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Sticking with the game plan

by Jay Greenberg / Philadelphia Flyers

Claude Giroux kept the course.

He was careless with the puck on the first Bruin goal, careless with his stick leading to the second one, got into an unnecessary confrontation with Zdeno Chara which kept him in the box for the first two minutes of a comatose 5-minute power play that drained the Flyers energy for practically the enter second period.

“Worst period as a professional, pretty frustrated for letting the team down like that,” said the captain. But he was Johnny-on-the-spot to convert a Voracek setup off a turnover to get his team back in the game at 4-3, then rifled in the power play goal in overtime Wednesday night to give Philadelphia its first win in Boston in four years.

Steve Mason stayed with it, too.


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Coming in cold after Michal Neuvirth got clipped in the head with Patrice Bergeron’s stick while he was scoring the second Boston goal, Mason was beaten from the worst of angles during that worst of second periods that put the Flyers down, 4-2. It didn’t become 5-2 because Mason got his pad down when David Pastrnak had half an empty net, then quickly reached out from his back to cover the puck, like all the better goalies do, never giving up on a play.

“The whole team began playing with second effort after that,” said Giroux.

Dave Hakstol, he stuck with the plan, too, with the Flyers down a here-we-go-again two goals on the road in a game in which they should have been up. The coach told NBC’s Pierre McGuire midway through the second period that his team had just had two good shifts on the way to hopefully more that would get it back in the game.

Hakstol substituted the struggling Jake Voracek with the struggling Wayne Simmonds on the big line to start the third period, just for long enough to clear some cobwebs, and Voracek soon pounced on the giveaway to feed Giroux.

Simmonds didn’t waver either after five scoreless games, defiantly telling reporters after the 2-1 loss to Dallas on Tuesday night that there was nothing wrong with the Flyers power play – or really with their offense—then forcing a turnover at center before steaming down his off wing like a man possessed and going top corner on Tuukka Rask to tie the game.

The Flyers pulled it out Wednesday night, 5-4, like they did so many times two seasons ago in surprising the league by making the playoffs after a 3-9-3 start. They have the stars that can bring them back, especially against a team like the suddenly rebuilding Bruins but of course, you don’t often rally on the road like that, not against the best clubs.

So if the Flyers’ first road win of the season is going to point them towards a lot more than the 10 they won a year ago, there cannot be the sags for five or ten or 20 minutes that repeatedly cost this team in 2014-15.

A big one got away in the third period on New Year’s Eve in Colorado and they ended a holiday trip that had started promisingly with five straight defeats. Just when they were 15 seconds away from a mid-March win in Boston that would have put them being back in the race, they lost painfully in overtime, then showed up the next day in New Jersey like the season was over, which it essentially was for lack of the mental toughness.

The Flyers were good at home, where the crowd can help keep your energy up. But on the road, where you have to supply your own, the intensity would ebb, distressingly too often against teams that weren’t playoff contenders. The sags cost them in the playoffs two seasons ago, too, when they had played an even Game Seven first period at Madison Square Garden, then did little with a power play before the Rangers twice in eight minutes, all they needed to win the game, 2-1.

Ron Hextall made a coaching change in part because he thought some guys, even some of the Flyers’ best guys, had to be pushed harder to get going when the going got tougher. That can mean coming from two goals in the third period on the road, sure. But for the purpose of becoming an elite team, the definition of not letting up is not getting two goals down on five bad minutes to begin with.

“Keep the composure,” said Mason asked for the key to the Flyers’ third period turnaround Wednesday night. “Stay the course, stay with the game plan.

“When we do that, we’re a real good hockey club.”

And when they learn to do it consistently, the Flyers can be better than most people predicted.

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