Flyers survive Maple Leafs in a must-win, 4-3

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Flyers' Laughton celebrates.
Philadelphia Flyers’ Scott Laughton (21) celebrates after scoring a goal against Toronto Maple Leafs’ Ilya Samsonov (35) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, March 19, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

In one of the most crucial games of the 2023-2024 season for the Philadelphia Flyers (35-26-8), they defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs (38-20-9) sans Sean Couturier.

John Tortorella didn’t meet with the media in the pregame availability. The chances he would comment on his decision to make Couturier a healthy scratch were slim to none. Tortorella wouldn’t dive into his business with his skaters last season, either. The details are between the coach and the player, as it should be.

“I’m not talking on Sean [Couturier], I’m not debating with you, I’m not conversing with it. It’s between Sean and I.”

John Tortorella; 3/19/2024

Without a captain, Tortorella dressed the finest lines the Flyers had to offer. Owen Tippett, Morgan Frost, and Travis Konecny were together on the ice for less than a minute against the Boston Bruins and maximized their value. They represented the top line and picked up from where they left off.

Tortorella emphasized how much they would rely on Cam York and Travis Sanheim on defense. Both had a stellar performance together, helping out Sam Ersson, who rebounded following an ugly outing versus the Maple Leafs on March 14th.

For another night, Philadelphia remains in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoff hunt. They’re three points ahead of the Washington Capitals and five ahead of the New York Islanders. The Capitals have two games in hand, and the Islanders have one. Improving to 1-2-0 in a seven-game gauntlet against the best of the NHL Eastern Conference offers a boost of confidence, but consistency is key. If the Flyers are to keep their head above the postseason threshold, they’ll need to learn how to close out top teams with more efficiency in this current stretch of competition.

Philadelphia Flyers vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Tippett, Frost, and Konecny began with a pair of hot shifts. On the first shot of the game, Tippett fired from above the left faceoff circle past Ilya Samsonov, 1-0. Frost forechecked the puck to York along the blue line. York walked the blue line just enough to open a shooting lane for Tippett with 19:41 remaining in the first period.

“Those guys [Tippett, Frost, York] deserve to be in the lineup. They have played well. They get these opportunities, and this is where we’re at; we’re playing these types of games, middle to almost end of March, we have guys that have to experience this for us to go through this process of building this team. To get through the pressure of it and understand the situational play, and be involved in a game like this, and there’s going to be more as we keep on going, is huge as far as the process.”

John Tortorella; 3/19/2024

To offset an early lead, Ryan Reaves and Nicolas Deslauriers dropped the gloves to exchange knuckle sandwiches. Deslauriers let Reaves throw right-handed haymakers but kept guard with a stiff arm. Reaves had the height and weight advantage, but as soon as Deslauriers caught him off-balanced with a quick jab, the tables turned. The winner of the bout was Deslauriers.

Ryan Poehling was riding a hard forecheck on TJ Brodie in the offensive zone. He helped force a turnover on an errant pass around the back wall, which Garnet Hathaway found Sanheim around the slot for a wrist shot, 2-0. After two early goals to start the first and second periods, Philadelphia went up by a couple with 19:04 remaining.

“To get that one first shift, and just the energy to follow, it was huge.”

Travis Sanheim; 3/19/2024

Toronto hit the goalposts often. When they beat Ersson, the crossbar was the final boss who won every time. Overall, Ersson responded well to the Maple Leafs. Proof comes in the form of a breakaway denial against Bobby McMann and the following upend of William Nylander. He made more than a few dramatic saves, all required for a victory.

“Huge game for Sam [Ersson]. Just for him to get some swagger back into his game. He was outstanding. That’s a hard team [the Toronto Maple Leafs] to play against, they’re so balanced. I don’t think they can move up or down in the standings; they just play. They play free. I thought we played hard. It was a huge game for Sam just to get a result, and to get some of his confidence back.”

John Tortorella; 3/19/2024

Rewarding the goaltender, Ronnie Attard possessed the puck between Auston Matthews and Max Domi long enough to find Frost at the point for a wrist shot, 3-0. The assist was the first point of the season for Attard.

“I think my linemates have been making some good space for me. I’m trying to shoot the puck a little bit more; I think that’s always been a thing with me. I don’t have a very hard shot, but you’re never going to score if you don’t put it on net. I’m trying to throw more pucks to the net. When you’re playing with guys like Tip [Tippett] and TK [Konecny], sometimes it can be easy to want to pass it to them all game and find them. [I] kind of just threw that one on net and it went in, luckily.”

Morgan Frost; 3/19/2024

Even though the Flyers had a three-goal lead on Toronto, no lead was safe. In the most recent affair between these clubs, the Maple Leafs tallied three goals in the first and third periods.

Frost served a minor penalty for hooking. Toronto came alive when Nylander flashed a one-timer on the powerplay past Ersson, 3-1. The Maple Leafs won the special teams battle. Philadelphia finished 0/2 on the powerplay and 2/3 on the penalty kill. Matthews nearly scored shorthanded later in the third period, but the puck rang off the iron.

Not long after a missed shorthanded opportunity from Matthews, Toronto had another scoring chance. This time, no iron interfered. Morgan Rielly slipped a quick backdoor feed to Tyler Bertuzzi, 3-2, with 9:44 remaining in regulation. The Maple Leafs were within striking distance with the Flyers on their heels. The only task ahead of Philadelphia was to close out the win.

Scott Laughton served a minor penalty for hooking, and it seemed like a recipe for disaster after Nylander scored on the powerplay earlier. The Flyers successfully killed the penalty, and Laughton made a mad dash for the puck out of the box. He recovered the puck and passed to Tippett, who centered back to Laughton for the eventual game-winner, 4-2.

Samsonov was pulled for a six-on-five advantage. It worked once for Toronto. John Tavares scored after Matthews created a rebound, 4-3. Off the rebound generated by Matthews, Bertuzzi scooted the puck across the crease for an easy finish by Tavares on Ersson. The Maple Leafs attempted a six-on-five again, but Ersson held on for a regulation win in Philadelphia.

Up Next

Next, the Philadelphia Flyers visit the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday at 7pm.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)