March 6th 2014 15:55
It's been all smiles of late for the Flyers, shown here celebrating Vinny Lecavalier's OT game winner on Saturday.
As the marathon that is the NHL season grinds along through the winter months, once the calendar turns to March the teams and fans know that they are finally entering the home stretch, and that the marathon turns into a sprint over the final month and a half to the finish line that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs – arguably the most exciting tournament in all of professional sports.
The Flyers started their finishing stride back in February by rattling off four straight wins heading into the Olympics break, and save for one disastrous period against the San Jose Sharks in their first game back, have been the hottest team in the league at the most opportune time.
Philly continued its torrid play last night at the Wells Fargo Center, following up their dramatic overtime win over the Washington Capitals on Saturday by dominating their Metropolitan Division rivals behind a pair of Claude Giroux goals through the first two periods, and then hanging on for a 6-4 win to completee the home-and-home sweep. The win, coupled with a home overtime loss by the New York Rangers to the Toronto Maple Leafs, leaves the Orange and Black squarely in second place with some much-needed, albeit slim, breathing room in the standings.
The win gives the Flyers a two-point lead over the Rangers, three over the Columbus Blue Jackets and four over the Caps. The new playoff format with the newly-aligned divisions for this season takes the top three teams from each division plus two wild cards, and if the season ended today the first-place Pittsburgh Penguins, Flyers and Rangers would be the Met entrants to the tourney.
Jakub Voracek added his 17th and 18th goals on the season, lighting the lamp on a power play goal from a great cross-ice setup by Giroux to push the score to 2-0 in the first period, and then netting a huge goal just two and a half minutes after the Caps had cut what had been a four-goal cushion to 4-3 in the third.
Following their 3-9 start to the season that cost former coach Peter Laviolette his job after just three games, the Flyers have not only been one of the hottest teams over their last 10 games, in which they are 8-2, but one of the most consistent, going 30-15-6 since their rough start.
Not coincidentally, Giroux’s resurgence after an early-season scoring drought has keyed the turnaround, as after his second straight three-point effort last night, the Flyers’ captain has now registered 46 points in his last 36 games, with 19 coming on goals.
Head Coach Craig Berube’s role in their comeback this season cannot be understated, either. He changed the team’s style of play from an all-out attack on offense with little concern for defense into a much more defensively responsible system, and the strong defensive play in front of the solid netminding of goalie Steve Mason has made a major difference.
And the solid blue line play has produced more scoring opportunities, as the offense that struggled to find the back of the net last season looks more like the scoring machine that propelled the Flyers to a 103-point season in 2011-12. Their balanced scoring attack has been getting contributions from Giroux’s mates on the top line in Voracek and Scotty Hartnell (15 goals), but also from a potent second unit led by Wayne Simmonds (19 goals), Brayden Schenn (16) and Vincent Lecavalier (15).
The stretch run continues as the Flyers head to Toronto to faceoff against the Maple Leafs on Saturday, and then return to Broad and Pattison for the next two against the New Jersey Devils, who are just two points outside of the playoff picture with 67 points, before playing another divisional home-and-home, this time against the hated Penguins next weekend.
The Flyers’ marketing department has come up with the catchy #CLUTCHTIME promo for the stretch run, and if they continue on their current upward trajectory it might extend all the way into late May.