The Flyers’ night didn’t start out very well.
Sean Couturier took a slashing penalty less than a minute after the opening faceoff. The Flyers struggled to break out of their own zone early on, and when they did, Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov seemed unbeatable.
For the first 20 minutes of Thursday’s 3-1 win (see story), the Flyers didn’t look like the team that so recently impressed in California. They looked more like the team that’s struggled to do much of anything at times, especially on home ice.
Fortunately, though, that lasted only through those first 20 minutes.
“We knew we didn’t bring our best game in the first period,” Michael Raffl said. “Everybody had to step up, and that’s what we did.”
Something changed when the Flyers hit the ice for the second period. They were able to fluidly move the puck out of their own zone, and they were finally able to put some pressure on Varlamov. They outshot the Avalanche, 17-8, in the middle stanza.
In short, they took control of the game.
“I think we came back to our game, getting pucks deep and getting a good forecheck going and trying to play in their end,” Couturier said. “That’s how we create offense and control the play. I think we came back to the basics.”
It paid off at 6:21 of the period, when Mark Streit scored on the power play after Avalanche center John Mitchell took a hooking penalty. Streit’s shot from the point changed direction and beat Varlamov, breaking the scoreless tie and giving the Flyers the 1-0 lead they carried into the final period.
“I don’t know what happened in the first period,” Streit said. “It’s a good team, they have some quick guys up front, and we were in our end a whole lot.
“But we recovered and came back strong in the second period and had some offensive time in the offensive zone, and got scoring chances. I mean, both goalies were really good tonight, but this is a big game for us.”
The Flyers were fortunate to be facing an Avalanche team that had played three games in four nights and was visibly fatigued. But even so, they did a very good job of keeping pace with their noticeably faster opponent in the second period -- especially compared to how they looked in the first period and late in the third, when the Avalanche pulled Varlamov in favor of an extra attacker.
“We wanted to match their speed and their intensity, and it took us a couple minutes,” Couturier said. “But after that, I thought we did a good job in matching their intensity and playing solid hockey.”
The Flyers’ goal after returning from California (where they went 2-1 against some of the NHL’s top teams) was to carry that momentum into their final two games before the Olympic break.
That’s exactly what they did through the second period against the Avalanche -- and exactly what they’re hoping to accomplish Saturday, when they host the Calgary Flames.
“We played more our style, the way we wanted, and we played more responsible in our system,” Claude Giroux said. “We were able to get a goal. We’ve got to play more like that.”