There was no mistaking the animosity between the two hockey clubs that took to the Wells Fargo Center ice Tuesday night. Things ended a lot like they started — with big hitting, some scattered shoving and lot of nasty words flying back and forth.
Sandwiched in between for the Flyers was three good periods of hockey. Solid goaltending, a relentless offense, and exceptional special teams play paved way for a 5-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens in front of a sell-out Philadelphia crowd.
The win for the Flyers means a little more than two points in the standings and the league’s best record as the NHL heads into the All-Star Break. The Flyers reached 1,000 franchise wins on home ice, making them the first expansion team to reach four digits.
The Flyers effort was complete; there was no lull. They didn’t ease off the gas pedal as they have in weeks past. Instead, a full effort from a well-rounded squad put the Flyers in a good mindset heading into the All-Star break.
“We certainly played better approaching a break this time rather than last time,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “There are points in the year where you don’t play a game the way you want to play it and the Florida game [which the Flyers lost 5-0] was certainly one of them…. You know, it’s not acceptable, but certainly going into this break we’ve talked about it because it did happen and we thought that we responded with a really strong effort.”
The Flyers started off the scoring late in the first period on a 5-on-3 after three Canadiens –Andrei Kostitsin, Jaroslav Spacek and PK Subban — overcrowded the penalty box, each for separate incidents within two minutes of one another.
The Flyers powerplay unit wasted no time getting things started. Seconds after Subban went to the box, Mike Richards fed Jeff Carter who backhanded the puck past Carey Price to put the Flyers up one-zip.
Just over a minute later, still on the 5-on-3, Kimmo Timmonen beat Price with a slapshot from just inside the blue line off a centering pass from Chris Pronger. Pronger matched a career high with four assists on the night.
Up 2-0 with both goals coming on the powerplay, the team was beginning to sense the resurgence of their dormant special teams unit. Going 3-5 with an extra attacker (or two) was a reminder of just how nice a reliable powerplay unit can be.
“I think just moving our feet and moving the puck quicker, not standing there with it and thinking,” said Pronger. “Then getting some traffic in front of him, I think Kimmo’s goal was a prime example of that. Even the first goal, Carts gets it and then gets his own rebound and then taps it in. Really just getting pucks to the net and having bodies there.”
One of the most impressive shifts of the season came in the second period when the Carter-Claude Giroux-Nik Zherdev line kept the puck in the Montreal zone for nearly two minutes before an exhausted Price fell on it, prompting a standing ovation from the crowd.
“Those players are pretty special,” Price said. “They move the puck around pretty well, they cycle it down low, and they’re pretty good at it. You know, it was just a showcase of talent, really.”
David Desharneis broke up the shutout for Sergei Bobrovsky, who improved to 21-6-3 with the win, with his second period one timer.
The Desharneis goal put the Habs as close as they would come as Giroux had an answer, scoring on a powerplay from a Scott Hartnell pass to make it 4-1 with 3:08 remaining in the middle period.
The third saw a goal for each side — Danny Briere for the Flyers and Mathieu Darche for the Canadiens — and plenty more pushing and shoving. Though no fights were recorded, things got physical multiple times in the period.
While the Flyers-Canadiens rivalry may not compare in most minds to that of the Penguins or the Rangers, it’s obvious that there’s a little extra there for the players on the ice.
“Yeah there’s a little bit of a rivalry,” said Dan Carcillo, who scored in the beginning of the second period before taking a 10 minute misconduct in the third. “You know, it’s getting pretty chippy when we play each other the last couple times. You know they are fun games to be apart of.”
Laviolette believes the Candiens force you to bring your ‘A’ game every night, something he attributes Tuesday night’s intensity to.
“Montreal is one of those teams that bring out the best in people. There is a lot of history there with Montreal because they have a great organization,” Laviolette said. “They have got a great season going on right now and you know you have to play well if you are going to be successful against them. I thought they came out and played a really aggressive game tonight. They tried to really check us, check the puck hard, and we just kind of kept going.”
Now the Flyers have to wait. Giroux, Briere and Laviolette will all head to Raleigh, NC for the All Star Game, while the rest of the team will take advantage of the time to heal and relax. The practice schedule is not yet determined, but with Laviolette coaching Sunday it seems unlikely that the team would practice Monday before heading to Tampa for their game against the Lightning Tuesday night.
The off time can be a good thing, but the Flyers certainly want to find a way to carry this momentum into next week.
A grand old win
As noted the Flyers have become the first expansion team to reach 1,000 home ice victories. Tonight’s win was the 301st at the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers won 696 games at the Spectrum from 1967 to 1996. Not adding up? That’s because an additional three wins came at Le Colisee de Quebec in Quebec City, where the Flyers played five home games in the 1967-68 season when the roof blew off the Spectrum.
“Having personally attended nearly every one of these glorious victories, it certainly is impressive to be the first NHL expansion team to reach 1,000 regular season home victories,” said Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider. “This achievement is a true testament to the many men who have put on the orange and black and proudly wore the Flyers famous logo for nearly 45 years. This milestone is representative of Flyers Hockey. We want our home to be a very tough place for our opponents to play.”
Said Peter Luukko: “It’s a remarkable achievement for Ed Snider and our organization. In addition to the many who have skated for the Flyers over the years, a lot of credit for many of these wins goes to the most intimidating fans in hockey, our hard core Flyers fans. We are fortunate tonight to celebrate this accomplishment with them.”