Better late than never, Mark Streit joined the rush and banged home the winner Wednesday night, like Michael Del Zotto did last week in Minnesota, as Evgeny Medvedev scored deep in the third period to sink the Blues, just as Shayne Gostisbehere has won three games in overtime.
The Flyers, eight points out of the last playoff spot on November 25 with no games in hand on any of the teams they were chasing, now are two points back and are hoarding a stash of yet-to-be played contests on all of them. The orange and black is coming up fast in the left lane not only night after night, but week after week.
After a 1-6-2 stretch that seemed to doom the Flyers to a third dark April in four springs, they are 14-7-4 since to reach the halfway point dangerously closer than it would appear in the rear view mirrors of the teams looking behind them.
The Flyers have a productive second line at last, two goalies who don’t give away games, and Wayne Simmonds finally playing with the right guys that make him the same threat at even strength that he always has been on the power play. As long-awaited as has been all those things, the Flyers also are winning because they can afford to wait for their D men to come from behind the play.
You think they still have the same, old, slow defense? You are behind the times, man. The Flyers are climbing out of a big hole by jumping to the holes.
They got mobility.
The arrival and quick success of Shayne Gostisbehere, one more desperately needed offensive talent at any position, seemed to loosen up everybody but he has missed the last three games and the Flyers didn’t lose one of them. Streit’s return has enabled Dave Hakstol to fit each pair with a guy who can go, an increasing reason to believe his team will go into April with a chance.
Of course, it helps that the Flyers no longer fall behind 1-0 practically every single game. But even when they do, they know they can come back.
They have an increasing belief in the system, sure. And that ties, of course, to a belief in each other. That said, your fastest friends on the ice will be the guys who can skate fast. A couple months ago, even when the fights along the halfway turned up pucks, it was too often for naught because the cavalry wasn’t coming, Now the Flyers don’t mind trailing because they got a skilled, quick, guy trailing.
The wait for the dream defense of Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin and Gostisbehere no longer seems interminable because help is coming faster, which in turn, slows a Flyer’s pulse rate.
“You felt in the room a little bit of nervousness,” said Streit, the latest late guy to be the hero. “Just not a great feeling.
“But the last couple, it’s been different. Tonight (when a 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit after two periods) there was a good calmness. You can just feel the team has a lot of confidence in its game and how we play
“That’s what we need to do to if we want to keep winning hockey games. I think we are going in the right direction. We play the system well. We don’t panic. It doesn’t matter if we score a goal or if we get scored on, we keep plugging away.
“That atmosphere in the locker room is great. I think we have a great time and it’s a lot of fun to come to the rink. We’re going in the right direction.”
A coach like Dave Hakstol can point a team in any direction he feels is necessary, but if his brain is a lot quicker than his team, what will that get him? In today’s NHL of obsessive defense, and extraordinary four-line-deep quickness, the rush is on for D-men who can join the rush. You don’t see the two-on-ones and the three-on-twos, so you have to create some four-on-threes and five-on-fours. The Flyers are back in the race because they can do that.