For the first time since 1988 – since Ronald Reagan was in office, since the Beach Boys took the #1 spot on the Billboard charts, when the Soviet Union was still in power and the Berlin Wall stood strong – the Flyers have finally won in Detroit as they topped the Red Wings 3-2.
The final game on their trip out west, this contest in Detroit was a key moment for the Flyers. The top two teams in their respective conferences, each playing a similar style of hockey, and the play on ice did not disappoint.
After Peter Laviolette’s fresh start – his mixed and matched line combos – went stale in Anaheim, he could have gone back to the drawing board. Instead, he chose to simply return to the combinations that have gotten the Flyers so many wins through November and December.
Briere returned to center along with Leino and Hartnell, Carter lined back up with Claude Giroux, and Andreas Nodl rejoined James van Riemsdyk and Mike Richards.
More importantly, everyone returned to the solid defensive play that has been a hallmark of Flyers hockey. Swarm the opposition, shut them down, steal the puck and take it the other way – force the other team to make mistakes and capitalize with goals of your own.
After a scoreless period of tight-checking hockey, the Flyers gained the offensive momentum they needed after a goal by James van Riemsdyk in the opening minute of play. It took a lucky bounce of a couple of Red Wings defenders, but as the Flyers have learned: you make your own breaks. Good play begets good luck.
Coming off the momentum from JVR’s 9th of the season, the Flyers strung together a few shifts of consistent pressure before cashing in with a tip-in by Dan Carcillo off an Andrej Meszaros point shot. Scott Hartnell beat Jimmy Howard to extend the lead to 3-0 before the end of the second.
The Red Wings started the third with a new sense of direction, backed by a new goaltender as the veteran Chris Osgood manned the pipes.
Their new energy caught the Flyers off guard as Valtteri Filppula blew by Meszaros and beat Brian Boucher to put Detroit on the board.
The two teams exchanged blows throughout the period, with neither putting anything in the back of the net until former Red Wing Ville Leino was issued a questionable goalie interference call and Henrik Zetterberg cashed in on the power play.
Down a goal, momentum in hand, the Red Wings continued to push. Even with the empty net, though, the Flyers dug in when they had to and held them off for the 3-2 victory.
Going back home for a home and home series against the embarrassingly poor New Jersey Devils, the Flyers have proven themselves worthy of the top spot once again by returning to the play that made them so dangerous.
They gave up very little, Brian Boucher held strong when he had to, and put their opponent away in the second period. When a relaxed “bent, but don’t break” defense spotted the opponents two goals in the third, the team regrouped – this time without the help of a well timed Peter Laviolette timeout – and shut the opposition down just the way they know how.