On the night when the Flyers could let out of a sigh of relief by snapping their three-game losing streak to start the season, they took a punch to the gut.
The only thing that marred their 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers at Wells Fargo Center was losing defenseman Andrej Meszaros with an apparent left shoulder injury, sustained on the final shift of the second period.
His arm was in a sling leaving the building.
Given the state of the redesigned Flyers' defense, which is already suspect from a mobility standpoint, this could be a crushing blow if his injury is significant.
Meszaros came into this lockout-shortened season rehabbing his right Achilles' tendon, which was torn over the summer.
General manager Paul Holmgren said he would be re-evaluated on Friday.
Going with just five defensemen in the final period in which they had to kill off eight minutes in penalties, the Flyers' penalty kill -- boosted by an earlier power-play goal -- rose to the occasion with a full two-minute, 5-on-3 kill.
In short, special teams won the Flyers a game against a Rangers squad that owned them with six victories last season.
“We needed a game like that,” Max Talbot said. “Things like that gives us confidence. The start of the year, the power play and PK special teams haven’t been as good as we want them to be.
“I think it was great for our confidence to kill the 5-on-3 and to get goals on the power play, as well.”
That power-play goal would be Jakub Voracek’s first for the game-winner at 15:54 of the second period that made it 2-0.
“It was a lucky bounce and I had an easy tap-in,” Voracek said. “I’ll take it. It’s been a while. We played a pretty good hockey game. We didn’t give them much.”
Wayne Simmonds, easily the Flyers' hardest-working forward with nothing to show for it in previous games, scored his first goal and added an assist that same period.
The Flyers held a team meeting over in Voorhees on Thursday, hours before the game with coach Peter Laviolette.
Whatever was said, it must have sunk in because they came out with some “jam,” and played perhaps their best first period of the season, outshooting the Rangers, 11-5.
“I think everyone wants to win. Nobody wanted to be in the position that we were in,” Laviolette said. “I said [Wednesday] the only way we’re going to get out of it is if we go to work and try to fix things and continue to work and chip away.
“I thought our team played a very strong game. Guys showed up, they skated hard and worked hard and they really took care of their own end.
“There’s a lot of good zone time in the offensive zone, but still not the production we’re looking for, but certainly I think we had better strides against a real tough defensive team.”
The hitting was intense on both sides, too.
Less than three minutes in, Tommy Sestito, making his season debut along with Jody Shelley because of injuries and a suspension to Brayden Schenn, leveled an unsuspecting Jeff Halpern with a check.
That touched off a fight between Sestito and Stu Bickel. Soon after, Dan Girardi boarded Simmonds face-first into the back boards and that was followed with a crushing check from Nick Grossmann on Marian Gaborik along the Flyers' bench. Gaborik nearly ended up in it.
Sestito got his team and the crowd into it early.
“It’s hitting and you know the fights always come after you play the body. That’s my role and that’s what happened,” he said.
King Henrik Lunqvist (31 saves) had one very good save on Matt Read midway in, but it was another period in which the Flyers held the upper hand but had a big fat zero on the scoreboard.
Simmonds gave the Flyers their first lead since 4:57 of the second period against Buffalo with a tip-in from the crease on Grossmann’s point shot.
“I got a lucky bounce … but I think it was because we were all going to the net hard,” Simmonds said. “We got pucks up top and really pounded the net.”
Grossmann, incidentally, had his best overall game on both sides of the puck. He played 17:55 on a defense that had a five-man rotation in the third period with Meszaros' absence.
“They came hard and they wanted to get a goal on us,” Grossmann said of the frantic finish. “They put pressure on us. We had five guys and we tried to make hard, simple plays to take care of the job.
Shortly after Simmonds’ goal, rookie Tye McGinn beat the living daylights out of Rangers forward Kris Newsbury to really pump up the already-juiced crowd.
The resulting power play then saw Simmonds and Read put shots on Lundqvist from down low with Read’s just eluding Lundqvist’s glove hand, allowing Voracek an easy back-handed rebound into the net.
It was the first 2-0 lead the Flyers have had this season and the first lead over John Tortorella’s club since the Winter Classic. You remember that, right?
New York got one back early in the third period on a power play as Gaborik made a fine play in the slot to find an open Taylor Pyatt, who got Ilya Bryzgalov to commit as he popped it into the net at 1:39.
Bryzgalov faced 19 shots, but had several tough saves in the second and third period.
One reason for so few shots is because the Flyers had 33 shots and were in front of Lundqvist most of the night.
“We talked about it after the Jersey game to create more traffic in front of the net,” Talbot said. “That’s where the goals are gonna come from. Tonight was the best example of studying it and getting better at it and paying the price to get some goals.”
Lundqvist noticed the difference.
“They played well,” he said. “We knew they were going to come in with a good speed and a lot of desperation, but I thought we matched it pretty good.
“We put ourselves in a position where we had a chance here to tie it up. We had our two minutes there to really get a chance, but they defended really well.”
In what has become a ritual so far, the Flyers not only lost the momentum of their 2-0 lead in the final period, but got themselves in quick trouble and wound up facing another two-minute, 5-on-3 penalty kill.
McGinn got a double-minor for high-sticking, then Grossmann went off for hooking. The threesome of Sean Couturier, Talbot and Braydon Coburn were phenomenal killing off most of the two-man disadvantage and then the Flyers killed off the 5-on-4 to a standing ovation that brought the momentum right back to their bench.
“I don’t know exactly what it means to say ‘Flyers hockey’ but I like the way the team played tonight and I think we deserved the win tonight,” Bryzgalov said.
“Guys played unbelievable tonight and the team looked sharp in the crease tonight. There was great sacrifice made with guy blocking the shots, and nobody cheats. I can’t say enough words. It was just a great game tonight.”