Sean Couturier fired through James van Screensdyk for a massive game-tying snipe!

The Flyers pushed fairly hard down the stretch out of necessity. Every point the Bruins get is a mini defeat, and unfortunately, the Flyers couldn’t prevent them from being completely stymied. For the third time in six meetings this year, the Flyers and B’s headed to OT. The first half of the overtime, like most of the game, was pretty even. Both teams had some puck possession. The only A+ chance was a Travis Sanheim net drive that Vladar denied with an incredible lunging pad stop. Of course, Sanheim already has one OT winner at TD Garden to his name; what are the odds he’d get a second?

They became much higher when Bergeron, who was amazing all game, made a rare mistake. The Bruins captain must have really wanted point #900 because he blasted away from the high slot with no traffic in front of Elliott. It would’ve been a bad decision even if the shot got through; heck, it would’ve been a bad decision even if it went in. Instead, it was blocked by Sanheim, who took the puck the over way. It looked like a standard 1-on-1 rush that would probably end in Sanheim curling back to retain possession. But then Bergeron fell victim to a mistake that plagued Sanheim himself during a weird stretch last season.

He forgot how to skate.

A split-second stumble by Bergeron turned into an outright blown tire and Sanheim’s second sudden-death breakaway. He tried to deke out Vladar the first time, but the Bruins goalie out-stretched him. This time, Sanheim came in at full speed, man on a mission, game on his stick, pulling the trigger in the blink of an eye. And this time, he didn’t miss.

Overtime winner number two in Travis Sanheim’s NHL career! And it could not have come at a better time. While letting Boston scratch out one point takes a little bit of luster off, this is still a huge victory for Philly. For one, it cuts Boston’s lead in the standings down to three points. It also gives the Flyers desperately needed momentum. If there’s one thing that was lacking for the Flyers during their nightmare March, it was confidence. The belief that things were going to improve. That the bounces would start going way.

One win probably doesn’t flip the switch all by itself. Just like closing the gap for the last East playoff spot by one point doesn’t guarantee a playoff spot. But it’s a start. Both are. Of course, building on promising victories was another thing the Flyers struggled mightily in March. They won consecutive games just once in that month. That will need to change in April and May for the Flyers to have a shot at turning things around. They desperately need that turnaround to include a victory about twenty-four hours from now in Philly against these same Bruins. Preferably in regulation.

This Flyers season has been a lot more frustration than victory, a lot more depression than excitement, and a lot more dark than light. Tonight’s victory is a little glimmer of hope, a little spark of joy. It might go out shortly. Perhaps it stays around for a while. Either way, enjoy it while it lasts. The Flyers looked ready for the Bruins tonight, and it showed in a solid effort (48.33% Corsi, 51.55% xG at 5-on-5, score and venue adjusted) and most importantly, two massive points. Let’s see if they can be a little bit more than that tomorrow in front of a home crowd starved for celebrations like the one the Flyers provided tonight.

Lindies

Happy birthday to Flyers legend (and former Bruin) Bernie Parent! The two-time Cup-winning goalie turned 76 over the weekend. Brian Elliott certainly made him proud between the pipes tonight. Moose made too many big saves to count, especially in the aftermath of both Philadelphia goals. Help from the iron not once, not twice, but thrice was certainly appreciated as well.

Patrice Bergeron’s second-period goal puts him in sole possession of fourth all-time in points by a Bruin at 899. He came into the night tied with Rick Middleton. It was the latest example of Boston’s PP eating the Flyers alive in 2021; they’re 9/18 (50%!) against the Flyers this year.

As usual, Bergeron was a beast on faceoffs tonight, winning 74% of his draws. Only Detroit’s Luke Glendening (63.8% to 63.1%) has him beat in the entire NHL, other than a handful of players who have only taken a few draws. One of those players? Tanner Laczynski, who’s begun his NHL career 5-for-5 in the faceoff circle. One of those was a critical win after a Flyers icing in the third period.

This was the first game the Flyers scored first in since their 4-3 win on March 18 against the Islanders, snapping a seven-game drought.

Michael Raffl’s scratch Saturday wasn’t necessarily performance-related; the forward has been dealing with a nagging hand injury that sidelined him earlier in the year. Oskar Lindblom was scratched tonight, again, not necessarily due to his performance (or lack thereof). Lindblom is still getting back to 100% after a bout with cancer that ended less than a year ago. Giving him a little bit of rest isn’t a bad idea, and it’s one Alain Vigneault is certainly open to.

The Flyers have already allowed fewer than three goals as many times in April as they did in March: twice. It’s the first time they’ve allowed two goals or less in consecutive games since consecutive shutouts by Elliott on February 27 and Hart on February 28 at Buffalo.

Sanheim’s goal snapped a thirty-game goalless drought with that dramatic OT winner. His last goal was on January 21 against… the Bruins. It’s the third time in his career he’s scored a lead-changing goal against the Bruins in the final 10 minutes of regulation or later; the two OT winners, plus his second goal of one of last year’s most memorable games. Considering the Bruins have done that nine times in the last seven seasons, it’s good to have a late-game weapon on our side of this rivalry for once.

Mood!

The Bruins are in a tough spot with who to start in goal tomorrow. It may come down to Tuukka Rask returning from a hand injury (and likely still playing Hart), Vladar playing for the second straight night, or Jeremy Swayman’s NHL debut. Regular backup Jaroslav Halak may be available; he missed today’s game with a positive COVID-19 test, but there’s hope it might be a false positive. Playing a hurt Rask, tired Vladar, or inexperienced Swayman certainly doesn’t guarantee a victory, but it provides a huge opportunity for the Flyers.

Lastly, here’s a really cool story about one of the survivors of the Humboldt Broncos bus tragedy, which happened three years ago from tomorrow.

3 Stars

3rd: Patrice Bergeron – Goal (12), 6 Shots, 74% Face-off%

2nd: Brian Elliott – .931 SV% (23 Saves/24 Shots), 2 GA on 2.18 xGA

1st: Travis Sanheim – Goal (2), 22:43 TOI

Next

4/6, 7 PM – BOS vs. PHI

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