Better With Popcorn

Flyers Start Fast, Hang On to Win

One night after defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning in a match-up of the Eastern Conference’s top two teams, the Philadelphia Flyers skated into Sunrise, Florida. Some wondered if the Flyers would overlook the Florida Panthers after such a big win, but the Orange and Black was determined to prove otherwise. The team’s 5-0 defeat suffered at the hands of the Panthers in late December seemed fresh in their minds early on. Although the team had a few lapses in the third period, they tallied their 80th and 81st points in a 4-2 victory.

At the outset of the game, the Flyers absolutely blitzed Florida on every last inch of the ice. The pace of play made a Philadelphia goal seem inevitable. It was. Newly acquired forward Kris Versteeg found captain Mike Richards after winning a battle along the boards in the offensive zone. Richards did the rest with a beautiful wrist shot that found its way by goalie Tomas Vokoun.

The Flyers wouldn’t stop there. In fact, they made their presence known again almost immediately after the Richards goal. On some beautiful tic-tac-toe passing, Daniel Briere took a Scott Hartnell entry pass and positioned himself in the slot to the left of Vokoun. With all the attention on Briere, Andreas Nodl found his way to Vokoun’s doorstep and easily chipped the centering pass by the Czechoslovakian goaltender. The goals came on back to back shots in a span of a little over one minute.

Nodl’s goal was an excellent example of the Flyers’ depth at the forward position. With Ville Leino out of the lineup day to daywith a lower body injury, Nodl scored his 10th goal of the season. The goal gave the team 10 players with double-digit goal totals this season. With two separate lines clicking on all cylinders, the Flyers out-shot the Panthers 18-5 in the first period. It seemed like the route was on.

It continued to seem like the route was on early in the second period, when the Flyers remained in control. Then, Florida turned the tables on Philadelphia with a couple of great possessions in the Flyers’ defensive zone. However, their inability to capitalize on some chances would cost them in a big way. After some great pressure by the Panthers, Chris Pronger found Briere with a great pass up the ice. Briere then danced around the defenseman and shot on Vokoun, only to be denied. As the puck bounced off Vokoun, James van Riemsdyk found it and deposited another goal for the Flyers with a backhanded shot on the open net.

Heading into the third period, many watching the game wondered if the Flyers could secure their first shutout of the season. With a 3-0 lead and a 26-16 advantage in shots on goal, it seemed possible. Panthers’ forward Rostislav Olesz made sure that the Flyers remained the only team in the NHL without a shutout. After Pronger interfered with a Panthers’ player in front of the net, Olesz cashed in with a rebound goal, his sixth on the season.

The Flyers’ opposition had found new life and it showed. Florida owned the ice in much the same way that the Flyers had owned it for the first two stanzas. With 7:31 remaining, they made the game even closer when David Booth beat Sergei Bobrovsky on a fantastic top-shelf wrist-shot.

Florida’s pressure would continue, but Bobrovsky found a way to make some crucial saves and keep the game at 3-2. Once Vokoun was pulled off the ice for the extra attacker, Nodl gently passed to Briere who found the empty net. The assist was Nodl’s second point on the night, and the goal was the third point for Briere.

Although the team lost the intensity that inspired hard-checking and fast-paced hockey in the first two periods, they escaped with two points. With four points in their first half of a four game road trip, the team continues to be successful in their pursuit the best record in the Eastern Conference. If they continue to utilize their offensive depth, they will be tough to beat.

Shutouts or not.

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