In a game versus a desperate Capitals team clinging to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers showed grit by overcoming an early deficit and walking away with a 2-1 shootout win at the Wells Fargo Center, Thursday night. Netminder Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 30-of-31 shots, to give his team a chance to win, and their late game pressure bodes well for the playoff push.
Flyers have now allowed the first goal in 15 of their last 20 games. The first goal of this one, came just :26 into the game, and off the first shot of the game.
Shutdown defenseman Braydon Coburn, who’s been dominant lately, failed to get a stick on the puck to clear, and it wound up on the stick of number-8 Alex Ovechkin. The former “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner has been having a tough time scoring in the past two seasons, but he didn’t miss on this shot from the slot to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.
When asked about his team’s slow starts of late, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, said, “They got a goal on the first shift. I thought our guys play really hard in the first period.”
Laviolette went on to deny any issues there may be with the tough starts lately. However, star winger Jaromir Jagr, for the second game in a few weeks joked that the team should start backup Sergei Bobrovsky in net for the opening shot, before bringing in Bryzgalov.
Laviolette offered no comment to Jagr’s remarks.
One thing the Flyers do have going right now, even though he’s given up some early goals, has been their goaltender Bryzgalov. He’s put up some strong numbers recently, and was named the NHL’s first star of the week two weeks in a row, for his shutout streak of 249:43, which set a Flyers record, including three consecutive games with a shutout. His mark eclipsed that set by former Flyer goaltender, John Vanbiesbrouck set in 1999.
Laviolette said, “I mean, I think [Bryzgalov] has done a tremendous job for us. And I think shootouts is part of that. It goes back to that Calgary game. I don’t know how long ago it was. Maybe forty days ago. He came up. We got big points out of there. He started to catch fire.”
The Calgary game occurred on February 25, and was a huge shootout win for Bryzgalov, who stopped 4-of-5 shots. They Flyers followed that game up with a loss to San Jose, but then from March 1, the team went on a 5-game winning streak, including the three shutouts and a shootout win.
A big part of Bryzgalov’s success has to be attributed to the play of his defense, most importantly, the late season pickup of Nik Grossmann, who finished the game with 6-hits and 1-blocked shot in 20:10 of ice time. He and his partner Coburn were a force on defense, smothering the Caps top line in all but the first shift of the game.
Another player who had a big game was super-star Claude Giroux, who went 9-for-13 in the face-off circle, had 5-hits, 3-blocked shots, and the game tying goal off of a spectacular feed from linemate Jagr, who fed him up the middle of the ice to beat a staggering Caps defenseman, and slide the puck into an open net as Caps goaltender Braden Holtby came out to challenge.
Right now, the Flyers have a strong team churning towards the post-season. The Penguins and Rangers continue to win, so it’s unlikely they’ll make up any ground in the Eastern Conference race. They could surpass the Penguins to take home-ice advantage in the first round if all goes well, but either way, the first round will be a battle of Pennsylvania unless the wheels fall off the bus for either team.
The Penguins will have a decided advantage over the Flyers, with a healthy Sydney Crosby, a strong roster that’s been winning, and a team that’s been together much longer. The Flyers will have a roster of 10-12 new faces from last season, depending on player health, that includes three rookies, and a team that’s been struggling to find offense. They’ve only scored 14-goals in the last 7-games.
The Flyers are back at it this Saturday, against the hapless Montreal Canadiens.