After 40 minutes of play on Thursday night, the Philadelphia Flyers needed a spark. Two grueling periods against the scrappy Carolina Hurricanes had availed nothing but 31 shots and seven total penalties between the two teams.
Just as the Wells Fargo Center crowd prepared for another sleepy period, Jeff Carter woke them up.
The recently-lethal winger found the back of the net just 18 seconds into the final stanza. His goal not only awoke the fans, but the two teams as well. For the final 19:42, the Flyers and Hurricanes battled like two playoff teams, which they would be if the playoffs had started on Thursday. In fact, the two teams would have faced each other in such a scenario.
It wasn’t just Thursday night’s game that was heavily influenced by Carter’s play. In the four games since the All Star break, Carter has notched three goals and two assists. When he scored his 26th goal of the season on Thursday, he tied Daniel Briere for the team lead. However, Briere broke the tie with his 27th and the eventual game-winner with 8:33 to go in the third period.
Carter’s success hasn’t been limited to the last five games, however. In the last month of play, the 26 year-old forward has played extraordinarily well, notching ten goals and five assists in thirteen contests. Carter claims that his line-mate Claude Giroux makes things easy on him, but Giroux begged to differ after Thursday’s victory.
“He’s pretty good [at] getting open and he obviously has one of the best snapshots on the team,” Giroux said. “Anytime you have a guy on your line like that you obviously try to get him the puck and he has been pretty hot lately.”
With his recent hot streak, it was no wonder that Carter was the first player to put his stamp on a seemingly drab first 40 minutes of play. The importance of the goal wasn’t underappreciated by Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn.
“The first thing [the power play unit] did was [when Carter] came off and wired one right in there and [Mike Richards] was driving the net,” he said. “I thought that was a great play and it kind of set the tone for us in the third.”
The Flyers would need every bit of the intensity that Carter sparked in them with his early period goal. Carolina ramped up their game and challenged the Eastern Conference leaders on every inch of the ice. Even after Briere made the lead 2-0, the Hurricanes still refused to quit. Forward Tuomo Ruutu scored less than a minute later to cut the deficit in half. Despite being outshot down the stretch, the Flyers somehow managed to stave off the final surge from their gritty visitors.
All season long, the Flyers have had success winning close games, and Thursday night was no different. Although every great team must find a way to win when the game is in doubt, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette made it clear that the close games were not what he wants.
“I think we can play those one goal games,” the former Carolina bench boss stated. “We can play better, instead of defending a one goal game; we should be looking for more attack in that game and not sitting back.”
In a game that could have been gone to either team, the Flyers simply made one more play than the Hurricanes did on Thursday night. That one play came off the stick of Carter and past Carolina goal Cam Ward’s glove hand.
Giroux may have summed up the Flyers’ strategy best after the hard-fought win.
“Anytime you have a hot player you just want to get him the puck,” Giroux said.
Right now, Jeff Carter is that player.