PHILADELPHIA – There were fights and goals and milestones, especially the first two, but most importantly for the Flyers, there were two points at the end. Points were hard to come by for Philadelphia in the first half of the season, but the Flyers got the second half off on the right foot with an impressive 6-2 thrashing of the Maple Leafs.
It may not have been against a playoff-caliber opponent, but the Flyers can’t be picky these days. Not with the worst record in the Atlantic Division entering play with Toronto, and not with a long list of teams slowly distancing itself from this former Stanley Cup favorite.
The Flyers did just about everything right on Wednesday, and they wasted no time in getting started.
Moments after Alexei Ponikarovsky went to the box for high-sticking at 3:58 of the first, the Flyers long-dormant power play awoke. Jeff Carter dipped into the slot to draw the attention of three Maple Leafs, then dished a clean pass to Danny Briere waiting at the left post to roof the puck past Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who allowed six goals on 32 shots.
The ice seemed to be tipped heavily in Phialdelphia’s favor during the first period, as the Flyers controlled possession with an effective forecheck and came away with all the best chances. Defenseman Danny Syvret took advantage of one such chance in the final minute of the period. Syvret found himself all alone in open ice and responded to the fans’ calls to shoot the puck, blasting a slapshot high over Gustavsson’s shoulder, putting Philadelphia up 2-0 after one.
Dan Carcillo, perhaps the least likely Flyer to fill the highlight reel with slick puck moves, lit up the building with a second period goal.
Known more for his fast fists than his stickhandling, Carcillo breezed up the left wing before hitting the brakes at the faceoff dot to edge around a defender. He then made his way toward the goal, keeping the puck close to his body while evading another d-man, and briefly went down to a knee before sliding the puck past a sprawling Gustavsson.
Not one to refute his own reputation, Carcillo did engage in some fisticuffs with willing partner Jamal Mayers in the third.
“That’s probably the nicest goal I’ve ever scored,” said Carcillo with a grin. “I just kind of dropped [defenseman Luke Schenn] with a little shoulder, took the puck to my backhand, kind of lost my edge a bit and got it back. I just slid it into the opening that I saw.”
Philadelphia’s onslaught continued at the start of the third, as tape-to-tape passing gave Mike Richards an easy one-timer from the slot. Four quick passes left the Leafs dizzied, and Richards took advantage of a sagged-in defense to put the Flyers up 4-0 with the power-play goal.
The Flyers played one of their most complete games of the season, building on the full effort they gave in the Winter Classic against Boston and sustaining the play they showed in a three-goal second period against Ottawa.
By the time Toronto managed to show signs of life on offense in the third period, the game had already been won by a smart, consistent and surprisingly disciplined effort by the Flyers. Philadelphia took care of business on special teams, scoring three power-play goals in six chances and keeping the Leafs off the board in four chances, including a 5-on-3.
“Our last game here [a 4-1 loss to Florida] we kind of got booed out of it and it left a sour taste in our mouths,” said Carcillo. “We’ve got 41 games left and we need to win a lot of those to get in.”
Nikolai Kulemin whistled a snapshot by Flyers’ goalie Michael Leighton shortly after Richards’ tally, but Philadelphia immediately responded to steal back momentum. Scott Hartnell took down Jeff Finger in a one-sided fight, and Danny Briere got his second of the game on a breakaway wristshot moments later. The point gave Briere 500 over his 11-year career.
James van Riemsdyk scored on a deflection to cap the scoring in a game that featured four fights and two ten-minute misconducts (to Hartnell and Toronto’s Garnet Exelby).
The win gives Philadelphia plenty of momentum heading into an important matchup with cross-state rival Pittsburgh Thursday night on the road.
The Maple Leafs may not be the stiffest competition at the moment, but a win at the Igloo would go a long way toward ensuring the Flyers’ second half is better than their first.
“We didn’t play very good hockey in front of our fans just before Christmas,” said Briere. “We had our chance to regroup and get our confidence back on the road. Coming back here tonight and the way that we played, this is a good sign.”