In one of their most meaningful games in weeks, the Flyers stepped up and played one of their best games in weeks to put a stranglehold on their Atlantic Division lead with a 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
For weeks, the Flyers have been alone, unconstested, at the top of the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division.
Without much at stake, they’ve slipped into bad habits with some embarrassing performances.
Many started to wonder whether they’d ever be able to get back on track – whether they could just flip a switch and turn it on when the games counted in the playoffs.
Well Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, the Flyers got a taste of the playoffs, and it was sweet.
Peter Laviolette recognized the playoff intensity, and praised his team’s ability to step up.
“It was a tight-checking game – I thought that we competed really hard,” he said. “[Pittsburgh] is playing tight defense right now and there’s not a lot of room to make plays out there. If you don’t compete with that, you’ll find yourself not liking your game very much. I like the way we competed – the guys played extremely well.”
That tight defense provided few holes to take advantage of once they established a lead. The Penguins went up 1-0 in the first, and later 2-1 in the second.
Both times, the Flyers were able to respond and tie the game.
Veteran defenseman Sean O’Donnell said the team responded in desperation, though sometimes he wishes they wouldn’t wait until their backs were against the wall.
“I think that showed a lot of character on this team – we got down 2-1 .. we were able to battle back,” he said. “I give our guys full credit for coming out and taking two points. We needed this win tonight, and I think it was very positive the way we rebounded and played.”
The three stars of the game, Leino, Hartnell, and Briere, looked to be in playoff form, as they combined for 3 goals and 4 assists.
Briere hopes that this is a sign of things to come for the playoffs, as his line dominated last Spring.
“I like the two guys I’m playing with – they’re guys that when the game’s on the line or in the big games, they show up,” he said. “I’m hoping that our line will be ready to do the same thing.”
Behind them, Sergei Bobrovsky had another impressive night in goal. Stopping 25 of 27 shots – including some huge saves when the Flyers were fighting to hold their lead – he did what a goalie is asked to do: give his team a chance to win.
At times, the team doesn’t take advantage of that chance, and their offense stumbles at the other end. That wasn’t the case here.
With their 25th road win – 3rd in Pittsburgh – the Flyers have now swept the season series in the Penguins’ Consol Energy Center and also set a franchise record for road wins in a season.
All the while they’re grip on the standings is tightening. The magic number for the Flyers to guarantee the top spot is seven points.
Assuming the teams below them post perfect records, all the Flyers need to do is manage a meek 3-2-1 record to clinch first place in the Conference and the Division.
With home ice advantage throughout the playoffs a sure thing, the Flyers now have even more reason to be excited for their return to Philly to face the Atlanta Thrashers this Thursday.
Some bad news to come out of Pittsburgh is an injury sustained to defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
Timonen didn’t return to the ice in the third period due to a “lower body injury.”
GM Paul Holmgren lists him as day-to-day currently, and is looking into the possibility of calling up another defenseman from the AHL.
For now, he’s going forward with the hope that Timonen will be cleared to play by Thursday.