Flyers 4, Bruins 5
(AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

How is it possible to be a let down and lucky at the same time? The Philadelphia Flyers lose, 5-4, shootout style, to the Boston Bruins. In the most Flyers twist ever, they play a game they deserve both two and zero points out of at the same time, and somehow end up with one.

On one hand, the Flyers entered the 3rd period of this game up 2-0, and though Boston tied it in a 70 second blitz, the Flyers also held a 3-2 lead in the back-half of the frame. On the other, they were down 4-3 with less than 4 minutes to go against a team that has delivered several unspeakable defeats to them in the last seven seasons.

Once again, the Flyers had their butts kicked at 5-on-5, losing the shot quantity and quality battles by convincing margins in every period except overtime. Then again, they entered the game down two forwards (including the reigning Selke winner) and two defensemen. Then they lost ANOTHER blue-liner when Brad Marchand tackled Mark Friedman away from the puck and Friedman’s visor cut himself, ending his season debut short. Though Vigneault thankfully confirmed after the game Friedman is fine and was pulled for precautionary reasons, that didn’t help the Flyers in the short term.

Philadelphia didn’t exactly deserve to have that 2-0 lead after 40 minutes because of the aforementioned Bruins dominance. Boston outshot the Flyers by a gaudy 14-3 gap in the 1st period. Part of that was due to a dangerous Bruins power-play that came oh-so close to lighting the lamp. Then again, the Flyers own man-advantage looked toothless on their two minutes of fame in that period. Some fortuitous puck luck around Carter Hart was the main reason the first period ended scoreless.

Hart kept on keeping on early in the second, stopping Bergeron with a sprawling right pad save at the edge of the crease. But that early chance actually marked a positive turning point for Philly. As the period wore on, the Flyers started to find their legs. Slowly but surely, the team started to win more battles and create a couple of chances.

A power-play shortly after the Bergeron chance gave the Flyers an opportunity to grab hold of the game, and they did just that. After Jake Voracek rang a one-timer off the bar from the right circle, Claude Giroux went bar down from the other circle, beating Tuukka Rask high short-side. Goal number one of the year for the captain snaps an oh-for-eight power-play drought and gives Philly a 1-0 lead.

The Flyers kept battling as the period progressed, though Hart was called upon again to rob David Krejci from the middle of the ice at close distance. Once again, the Bruins followed up a great scoring chance by taking a penalty, and once again, the Flyers capitalized. Just seven seconds after Anders Bjork’s hooking minor expired, Kevin Hayes moved in from the left point and whipped a cross-ice pass. Sean Kuraly did tip it, but the Flyers got the bounce — Jake Voracek was still able to field it and set up JVR for a tap-in at the net-mouth. JVRn’t you glad the Flyers have a 2-0 lead for the third time in their last four games?

So we head to the third period, Flyers up by a pair and finally starting to play well. Which means it’s the perfect time for the Flyers to start playing terribly and erase all of the good work they did in the second period. The Bruins finally got on the board 53 seconds into the frame when a hard pass by David Krejci caromed in off Jack Studnicka’s skate for… his first NHL goal? Wow, that NEVER happens against the Flyers. The good news is neither do third period collapses, so just get your game back and start moving the puck and OH NO NO NO…

Tie game. Charlie Coyle’s deflection of a Craig Smith shot prevented Hart from being able to control the rebound. Coyle then turned and burned in one fluid motion and put the puck in and out in the blink of an eye, tying the game just 70 seconds after Studnicka cut into the lead. Great. Here we go again.

Hold up wait a minute! Just went it felt like the Bruins were starting to circle, the Flyers found an answer. An Ivan Provorov shot block to the right spot sent the Flyers in transition with Boston’s forwards caught behind the play. Jake Voracek put on a master class in patience, gliding along the blue-line waiting for his teammates to drive the net. Voracek slid an innocuous pass that was just begging to be deflected towards the net. Sure enough, deflected it was, off Travis Sanheim’s skate to restore the Flyers lead. Great!

One bad thing about that, actually; it immediately gave the Flyers an excuse to turtle. The Bruins started swarming almost immediately after, and 12:47 is a long time to hold off one of the league’s best offenses. Too long, as it turns out. The Flyers might’ve been fine if they kept the game at 5-on-5, but the team’s second unforced o-zone penalty of the game (this one by Scott Laughton) gave the Bruins an opportunity too good to pass up. The Flyers overcommitted to yet failed to clear a bouncing puck in the corner, which eventually hopped over to a wide open Nick Ritchie for an easy tying goal that Carter Hart almost kept out.

The snowball the Bruins had been rolling down Mt. TD Garden since the start of the period had become a full-blown avalanche (note to self: that would be a cool name for an NHL team one day). There isn’t a worse feeling in sports then watching a tie game knowing it’s a matter of when not if your team falls behind. Sure enough, with 4:42 to play, Brandon Carlo blasted a d-to-d one-timer past Hart (his only bad goal of the night), driving a dagger right through the Flyers hearts.

Well, maybe that’s the case in a normal year. The lack of the usually raucous Boston crowd gave cracked the door open, which Sean Kuraly pulled further with a plain stupid cross-checking penalty just six seconds after Carlo scored. Philadelphia’s power-play suddenly had their swagger back, and it showed in the biggest moment. A bit of a sloppy entry forced the Flyers out of their usual formation, with Kevin Hayes taking the puck at the left circle. Once again, patience won the day. Hayes found Voracek cross-ice who quickly threw the puck in front. And once again, JVR was in his office to answer the call, tying the game-up with another re-direct!

