There were far more quality chances than Flyers coach Peter Laviolette would have liked. And far too much pressure on his penalty killers, as well.
Ah, but your goalie is always your best penalty killer and Ilya Bryzgalov stood the test Saturday afternoon.
Let the record show that on March 2, the Flyers finally hit the .500 mark with a taut 2-1 victory over the highly-competitive Ottawa Senators at Wells Fargo Center.
“Bryz was really good,” Laviolette said. “First period … we made some mistakes and he was sharp early.”
Bryzgalov’s 33 saves and outstanding 5-for-5 penalty killing were the difference as defense won over offense.
“He’s amazing, he’s unbelievable, I love that guy,” Zac Rinaldo gushed over Bryzgalov. “Me and him have a good relationship. He’s doing a lot for this team.
“He’s stopping the puck. That’s all we want him to do. He’s always the same in the room. He’s a real person.”
It was a nail-biter as the Flyers evened their record at 11-11-1 and survived a 6-on-4 Sens' power play to end it with goalie Ben Bishop pulled.
“We gotta win hockey games,” Laviolette said. “The most important thing is we keep winning and have a big month. We talked about the month of March and putting some wins together to move up in the standings. That’s probably the most important thing.”
The Flyers managed to protect the slimmest of leads – 2-1 – from 14:11 of the second period to the end, largely because of Bryz, who won his 200th career game.
“Great,” he said of win No. 200. “It was exciting hockey. Both teams had chances to score and played passionately. It was fast hockey, there were lots of opportunities. If you ask the people in stands if it was fun to watch, it’s just good hockey.”
What might have made life easier on him is if the Flyers had done something on the power play – 0-for-5.
They even had a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes with less than six minutes to play. Ottawa forced them to the outside with shots and even cleared the zone a few times.
“We had too many scoring chances [for] it to be only 2-1,” Jakub Voracek said. “Bryz had a couple of big saves, as well. That 5-on-3 in the third period, we got to make sure we make a difference.
“If we get that third goal, the game is over. We left them in the game and they almost took it to overtime. … We got work on it in practice.”
Though the Flyers started poorly, they recovered. The opening saw outstanding goaltending between Bishop and especially, Bryzgalov, who had to make a couple of saves on wide-open shots, including trapping a puck off Erik Condra’s stick that Bryz was looking over his shoulder.
“It was trapped between my body and arm,” Bryzgalov said. “I felt the puck, I was just making sure the puck did not pass through me and in the net.”
That was one of several terrific saves (14 shots overall) that period. He had three saves alone on Sens defenseman Patrick Wiercioch during an Ottawa power play that began as a five-minute one because of Harry Zolnierczyk.
Harry Z caught Sens defenseman Mike Lundin with his head down around the Flyers' blue line, but left his feet to land a shoulder to the head. That drew a five-minute major for charging plus a game misconduct.
He’s facing a suspension.
Now the second period was a different story. The Flyers actually enjoyed a 2-0 lead on a pair of splendid goals from Voracek and Wayne Simmonds.
Luke Schenn gave Voracek a nice pass off the fly to go around Sens defenseman Eric Gryba, and he cut to the middle at 7:29 for his ninth goal.
Voracek is exuding confidence with six goals and nine assists for 15 points in his last eight games.
“Shooting wise, I think I’m more confident than last year,” Voracek said. “I fell the same but I am shooting the puck more and creating more chances, picking up points.”
Four minutes later, Danny Briere started a rush up the left side with Brayden Schenn, and he tossed a long, diagonal pass to Simmonds, who went forehand to backhand for his ninth goal, as well.
“I think those are the games we have to get comfortable with, obviously,” Simmonds said of the low-scoring affair. “Especially trying to make a playoff push and all.
“I think a lot of games going down to the back half of the season are going to be like that. So, obviously we need to get comfortable in games like that. We’ve been fighting to get to .500 for a long time and we can’t stop now. We just have to keep going ahead.”
Incidentally, Brayden Schenn’s assist on Simmonds’ goal gave him 19 points in 22 games – less than half the number of games to hit that mark from a year ago when he scored just 18 points in 54 games.
The Flyers then had a power-play opportunity to salt the game, yet instead could only muster two shots. That Ottawa penalty kill turned it around for the Sens.
Colin Greening came out of the box and got a breakaway pass. Bryzgalov challenged, made the save, but Greening stayed with the puck, feeding Marc Methot from a far away galaxy.
Though Bryzgalov had a clear view of the shot, the puck hit his stick and went upwards over his shoulder, making it 2-1 to set up the tense finish.
The Flyers face a genuine challenge to their March Madness this week with games against the Rangers, Penguins and Bruins.
“We have a lot of big games in March [13 in 30 days],” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “We have to make sure we’re ready to go every game. We’re aware in March we play very good teams.
“It’s what we want. Get better every game. It doesn’t matter who we play. We have to work on our game and this was a good way to kick off March.”