It has taken Claude Giroux 35 games to get fully up to speed. And speed is exactly what is making that happen. Jake Voracek has his legs back and Michael Raffl has a quick first step, which is how faster than you say “in playoff position”, the Flyers scored three late third period goals within 3:01 Thursday night to rescue a 5-4 win over Columbus.
If you blinked, you missed it, and so did Blue Jackets goalie Curtis McElhinney, who was spinning from the G forces applied by a captain and his linemates gleefully driving to the net as if they believed there was a last laugh there from a 1-7 start.
The Columbus defense was in a centrifuge, pinned by the gravity created by three Flyers who thought they were going to score every time they had the puck and pretty much did.
Giroux started the first Flyer comeback, from 3-0, by going to the net, then recycling a shot off his leg by Mark Streit to Voracek, who walked out and scored. Giroux started the second comeback, from 4-2, by dropping the puck to Wayne Simmonds then taking a Blue Jacket to the net, enabling Erik Gustfasson to jump up and slap in a big, fat rebound.
Then No. 28 went to the net again to tuck in a deflection off Raffl’s legs that had slid against the post.
The 4-4 tie lasted two minutes and eight seconds, although it sure didn’t seem like it when Giroux, being taken down by defenseman Mark Letestu, spun on his backhand and roofed one over McElhinney’s glove that damn near blew the roof off the Wells Fargo Center.
Steve Mason survived his first real clunker of the season with a good stick stop on Fedor Tyutin after the goalie was pulled. Never mind that was the Flyer netminder’s only real save of the game because nobody minds whatever happens in a first two periods when you come from three goals down -- and two goals down with 4:39 to play -- and still win in regulation.
“A month and a half ago we collapse after that fourth (Columbus) goal,” said Voracek. The Flyers, still working a new system by rote rather than instinct, were thinking too much, like thinking it was too much to score three goals in an entire game, let alone in 3:01.
WATCH VORACEK'S POSTGAME COMMENTS
That was when Giroux was coming off a missed training camp because of a bad hand from a golfing mishap; Voracek was coming off a bad back from a collision with a Prudential Center net; and Raffl, who faded at the end of camp after a promising start, was either in the minors, not dressing, or scoring exactly one point in the 11 Flyers games he was in the lineup.
When a players only meeting was called after that lifeless shutout by the Devils dropped them 4-10-1, somebody probably passed out name tags for introduction purposes. It was amazing how 14 returning players from last year’s team had no use for each other, like going to the net to clear out driving-and-shooting room in the wake. There was zero chemistry on any line and, in repeatedly missing the net, the Flyers were missing the point about what creates goals.
If it seems hard to believe this Giroux took 16 games to score his first goal, well that Giroux simply didn’t believe in his hands. This new Giroux, chip off the block of the old one, catches a career backup and minor leaguer like McElhinney flush in the goal and backhands the puck perfectly up over the goalie’s glove while being pushed down to the ice.
“I felt good,” reported the captain afterwards. No kidding. And we’re not kidding to suggest that the kid Raffl, looking like a significant UFA signing, has been the key, unless it is that Voracek’s hands are now getting the message from his legs, unless it is one of the league’s best players is playing again with the arrogance that put Sidney Crosby on his butt and the puck in the goal on the first shift of a series clincher.
The two goals and two assists Giroux totaled last night in just one period brought his total in the four games since Craig Berube promoted Raffl to the first line, to four goals and five assists. Now that’s the $8.25 million a year center the Flyers thought they were signing.
FLYERS HEAD COACH CRAIG BERUBE'S FULL PRESS CONFERENCE
With that level of money comes the responsibility not only of here and there lifting a team from a terrible second period but also of buying a better set of golf clubs that won’t shatter in his hands.
Paul Holmgren makes the big bucks to acquire players that can bring out the best in his superstar and Craig Berube got the big bump to head coach to prove he has instincts to put the right guys with the right guys. Seems like the Flyers, booed to their dressing room for a good month, are solid earners now.
Nashville Coach Barry Trotz said three weeks ago that the Flyers lack speed. Wouldn’t hurt to have some upgrades, but what this team really lacked was confidence, chemistry and direction, meaning both the kinds the rookie coach has provided and what you check with a compass.
“Our captain came up big,” said Berube. “He is really skating and going the right way, north and south.
“The line is working together well. Jake is skating really well and attacking with speed and Raffl who has really good puck possession and good hands, makes plays and goes to the net.”
Where the rebounds are. Where the playoffs are in a league of sizable bodies and clogged passing lanes that make east-to-west a low percentage play.
“We’re keeping it simple,” said Giroux. And it grossly overcomplicated things for the Blue Jackets.