All the Flyers had to do is survive 3:32 to secure a point and prevent tonight from being a total failure. If only it were that simple. With under two to play, the Bruins slipped the puck to the very edge of the blue-paint, with Nick Ritchie seemingly having a wide-open net. It was the type of play that gave me flashbacks to this:

And this:

ESPECIALLY THIS:

This one still gives me nightmares:

I know we won this game but this qualifies, too:

So yeah, you could say there’s reason to worry. Miraculously, Carter Hart got the but end of his stick on Ritchie’s chance, and Erik Gustafsson was able to swat the puck out of harm’s way. Mild heart attack over, to overtime we go.

For better or for worse, the Flyers played their best period of the year in the 3-on-3. Voracek was robbed on a tight backhander that he even managed to elevate. Hayes couldn’t elevate on a great 2-on-1 chance after receiving an amazing slap-pass from Voracek. Laughton missed the net on a breakaway in the dying seconds.

Unfortunately, the Flyers weren’t able to regain their incredible shootout success (2-0, 8 saves on 7 shots and 1 hilarious whiff for Carter Hart). The first two shooters in each time were silenced before Jake DeBrusk’s slick skate right, shoot left flick gave Boston the lead. Claude Giroux tried the same fake slap shot move that didn’t work in this building last season. As the saying goes, if it ain’t fixed, don’t fix it, and Giroux was stopped again to end the game.

If you looked at the scores of the Flyers first five games, you’d say they were pretty different. A couple of high-scoring three-goal wins, a shutout victory, a shootout loss, and a blowout defeat. But the numbers tell a very different and concerning story. The Flyers have played fifteen regulation periods this season. At 5-on-5, adjusting for score and venue, they’ve been outshout in fourteen. They’ve been out-chanced in thirteen. They’re driving play worse than the 2019-20 Detroit Red Wings, for crying out loud!

Of course, it isn’t all their fault. All teams have five-game stretches where they play terribly at some point; most don’t come out of them 3-1-1. Two of the team’s best internal options for replacing Matt Niskanen, easily their biggest question mark, are on the shelf. So is their best forward if not overall player. We’re five games into a season with a condensed training camp and no preseason. Stuff like this happens in the best of times, and it’s clear we are very not in those.

While I’m relieved the NHL’s blood thirst for parity prevented tonight from being a total disaster, the Flyers still have a long way to go. Look at the four Flyers teams from those disaster clips earlier. They combined for four playoff game victories. Blowing 2-0 3rd period leads in Boston wasn’t even above last year’s team (though at least they won the shootout). But remember, this year’s Flyers are striving to be better than any of those teams. Washing games like this out of their system is difficult, but possible.

That being said, that probably isn’t happening in the next couple of games. Considering the team’s injury situation, the next few games are probably going to be ugly. If the Flyers start to lose, hey, we already knew they needed to improve. If the Flyers keep winning, then it’s more house money. Learning how to win when you’re not playing your best is an important skill, and despite tonight’s result, the Flyers have proved they’re well versed. They probably don’t have the firepower to reach top gear in the next few games, but that doesn’t mean they can’t move a step closer.

Check out analysis on something the Flyers might look into doing soon: trading for a defenseman.

Lindies

The news on Myers and Frost isn’t optimal, but it’s not the very end of the world. Probably. Myers is week-to-week with a fractured rib; Frost is out indefinitely and has been placed on IR (freeing up a roster spot) with a dislocated left shoulder.

For the team, the bigger loss is Myers. The team defense was already close to shambles with him; it’s close to a nightmare without him. That being said, you really have to feel for Frost. He’s waited almost a year to get another crack at the NHL (his last game before this year was February 10). It’s only two games and it’s very early, but Frost led the Flyers with a 58.82% Corsi at 5-on-5. His 55.99% Expected Goals% trails only Claude Giroux. And now who knows when his next shot will come?

Here’s one thing that could help the defense revert from nightmare to just shambles. Shayne Gostisbehere was lifted off the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol list. Alain Vigneault said he’s been skating by himself in Philly and is expected to join the team soon. He could draw in as soon as Saturday’s rematch in Boston, but Tuesday in New Jersey feels like a safe bet.

No surprise to see Mark Friedman get the Flyers to the man advantage in this one. Last season, Friedman was a plus-nine in penalty differential for the AHL’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms. The rest of the team’s defense was a combined minus twenty-seven. Only one other blue-liner drew multiple more penalties than they took.

Speaking of players making their season debuts tonight, I thought Connor Bunnaman was solid. Granted, his line on the whole was taken to the cleaner’s (they were outshot 12-2). But in 16 games together last year, this trio put up a very strong 56.52% Corsi and 59.82% xG%. With Frost’s injury forcing Laughton into the top-nine for the time being, I’m betting on these three getting it back together.

Congratulations to Jake Voracek – his assist on the Sanheim goal is his 700th NHL point! It also passes Mark Recchi for 5th in the Flyers all-time assist list. Only 10 Czech players ever and 21 active NHL players have ever scored 700 points.

Kevin Hayes’ two-point game vaults him into the NHL lead in points with seven (two goals, five assists).

Travis Sanheim has scored four goals in his NHL career, his most against any team.

For the second straight game, my lack of creativity failed me and I drew on outside material for the title (always cite your sources, kids).

Looking for something to watch before the Flyers next game? NBC Sports Philadelphia will air a special on Oskar Lindblom’s courageous fight against cancer on Saturday at 6 PM.

3 Stars

3rd: Tuukka Rask – 22 Saves/26 Shots, 3 Saves/3 Shots in Shootout

2nd: Nick Ritchie – Goal (2), Assist (1), 2 Shots, 2 Hits

1st: Jake DeBrusk – Shootout Winner, 3 Shots

Next

1/23, 7 PM – PHI vs. BOS

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