In a must-win situation to remain in the playoff hunt, Claude Giroux surges the Philadelphia Flyers to a resilient victory.
Resilience, in a word, most perfectly described the performance of the Philadelphia Flyers in their second game at the PPG Paints Arena. Before the opening faceoff, the Flyers learned they would be without Joel Farabee. Down a goal scorer, the Pittsburgh Penguins would regain Sidney Crosby. Already, personnel did not do Philadelphia any favors.
Alain Vigneault is a master craftsman in making adjustments. He called upon Brian Elliott in relief of Carter Hart. Nicolas Aube-Kubel worked his way into a role to increase physicality. On the top defensive pair, Justin Braun joined Ivan Provorov. Playing with his hand, could Vigneault sweep Pittsburgh off their skates?
Before the Flyers could say, “let’s do that hockey,” they were on the receiving end of a barrage of goals. In just over seventy seconds, the Penguins scored three goals. The final playoff spot in the Mass Mutual Eastern Division seemed as good as gone for Philadelphia.
On the forecheck, Kasperi Kapanen took a high hit before dishing the puck to Kris Letang. Kapanen was the hero on Tuesday but paid an early receipt. Letang didn’t let Kapanen take a meaningless hit, putting a puck on goal past Elliott from the blue line. It looked as if Travis Sanheim could have easily blocked the shot but opted to attempt to catch the puck. The misplay gave Pittsburgh an early lead.
Arguably, the second goal threw the most salt into the wound. Elliott denied Crosby in close but left a juicy rebound for Mark Friedman. Friedman has been dynamite for the Penguins against the Flyers. On Tuesday, he notched his first point of the season. Now, Friedman scored his first NHL goal against his former team.
Quickly after, Kapanen placed a shot that would have traveled wide of the net. Luckily, Jared McCann was sliding towards the post after losing his footing. In the sequence, McCann defected the puck past Elliott. McCann finished hard into the boards but scored nonetheless. All of the Penguins scoring plays took place within 71 seconds.
Vigneault needed to rally the troops by calling a timeout. To this moment, Philadelphia had a worse start than in Lake Tahoe. Sean Couturier became the catalyst for the Flyers on the powerplay. From the left faceoff circle, he placed a well-designed slapshot beyond Tristan Jarry. Philadelphia broke their cold streak on the powerplay while stealing necessary momentum before the end of the period.
Trailing, 3-1, the Flyers needed to inch their way back into the game by owning the second period. On the forecheck, Aube-Kubel played to his strength. Creating a scoring chance in a high percentage area is the name of the game under Vigneault. Jarry made the save on Oskar Lindblom but couldn’t recover on the rebound from Claude Giroux. The captain scored, raising comeback hopes.
At times in the second period, it seemed as if Philadelphia had to overcome officiating. Between the two teams, hits were heavy. Philippe Myers took a late hit from Anthony Angello after Jarry made the save to no call. It was a late collision, making a shove by Nolan Patrick on Friedman look like child’s play.
Down by one goal, 3-2, the Flyers needed to complete the comeback. Travis Konecny has improved his two-hundred-foot game ever since Vigneault challenged him. Without that development, Philadelphia doesn’t obtain the scoring chance to tie the game. In the corner boards, Konecny won the puck battle by sending a centering pass to Giroux. Giroux ripped a shot on the net, catching Scott Laughton for a deflection goal.
The Flyers needed more. A comeback is nice, but a victory is better. Lindblom kept the pressure on with the puck deep into Pittsburgh’s defensive zone. Sometimes, throwing a puck towards the net can work as well as a calculated shot. Aube-Kubel lucked out as the puck redirected off of Giroux’s stick for the game-winning goal.
The Penguins crumbled after a rocket start. Momentum and resiliency won out for Philadelphia. Tonight, they cleaned their mistakes while recovering from an early disaster. Vigneault showed that his in-game adjustments were more crucial than his pre-game adjustments.
Next, the Philadelphia Flyers visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. The puck drop is scheduled for 1pm. All of the action will be televised on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Photo Credit: Alex McIntyre