After eight months, Flyers get a win

New York's Rick Nash looks for the puck between Sean Couturier and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
New York's Rick Nash looks for the puck between Sean Couturier and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 26, 2013

It doesn't matter how you get there - losing streaks, injuries, labor wars, plague of locusts. Whatever. Going eight months without winning a game is enough to make everybody start thinking dark thoughts.

The Flyers came back from the NHL's farcical lockout and immediately lost their first three games. They did not look especially sharp doing it. Was that a side effect of the long layoff and short prep time, or was it a sign that this roster just isn't talented enough to contend?

And what did the wobbly start say about coach Peter Laviolette? Not so long ago, Eagles fans were assured that Andy Reid was uniquely qualified to bring his team back strong from a lockout-tainted offseason. We saw how that turned out. The Eagles got off to a 4-8 start in 2011 and Reid's tenure was doomed.

The situations aren't identical. But there is just no telling how a major disruption like a lockout is going to affect a particular team. A few early losses and this particular team could easily reach the conclusion that it just isn't happening this year.

Normally, you'd hate to call Game 4 of even a shortened hockey season a must-win. There wasn't much normal about this one.

Not only were the Flyers facing the New York Rangers, a team they failed to beat at all last season, but they found out Thursday they'll be without winger Scott Hartnell for more than a month. Atmospheric conditions were perfect for dark thoughts.

The Flyers needed to change that atmosphere. They did.

After 27 minutes, 33 seconds of scoreless hockey, Laviolette called one of his famous timeouts. He didn't seem to be breathing fire, as he often does, but he addressed the team until the 30-second horn sounded.

"I thought our guys showed up," Laviolette said. "Nobody wanted to be in the position that we were in."

Up until then, the Flyers had outplayed the Rangers. They were physical. They had gotten good scoring opportunities on Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers' superb goaltender. But they had all been sniper shots from 15 feet or more. Nobody was working what injured star Danny Briere calls the "greasy areas" around the net.

Two minutes after the timeout, Braydon Coburn fired a shot from high in the slot. Lundqvist snagged it like a third baseman catching a hot- shot line drive.

A minute after that, the pressure still on, Nicklas Grossmann snapped a shot from the left point. This one hit something and changed direction. Then it hit the skate of Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds and changed direction again.

After all those missiles fired on Lundqvist, the Flyers beat him with a lucky bounce.

"We talked about it after the Jersey game," Max Talbot said. "We had to create more traffic in front of the net. That's where the goals are going to come from. Tonight was the best example of paying the price and getting some goals."

They got their second goal from the same spot. During a power play, Simmonds scooped up a rebound and pushed it into Lundqvist's pads. Sean Couturier swiped at it and it bounced off the post. The puck slid to Jake Voracek, who had crept in from the side. He tapped it into the open net.

A 2-0 lead changed the atmosphere. But there was still another period to play. The Rangers scored early in the third, eliminating all margin for error. Then the Flyers committed errors: Tye McGinn drew a double minor for a high stick and, 15 seconds later, Grossman was called for hooking.

The Rangers had a 5-on-3 advantage for two solid minutes. Dark thoughts were a very real danger.

"If they would score 5-on-3," Voracek said, "you would say, 'Here we go again.' It was a game- changer."

Talbot, Couturier, and Coburn did most of the work to kill the 5-on-3. Ilya Bryzgalov, who equaled Lundqvist all game, made two great saves. When the Rangers' four minutes of power play time were ending, the roar in the arena was louder than after either Flyers goal.

With that roar, the dark thoughts were chased into the frigid night. The season finally felt as if it was under way.

For the first time in eight months, the Flyers won a hockey game.


Contact Phil Sheridan at psheridan@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @Sheridanscribe.

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