As the Philadelphia Flyers continued their death-crawl toward a merciful finish to a disastrous season, they looked to get any sort of consistency to build on for next year as they opened a four-game set against the New Jersey Devils.
On paper, this one looked like a great opportunity for the Flyers to finally put it all together. The Devils came in losers of nine straight and came in as the only team in the league worse than the Flyers in powerplay percentage, penalty kill percentage, goals for and goals against per game. However, the Flyers have had bad losses in games like this before, so most fans went into this one wondering what embarrassing way the Flyers would find to lose this time around. Just for this one night, however, the team had other ideas.
This matchup featured a Flyers team that had only scored first twice in their previous 17 against a Devils team that had held exactly one lead during their entirety of their nine-game drought. So of course the Devils came out playing with jump–including a breakaway from Pavel Zacha 1:26 in–and dictated the play before Michael McLeod finally scored off a nice 2-on-1 passing play with Bastion 4:56 in.
Things settled down a little after this, as neither team was able to really generate much sustained pressure and the odd-man rushes slowed down. The game was cruising right along with hardly any stoppages, until a New Jersey icing led to an offensive zone draw for the Flyers. Claude Giroux won the draw back to Phil Myers who fired a shot that bounced off Sean Couturier and into the net.
Just like that, the Flyers had tied it at one with 11:45 gone by, on a goal seemingly out of nowhere. Couturier’s goal woke up the Flyers, as they started coming with offensive pressure–firing the next 5 shots on goal– and limited New Jersey’s chances. Neither team was able to score the rest of the period though, and we headed to the room tied at one.
The Flyers came out with the better of the scoring chances, but like any good thing in the past year or so, however, it would not last, as another poor defensive play handed New Jersey the lead. Normally, when the Flyers defense gets embarrassed, it’s due to poor positioning, but this time, it was poor positioning and poor effort.
Nate Bastian outmuscled Sam Morin and beat Myers to the puck, sending it over to Miles Wood who pounded it home 7:07 in. New Jersey gained some offensive energy from that goal, as they pulled the shot totals to 20-17 after previously being outshot 19-11. Again, it was all line rushes and no finish, however, until the Flyers finally generated several glorious scoring chances off a net-mouth scramble but unfortunately were not able to push the puck through the maze of bodies.
The officials seemed content to swallow the whistle, and let this one finish as quickly as possible, but the Devils forced their hand by attempting to play with more than the traditional five skaters, and the first penalty was finally called with just over 30 seconds left. The Flyers couldn’t take advantage before the horn sounded, however, and they went to intermission down 2-1.
The Flyers began the period with 1:23 of power play time against the worst penalty kill in the league… what could go wrong? Well, as they’ve done all throughout this Murphy’s law experiment of a season, the Flyers turned it over, didn’t get set up and wasted the power play without getting a single shot.
Immediately thereafter, Kevin Hayes caught Nicholas Merkley with a high stick and the Devils got their first power play chance. They also weren’t able to do anything, and the two teams went 5-on-5. Predictably, Jesper Bratt gave NJ a 3-1 lead with 9:16 left off a beautiful feed from Pavel Zacha, prompting any Flyer fan with half a brain to turn off the TV and start getting ready for the beginning of the work-week.
Those of you who were either foolish or brave enough to gut this one out to the end, however, were treated to an absolute takeover by one Claude Giroux. After the Flyers pulled Elliott, the Captain took a backhand feed from James van Riemsdyk, and after fumbling it initially, was able to fling it to the back of the net, drawing the Orange and Black within one.
A mere 22 seconds later, the pair connected once again, as the puck came to JVR just above the hash marks and he alertly passed it to Giroux who shoveled it home from just to the left of Mackenzie Blackwood to tie the score at three. Suddenly, a game that many, myself included, had written off as the latest of a long line of disappointing losses was headed for overtime.
An Ivan Provorov tripping penalty sent the Devils to the power play 1:01 in, but the Flyers countered with an aggressive kill. They forced New Jersey into a couple turnovers, and killed off the penalty Brian Elliott came up with several HUGE saves and somehow, someway, the Flyers got this thing to the dreaded shootout.
In the shootout, Claude Giroux got yet another turn to shine as he scored first followed by a similar-looking 5-hole goal from Couturier on the next Philadelphia attempt.
Elliott stopped Hughes before giving up a goal to Yegor Sharangovich to make it 2-1 in the shootout. Travis Konecny came in with a chance to win, but was denied by Blackwood, shifting the pressure to Jesper Bratt to keep New Jersey alive. He scored to keep it going; then Scott Laughton, Jesper Boqvist, Ivan Provorov and Pavel Zacha were all stopped in order.
Kevin Hayes was then able to out-reach Blackwood and scored backhand, giving Elliott another chance to win it for the Flyers. He was able to stop Nico Hischier, handing the Flyers a dramatic 4-3 come-from-behind shootout win.
All-in-all, this game felt like the teams were trying to get it over with as quickly as possible. Neither team really bothered to forecheck, or play much defense, making this contest feel a lot like a pickup game. Not a great effort for the Flyers overall against a dreadful Devils squad, but at this point, you just have to appreciate the wins whenever you get them.
Claude Giroux wins first star of the game, as he tied and then passed Brian Propp for the number three spot on the Flyers’ all-time scoring list with his two third period goals, before scoring an important goal to lead off the shootout.
The Flyers continue their series with New Jersey on Tuesday, as they play game two of four in Newark at 7:00.