For the first time this season, the Flyers had the opportunity to grab hold of a playoff spot all their own without being tied with anyone, no strings attached.
Win the game and they were third in the Metropolitan Division.
Win the game and they were over .500 for the first time this season.
It was also the first time goalie Steve Mason has faced his former club -- Columbus -- since being traded here last April.
All of that was of incentive for Craig Berube’s Flyers Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center against the Blue Jackets during a stunning 5-4 victory thanks to a blind, backhanded, rebound goal from Claude Giroux with 1:27 left in regulation.
The Flyers trailed 3-0 going into the last period.
Giroux’s second marker was his 100th career goal, too.
After being terribly outplayed in the second period and falling behind three to zip, the Flyers came out buzzing in the third period scoring twice -- Jakub Voracek and Braydon Coburn -- in 5:22 to make a game of it.
They were alive!
And then … Scott Hartnell, who had a poor game, lost a puck battle behind the net and Mason gave up a soft goal to Blake Comeau and it was 4-2.
Over, right? Nope. First, Erik Gustafsson and then Giroux scored to tie it on rebounds.
Columbus was badly outplayed and outshot (14-4) in the opening period, but led 1-0 off a shorthanded goal as the Flyers’ power play was nothing short of ghastly that stanza.
Maybe that stung the Flyers because they flat out rolled over in the second period and allowed the Blue Jackets to take it to them, even giving up a goal in the final 10 seconds of the period, making it 3-0 amid a torrent of boos.
The Flyers were 1-11-0 when trailing after two periods.
Sean Couturier seemed to have a foot or leg injury after getting hit with a puck around the 12:15 mark of the first period. He missed a few shifts being tended to at the bench and briefly appeared on a power play but eventually resumed his regular shift.
Voracek scored his fourth goal in three games.
Mason has given up four goals in four of his last six starts.
Gustafsson had not scored since Oct. 12 at Detroit.
As irony would have it, former Blue Jacket Voracek coughed up a puck on a Flyers power play and Columbus went three-fourths of the ice with a two-on-one. Cam Atkinson was looking pass the entire way and then wristed a shot past Mason for the only goal that first period.
Columbus scored first on just its third shot of the game.
For perhaps the fourth or fifth time this season, a bad line change or defensive change saw a goal come against the Flyers. Columbus made it 2-0 barely five minutes into the second period off a bad defensive change that saw a two-on-one with Coburn the lone defender. Jack Skille buried a shot from the right dot.
The Flyers were brutal on their third power play, twice allowing the Jackets to have an attacker going down the ice chasing a puck unmanned. The Flyers had already been beaten for one shorthanded goal and it could have easily beem two that period. That said, their first power play was excellent with several scoring chances denied by goalie Curtis McElhinney.
Passing from Michael Raffl to Giroux to Voracek early on for a scoring chance but no goal.
Center Vinny Lecavalier (injured back); Defensemen Hal Gill and Andrej Meszaros were healthy.
Coming into the game, the Flyers were 4-0-1 lifetime against the Blue Jackets on home ice. … The Flyers travel to Columbus on Saturday. This will be the first time both Voracek and Mason go back home wearing different uniforms.
While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference - the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0, with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”
VOORHEES, N.J. — As the Flyers go into the final two games of the schedule before the All-Star break Wednesday night at MSG against the New York Rangers and Thursday night at home against the upstart Toronto Maple Leafs, here are some rather stunning numbers to consider.
Most glaring is the Flyers' power play, which is 0 for 14 over the last three games. The power play hit its season high in December as No. 1 in the NHL. It has since dropped to 10th.
Tuesday morning at practice, Claude Giroux and power-play coach Joey Mullen worked on some strategy on the chalk board at Skate Zone.
“The power play, we’re kind of a streaky team,” Giroux said. “When we start scoring, we begin believing more in what we do. We just hesitate a bit too much.
“We have all the tools. The power play has won us some games and lost us some games. It’s important that we stick with it. We know it can help us. We can’t get discouraged.”
0: The number of Flyers who are on the plus side of the ledger when it comes to plus/minus
3.06: The Flyers' goals-against average
3-10: Flyers' record in three-goal games
5 for 25: Flyers' power play in January so far
5-6-1: Flyers' record vs. Metropolitan Division
10-6: Flyers' overtime record
-18: Shayne Gostisbehere’s plus/minus this season
11: Brayden Schenn’s power-play goals total — first in NHL
21: Claude Giroux’s power-play points total — first in NHL
42: Jakub Voracek’s point total
102: Flyers 5-on-5 goals against total — 29th in NHL