By JAY BOEHMERSenior Hockey Insider — firstname.lastname@example.org _______
After being swept in the season series with Atlanta last year, the Flyers looked to redeem themselves in Friday night’s contest, the first of four meetings between the two clubs, ultimately coming out on top with a 5-2 win.
This Atlanta team has a vastly different makeup than the one the Flyers faced off against last season, with Ilya Kovalchuk gone and a cast of fresh faces newly arrived in his place – Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd from Chicago’s Cup-winning team as well as Johnny Oduya and Patrice Cormier from New Jersey. Instead of toiling away in the bottom of the conference, these Thrashers are fighting for a playoff spot, currently sitting in 8th place.
Their new-found skill and poise showed through much of the game, sporting a stronger defense led by Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom – both elected to the NHL All-Star team – backstopped by the young and talented Ondrej Pavelec in goal.
The two teams exchanged opportunities throughout the first two periods – Pavelec and Bobrovsky answered the call and stopped every shot thrown at them.
It wasn’t until a strange bounce off the referee’s skates sent the puck right into the slot and onto the stick of Andrew Ladd for a shot past Bobrovsky.
What the Thrashers didn’t know is that they weren’t just taking a one goal lead, they were waking up a sleeping giant.
The very next shift, with the Flyers’ energy line out on the ice, Jody Shelley blocked a blast by Byfuglien before taking the puck the other way. It wasn’t long until the backchecking defenders caught up with Shelley, forcing him to take a distant slap shot. What Shelley let loose was a rocket that found the top right corner to tie the score at one goal apiece.
The Flyers weren’t done as the recently put-together line of JVR, Giroux, and Carter worked its way up ice – with JVR crashing the net – and Giroux dropped the puck for Kimmo Timonen to step up with a wrist shot past Pavelec.
Not even thirty seconds after tying the game, the Flyers had taken the lead. It didn’t last for long, though, as a Timonen holding penalty gave the Thrashers the extra chance they needed for Rich Peverly to beat Bobrovsky with only seconds remaining on the clock.
While many worried that the Flyers would struggle as the game went along given their 3 a.m. arrival from Boston, they seemed only to get better throughout the contest.
The fiery-hot line of Briere, Leino and Hartnell took the lead with Hartnell firing a shot that Leino redirected right onto the stick of a waiting Danny Briere for the easy put-in and Briere’s fifth consecutive game with a goal.
Claude Giroux hooked back up with his linemates a few minutes later as JVR once again planted himself firmly in front of Pavelec. This time, instead of going for the drop pass, Giroux let rip a shot of his own to stretch the Flyers’ lead to two.
An empty net goal by Jeff Carter topped it off 5-2.
It was a case of “another night, another win” for the Flyers, who continue to play well in these difficult back-to-back games, boasting one of the league’s better records in these situations.
Nestled safely atop the Eastern conference, the Flyers make another trip back north to face the New York Rangers in a division match up that should by all counts favor the Flyers. But hockey is a strange sport, and anything can happen on any given night.