Ville Leino got ragged around all game.
With every lengthy possession of the puck, Leino paid a price on Thursday night. He was hounded relentlessly on every inch of the ice.
In a physical matchup against the Nashville Predators, Leino still found a way to help the Philadelphia Flyers skate away with a 3-2 victory. For all the lumps that Leino took during the hotly-contested affair, his goal with 3:14 remaining in regulation left a much bigger lump on the visiting Predators.
Thursday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center had all the makings of a playoff-like atmosphere. With the Flyers coming home off of an embarrassing 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Nashville jockeying for playoff position in the Western Conference, every inch of the ice was important. The atmosphere combined with the physicality of the game made for an excellent game.
In close game such as the one on Thursday night, a single player can decide who wins and who loses.
Luckily for the Flyers, that player was wearing Orange.
After a late TV timeout, the Flyers were faced with a defensive zone faceoff, and Head Coach Peter Laviolette decided to leave Leino out on the ice with Jeff Carter and Claude Giroux.
“I thought time was ticking down and we’re looking for something,” Laviolette explained after the game, “[Leino] ended up catching a break and just catching some wind so I put him back out there. I think it was more of a hunch than anything else.”
That hunch made all the difference for the Flyers.
After winning the defensive zone faceoff, the team held possession in the offensive zone until Giroux found Leino in the slot. Leino shielded the puck with his back to the net, and waited for Martin Erat’s diving shot block attempt to clear his passage to the net. Then, he used his patented backhanded spin-o-rama shot and beat Anders Lindback above his glove hand.
It was a move of impeccable beauty from the Finnish-born forward, but one that the Flyers and their fans have come to expect.
“[Leino] is probably one of the most skilled players on the team and whenever he has the puck he is going to make things happen,” said Carter, who had a goal and two assists. “He’s going to make fancy plays and he’s going to make the easy plays, so it never really surprises me what he does.”
Of course, after the game was all wrapped up, Leino couldn’t help but smile about his two-goal performance.
His grin was especially large when he spoke about the satisfaction he got from scoring the game winner.
“Sometimes you need to work hard and get through those hard spots,” the Flyers’ fan favorite pointed out. “When someone is hitting you it makes you want to get back at them in some way. I don’t think I am going to kill anyone out there so I have to find other ways.”
For many years, the Flyers have used physical play as a way of ‘getting back’ at other teams. In fact, Flyers icon Bobby Clarke was the embodiment of such a style of hockey. And on Bobby Clarke night in Philadelphia Thursday, it was a smooth and skilled move that ‘got back’ at the opposition.
How times have changed.