Twenty-three evenings after pulling out a remarkable 4-3 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2019 Stadium Series, the Flyers were in dire need of some more late-game magic. Once again, they were coming off back-to-back regulation losses and in grave danger of falling further out of the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference.
This time, at least, the Flyers didn't have to battle the elements of driving rain and badly deteriorating ice conditions nor did they need a multi-goal comeback in the final five minutes of regulation. However, the situation was every bit as urgent.
- POINT 1: THE GOALTENDER -
Carter Hart had played brilliantly in goal, stopping 35 of 36 shots. The only one he couldn't come up with was the tough-to-control rebound of a Phil Kessel shot, which was potted immediately by Teddy Blueger to break a scoreless deadlock at 2:07 of the third period. Otherwise, he was a brick wall all night.
"One of the things Carter does really well, most of his saves look the same," Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon said. "That's because of his positioning and angles. He almost always give himself an opportunity to react to whatever [happens] around him."
Coming off a 5-2 home loss to Washington on Friday and a gut-wrenching 7-6 defeat in Toronto the next night after leading 5-2 late in the second period, it would have been easy for the Flyers to fold their tents once trailing late in Pittsburgh. They threw lots of rubber at Penguins' goalie Matt Murray but had been turned aside on each of their first 29 shots.
- POINT 2: GIVING EVERYTHING -
With 1:47 left in regulation, Hart was pulled for an extra attacker. Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon used his timeout earlier (with 4:22 remaining); there wasn't going to be a chance to rest the troops and draw up a set play off any subsequent faceoffs.
Philly then came perilously close to giving up a fatal empty net goal, which would have put them in a 2-0 hole. Summoning all of his resolve and remaining energy late in a shift, Ivan Provorov raced Penguins forward Nick Bjugstad for a loose puck as it headed toward the Flyers' net. Plain and simple, this was desperation mode, and Provorov outworked Bjugstad to keep the Flyers alive and kicking. James van Riemsdyk fired off a shot from the left side boards that Murray absorbed and held for a stoppage. It was Murray's 30th save of the game.
"I had no doubt, in my summer training," joked the typically stoic Provorov with a huge grin on his face after the game, referring to his exceptionally rigorous conditioning program at which even most fellow NHL players marvel.
Turning serious, he added, "At that point, you're just giving everything you have. Our whole team did that."
- POINT 3: KEEPING CALM ON THE FINAL RUSH -
Sean Couturier beat Sidney Crosby on an offensive left circle faceoff with exactly 1:00 remaining on the clock. However, the Flyers were unable to keep the puck in the zone after Murray handled a routine shot from ailing Flyers captain Claude Giroux (who was severely under the weather and unable to participate in the morning skate but played in the game due its virtual must-win nature). After Nolan Patrick turned over the puck, the Penguins cleared the zone.
Time was ticking down to the final 25 seconds as the Flyers retrieved the puck and rushed up the ice. The Penguins were caught a bit flat-footed in the neutral zone as Couturier passed to Travis Konecny. The third-year forward, who had spent all but 18 seconds of the third period on the bench after the Blueger goal, attacked up the right wing with the Flyers having numbers on what was developing into a 4-on-2. Konecny made a tape-to-tape feed over the middle to the red-hot van Riemsdyk, and the streak-scoring winger immediately got rid of the puck as he wristed it past Murray on the Flyers' 32nd shot of the game. A mere 18.8 seconds were left on the regulation clock.
"Playing the Penguins is always fun. The games are back-and-forth, and no lead is ever safe," van Riemsdyk said. "All of our games with them have been hard fought. It's taken the full [60-plus] minutes in most of them."
Video: PHI@PIT: van Riemsdyk ties game in final minute
- POINT 4: HERE WE GO AGAIN -
Now the game headed to overtime. The Flyers had one point locked up, but one point was not going to be much of any consolation from a vital three-in-four gauntlet against playoff-bound opposition from which the Flyers entered knowing they probably needed five points (and maybe all six). The Flyers still needed a win; plain and simple.
Overtime was action-packed. Hart and Murray took turns robbing opposition shooters as the teams traded off 11 shots (six for Pittsburgh, five for the Flyers). Among the highlights: Murray sealed off Voracek's five-hole attempt on a 2-on-1 with Giroux. Later, Konecny and then Sidney Crosby and Brian Dumoulin had the game on their sticks but were stoned by Hart.
- POINT 5: COUTURIER BEATS CROSBY -
Now there were less than 10 seconds remaining until a potential shootout. Gathering the puck in the Flyers' zone. Shayne Gostisbehere moved the puck to Couturier. In the neutral zone, Couturier eluded Crosby. With the rush now developing into a 2-on-1, Penguins defenseman Dumoulin backed in.
"I knew there was a bit of time left. I had my back to the play [initially] and Crosby could have just stood me up and went past me. Fortunately, I got the chip by him," Couturier said.
Couturier beat Crosby in the neutral zone, backed in the D and found a good shooting lane from just inside and right below the right dot. The shot beat Murray to the blocker side to win the game. Just 3.4 seconds were left on the OT clock.
"It's hard to describe. Just a lot of emotions and a lot of fun," Hart said of the dramatic victory.
Video: PHI@PIT: van Riemsdyk, Couturier rally Flyers to win
- POINT 6: THE AFTERMATH -
The Flyers won the season series with the Penguins, three games to won. Two of the wins came in OT. More important, Philly lived to fight another day in the uphill battle for a playoff spot. Factoring a disadvantage in the ROW (regulation plus overtime wins) tiebreaker category, the Flyers have to make up a seven-point gap with only 10 games left to play.
From here on out, or until they are mathematically eliminated, every game is a must-win for the Flyers. Come Tuesday night, they'll face off at the Wells Fargo Center with the Montreal Canadiens: one of two teams, along with the Columbus Blue Jackets, whom the Flyers must leapfrog to get into the playoffs.