Flyers Improve, Beat Leafs
After a four game losing streak, the Philadelphia Flyers may be back on track. Thursday night in Toronto, the team played against a Maple Leafs team that is starving to make the playoffs. Recently, the Flyers have found it difficult to match the intensity of such teams, including the Leafs.
A week prior to Thursday’s matchup, the Flyers blew a pair of one-goal leads in a 3-2 loss to Toronto. This time, they put together two strong periods of hockey and hung on for a win by an identical score and in the process, hitting the 90-point mark for the season.
If the Flyers needed help getting jumpstarted on Thursday, Leafs defenseman Mike Komisarek supplied the power. On a dangerous play, Komisarek cross-checked Daniel Carcillo along the end boards by Toronto’s net. Carcillo fell awkwardly into the boards face-first, and the result was a five minute major penalty as well as a game misconduct. For the second consecutive game, the team would find the scoreboard on a five minute power play.
One minute and ten seconds into the power play, Andrej Meszaros fired a rifling point shot past rookie goaltender James Reimer. The goal was a direct result excellent power play movement and traffic in front of the net. In the Flyers’ most recent offensive funk, the lack of both of those things has haunted them on the power play. Meszaros’ big shot was a prime example of what the team must do in order to maintain power play success moving forward.
Both teams would be held scoreless for the remainder of the first period, despite having quality chances. Although the Flyers were impressive, they have had significant troubles with playing the same brand of impressive hockey for longer than the first period recently. When the team took the ice in the second period, they played as if they were out to abruptly end that trend.
With an aggressive fore-check and sustained puck possession, the Flyers controlled play in the beginning of the second stanza. As Philadelphia has learned the hard way lately, the puck has a way of bouncing in the direction of the hardest working team. The goal that gave the team a 2-0 lead was a prime example of that.
Defenseman Matt Carle intercepted a Leafs outlet pass and somehow managed to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Almost immediately after Carle’s stellar effort, fourth-liner Darroll Powe threw the puck at the net from the corner to Reimer’s left. Somehow, someway, the puck found its way through Reimer and doubled the lead for the Flyers with 10:24 remaining in the second period.
Although it looked as if the Flyers would continue to dominate the game, they quickly found a way to put themselves in a less than enviable position. Chris Pronger’s replacement, waiver wire acquisition Nick Boynton, took a hooking penalty on Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur less than a minute after Powe’s goal. Mikhail Grabovski notched his tenth power play goal on the season with a deflection off the visor of his helmet past goalie Brian Boucher.
However, Philadelphia would gain a little breathing room before the second period expired. Ontario native Claude Giroux was given a beautiful touch pass from James van Riemsdyk in front of the net and quickly deposited the puck behind Reimer. The pass was an extraordinary play by van Riemsdyk, as it came in traffic with bodies everywhere around the loose puck.
Philadelphia played 40 minutes of good, solid hockey. For the first time in a couple of weeks, the team looked to be breaking out of their collective struggles. The last period would prove that they still have plenty of room to improve.
A little less than eight minutes into the final stanza, former Flyers forward Joffrey Lupul beat Boucher after a brilliant play by Mike Brown. Brown embarrassed defenseman Sean O’Donnell just inside the Flyers blue line, and in doing so he created a two-on-one opportunity. By the time Meszaros committed on the play, it was too late. So, with 12 minutes remaining in regulation, the Flyers would have to find a way to escape Air Canada Centre with two points.
Somehow, they did. Despite facing a frantic attack from Toronto, Boucher and the Flyers kept the Leafs off the board for the remainder of the game and skated away with a 3-2 victory. The win gave the Flyers their 89th and 90th points on the season, which is higher than their point total of last season. Although the team only played about forty minutes of solid hockey, it was a vast improvement from their recent contests.
For this Flyers team, the emphasis has been and always will be on rounding into form by the time the playoffs start. Many have wondered if that was possible given their recent problems, and Thursday’s win helped show that it is. But, the team also reminded themselves and their fans that improvements can still be made for a team with such lofty goals.
At least they’re making progress.