The Flyers know their playoff lives are hanging by a thread. They’re intensely aware of the value of each game, of just how much a missed two points could affect their livelihood come May.
That knowledge is likely a big part of why it took until April 3 – their fifth attempt of the season – to win three games in a row. Despite trailing heading into the third period, the Flyers defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 5-3.
“Right now, it’s do or die,” Matt Read said. “We’ve got to show up every game, and we’ve got to go on a big winning streak here to try to close the gap to the playoff spot, to find a playoff spot, before the last couple games and try to seal the deal then. But it doesn’t matter. Three games, two games, it doesn’t matter. We’ve just got to keep winning, keep playing our best hockey and keep making a push.”
Something seems to have changed in the Flyers over the past week or so, though they’re still out of playoff contention in 11th place in the Eastern Conference (four points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers). Wednesday’s game was the second in a row in which the Flyers fought back from a third-period deficit to win. Suddenly, they’re refusing to roll over when an opponent takes a lead.
That was certainly the case against the Canadiens. Though the Flyers did start the game with some jump, claiming the first three shots on net of the evening, the pace did begin to decline as the period went on. Montreal took the 1-0 lead when defenseman Alexei Emelin got lucky on a shot from the point as Ilya Bryzgalov was screened.
The Habs carried their lead into the second period, but Flyers’ best hockey was yet to come.
“I don’t think we had that drive at the start of the season,” Luke Schenn said. “We wouldn’t quit, but we didn’t have that drive like the past couple of games here. That’s a good sign. We’re fighting to the end and battling for a playoff spot.”
The Flyers’ play truly began to turn a corner in the second period. Though they started the stanza on the penalty kill, they followed it up with back-to-back fights that injected energy into what had been becoming somewhat of a listless effort.
First, Wayne Simmonds took on Travis Moen in a short-but-sweet match that saw Simmonds land one good punch before the two toppled to the ice.
As soon as play resumed, Zac Rinaldo squared off with Brandon Prust – though Rinaldo was on the losing end of the tussle. He later left the game with a lower-body injury, and didn’t return.
“A couple big fights early in the second period, that seems to turn things around for us,” coach Peter Laviolette said, “put some energy in the building, on our bench. Simmer [Wayne Simmonds] did a great job, Zac did a great job, and we were able to get going in a different direction in the game.”
Just moments after the fights, Sean Couturier tied it up for the Flyers. It wasn’t the prettiest of tallies, but it was a big one for the youngest Flyer. Couturier had gone since Jan. 27 – 27 games – without a goal.
The Flyers added to it later in the second period, when the puck bounced off the boards behind Montreal goaltender Carey Price and right onto Simon Gagne’s stick.
“We played one of our best games tonight, and it was simple, it was hard,” Claude Giroux said. “When we’re hungry, that’s when we play our best. Four lines were rolling tonight, all four lines were playing great. It’s always fun to have those wins.”
Unfortunately for the Flyers, however, their 2-1 lead lasted less than a minute.
To make matters just a bit worse, it took a mere 20 seconds for Brandon Prust to tie the game at 2 and center David Desharnais to return the lead to the Canadiens, who carried the 3-2 score into the third period. While he can’t bear all the fault for Prust’s tally, Bryzgalov appeared to duck as Desharnais’ shot flew at him.
But the Flyers kept fighting. Seems they’re beginning to remember what they were capable of last season.
“We called ourselves ‘the comeback kids’ last year, and we are kind of back on that same page,” Read said. “You play with confidence and when you're down one or two goals you just fight back and it's another comeback. The comeback kids win again tonight. So hopefully we're not down the next couple games going into the third but we just got to keep playing, play a full 60, and ride this wave that we're on."
The Flyers picked up the pace in the third period, peppering Price with a handful of solid shots. The Flyers outshot the Habs 26-6 in the latter two periods. Giroux even got in the mix, getting physical in a small scuffle with Habs center Lars Eller.
Wayne Simmonds tied the game at 3 when he camped out on Price’s doorstep to get a piece of a point shot from Bruno Gervais with his skate. The crowd, newly reinvigorated, got to its feet and got loud.
Just seconds later, Erik Gustafsson gave the Flyers the 4-3 lead. Jakub Voracek’s empty-netter goal in the game’s closing seconds sealed the victory – and demonstrated without words the Flyers’ 2013 mantra.
“We won’t give up,” Couturier said. “We still have a chance, and if we keep winning we’ll be right back in the mix. We can only control what we can control by us winning games. We can’t focus too much on what’s going on around the league.
“We got to make our own destiny, and we still have a chance, so it’s good for us.”