Flyers fans in need of a win over an elite opponent to wash away the memory of a heartbreaking Winter Classic third period got just that on Thursday night. It looked for a moment like the Classic's third would happen all over again, but the Flyers didn't wilt despite some lapses in their own end (and crease) and finished strong for a 5-4 win. The Blackhawks were in town for the first time since they left the building with the Stanley Cup in June 2010, but they left with only their chins on their chests after this one.
The rookies played well, and James van Riemsdyk scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner. It was a fast-paced game between two of the best teams in the league, as entertaining as it was enervating.
Unfortunately, the Flyers may be dealing with an injury to the defenseman they can least afford to lose, especially considering the goaltending was once again shaky despite the win.
Chicago struck just three minutes in, forcing a turnover with some pressure on Zac Rinaldo as he tried to clear the zone. Jamal Mayers flipped a quick pass to rookie Jimmy Hayes, who redirected it past Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryz tried to go for a poke check, but got caught between the poke and the save attempt.
Rinaldo must have felt inclined to make amends, because he threw down with fellow rookie Andrew Shaw on the ensuing face-off. Say what you will about fighting in the NHL, but it often still serves a purpose, for better or worse. [Video and some great pics from that scrap here.]
But Rinaldo didn't stop there. Along with linemates Sean Couturier and Harry Zolnierczyk—all rookies—the Flyers fourth line played its ass off in this one. The momentum they helped create got the Flyers back in the game quickly and kept them there.
Jake Voracek opened the scoring for the Flyers, collecting a long bounce after a Braydon Coburn shot caromed off the end boards and putting it into a fairly open net. Voracek has been playing some good hockey, so it was nice to see him get on the G board. The first period ended with the teams knotted at one.
Blown Wide Open
Indecorous guests that they are, Chicago opened the scoring in the second as well.
After fighting Rinaldo in the first, Shaw scored in the second. The Flyers didn't wait long to even it up again though, with Scott Hartnell scoring on a golf shot, picking a floated pass out of midair with a swipe toward the net. The goal came on the very next shift after the Shaw goal, and featured great work behind the net and along the boards by the Flyers. Matt Read, playing with G and Hartnell while Jagr is out, worked a a give-and-go with Giroux, who flipped it in front of the crease to Hartnell. Harts was absolutely surrounded by Blackhawks but still managed to get enough wood on it to beat Emery.
Just under four minutes later, the fourth line struck with their contribution. This one was something else too, featuring a great setup by Couturier, some acrobatics by Rinaldo, and a nice finish by Harry Z. Rinaldo went absolutely skates up in his effort to crash the net (legally mind you) and make the goal happen. Twenty-five seconds later, JVR found the net to put the Flyers up 4-2. Both goals in the video below:
Winter Classic Flashbacks...
Heading into the second intermission, the Flyers seemed to have complete control of the game. The Blackhawks stars hadn't really been a big factor in the game, and the Flyer were winning battles and skating hard. This is of course when the wheels came off.
Brent Seabrook beat Bryzgalov on an uncontested shot, nearly freezing him in place. Some goals, including the first two in this game, can be blamed at least in significant part on what's going on outside of the crease. Not this one. Whats worse, it seemed to deflate the Flyers, and 25 seconds later, Patrick Kane scored after the Blackhawks forced a turnover with some hard forechecking. This one we won't blame on Bryz. Kane was all alone in the slot, and despite his struggles this season, he's more than likely going to make that shot.
However, with the game tied at 4, Kane did his best to make amends for once again putting Flyers fans hearts in their throats. He committed the 'Hawks' second high-sticking penalty of the period, and the Flyers went on the power play with less than 2 minutes to go.
According to Peter Laviolette after the game, Giroux was yelling on the bench, "It's not going to happen again!" in reference to the Flyers' handing over a third period win to the Rangers in the Winter Classic. On the power play, G, Hartnell and JVR created one hell of a gorgeous opportunity, with Giroux passing down low to Hartnell, who found JVR streaking toward the goal. Once again he potted it, taking advantage of the penalty taken by the player he'll always be linked to.
More on JVR to come. Great to see him finding chemistry tonight, working with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. The RSS Line?
OH NO KIMMO
Kimmo Timonen hurt his wrist in the first period, missing much of it while getting tended to by the trainers. He returned for the start of the second, but quickly disappeared again. The Flyers will probably give an update tomorrow, but for now, they're just calling it an upper-body injury.
It wasn't all hearts and flowers out there, but a win's a win, and the Flyers beat one of the top teams in the league without a top line
winger and losing their best defenseman early in the game. They pummeled Ray Emery with barrages and played one of the fastest-paced games we've seen all season. The goals they let up weren't the end of the world given the quality of the opponent and end-to-end action, but we're still waiting to see Bryzgalov get his game back. He made some pretty huge stops tonight, so there's hope it could be soon, but on the goals, he just looked frozen. Once he commits, he has trouble readjusting. Ya got some work to do with this one, Coach Reese.
Hey, at least Bryz got to wear his Winter Classic mask and pads at least once. The Drummond Custom mask looked pretty outstanding, wouldn't mind seeing it more often.
The Rangers topped Florida again, so the Flyers are still four points behind them. They'll get a chance at two more points on Saturday, when they host the Eastern Conference All-Star Senators.
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