PITTSBURGH – Some will call it a seminal moment. Others will say the team has turned around its season.
But following the Flyers 2-1 win over the Penguins at Consol Energy Center, the first time they’ve won three consecutive games in this 2013-14 campaign, the head coach poo-pooed any notion of that everything is hunky-dory now with the Flyers.
"We're winning right now and it was a good win," said Craig Berube. "We didn't get off to a great start, but our goalie was really good and gave us a chance to win and get our feet under us. And more than anything, I like the fact that we grinded the win out.
"We played the night before and did a lot of little things right. I thought we did a good job of getting the puck out and getting it in deep…
“But it's just another game. There's a long way to go."
That was the most important message behind the Flyers win. More than Ray Emery’s fine performance where he made 31 saves. More than Brayden Schenn’s two goals - the direct result of getting to the front of the net.
Even more than the fact the Flyers have turned their archrival’s home arena into their own playground, improving to 7-1-1 and the Pens’ palace since it opened four seasons ago.
It’s just another game… Long way to go….
That is the most important message that can be gleaned from this victory. Three wins does not a season make. Beating the Penguins can’t go to their heads, because there’s another desperate team – the Winnipeg Jets – waiting in the wings, and they will have no problem snapping the Flyers out of la-la land and back to the reality that they are still 7-10-1 this season.
That’s not to take away from this accomplishment. The Flyers played well enough to win, which they did. They once again were smart with the puck, only registering one giveaway, and just 12 in the past three games, all wins. So yes, they are protecting the puck when they have it.
They also broke the 30 hit plateau for the fifth consecutive game, and while hits are hardly an indicative stat of anything other than the style the team employs, the one thing it can evidence is that the Flyers are involved in the game. There are in on the play. They are not staying to the perimeter and having the game taken to them. So, yes, it is a positive.
But this was far from the near flawless performance against Ottawa the night before. Instead, the Flyers need to feel a bit fortunate to leave Pittsburgh with a win.
After all, the Penguins jumped them on the opening shift, only to have a goal by Chris Kunitz waved off after it was deemed that he distinctly kicked it into the net just 19 seconds into the game.
Following that, the Penguins didn’t let off the gas pedal in the first period, getting 16 shots on Emery – and one more, by defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, that found iron.
Yet, the Flyers came out of that first period with a 1-0 lead thanks to a determined forecheck and takeaway by Wayne Simmonds and then a snipe by Schenn.
From there, the Flyers defense did tighten a bit, after the Pens got those 16 shots in the opening 20 minutes, they only mustered 15 in the next 40. However, it seemed that with each of those 15, the percentages were improving that Pittsburgh would score.
That’s where Emery stepped in.
Continuing this fairy tale run of stellar goaltending by the Flyers (and it’s fair to say those words haven’t been typed in that order about Flyers goaltending in many years) Emery was rock solid.
His best stuff coming against the two superstars on the Penguins, stoning Sidney Crosby on a breakaway in the middle of the second period and then stopping him not once, but twice in the final seconds of the middle frame with big pad saves in close.
Then in the third period, it was Evgeni Malkin who was denied by the left-handed larceny of Emery’s catching glove.
The Pens dynamic duo did combine to score their only goal – and it was the first time in 24 games between the two teams that the Flyers held Pittsburgh to less than two goals – but for the most part, both Crosby and Malkin were frustrated by the way the Flyers played against them.
Meanwhile, Schenn continues to be Johnny-on-the-spot for the Flyers and tallied the game-winner, his sixth goal of the season, when he banged home his own rebound at the side of the net on a third period power play.
He’s quietly putting together the kind of production the Flyers would hope they could get from a second line center – as he has 12 points in 18 games, on pace for a 55-point campaign.
Still, it comes back to Berube’s words:
It’s just another game… Long way to go….
Because he’s right. The Flyers didn’t make the playoffs with this win, just inched closer to a spot. There’s also 64 games left on the schedule – and a lot can happen in that time.
It’s important that the Flyers understand the size of the straw they’ve drawn. A 1-7-0 start doesn’t leave much in the way of wiggle room down the road. In other words, if the Flyers are going to be part of the postseason party, as captain Claude Giroux has predicted and/or guaranteed a few times, then they need to keep playing this way consistently.
They need to stay hungry, no matter how much they eat. And when they are getting their fill in a game, they can’t start leaving thirds, they have to play the whole game and finish the meal.
If Ottawa was a crisp house salad and Pittsburgh was a hearty bowl of cauliflower soup, then Winnipeg on Friday will be the steak and potatoes.
The Flyers need to satisfy their appetite for success, but can’t expect to be spoon-fed either.
Berube recognizes it. We’ll see on Friday if his players do too.