After riding high on the west coast for the holiday season, the Flyers return East was met with some unfortunate news as captain Claude Giroux was left off of team Canada’s roster for the upcoming Olympics in Sochi.
After starting off the season slow, Giroux has re-assumed the role of the Flyers’ best player and emotional leader as they have surged back into contention. Clearly devastated by the news, the captain remarked, “It’s a good thing there’s a game today so I can just put this behind me and move forward here.”
The team would round out a six-game road trip having already won four of the previous five against some of the best competition the Western Conference had to offer. Before returning to the friendly confines of the Wells Fargo Center, a building that the Flyers have won their last nine games in, they would have to travel to Newark to face their division rival New Jersey Devils.
The two teams had split their two prior meetings and with the Flyers tied for second place in the Metropolitan Division, they had a prime opportunity to round out their road trip with a win that helped them and hampered a division opponent. The Devils started the night just four points behind the Flyers and a win could take some of the wind out of Philadelphia’s sails. Manning the pipes for New Jersey, a familiar face in Martin Brodeur. the 41-year old has made a living in making Flyers fans miserable, and even in his latter years still has spectacular play left in him.
Less than a minute into the contest, it would be another 41-year old dealing an early blow to the Flyers chances. Just two seasons removed of his one year with the Flyers, Jaromir Jagr is still the impressive offensive presence that has made him one of the premiere players of now-multiple generations of NHL play. In his first shift, Jagr would fend off a defender and set a play in motion that saw the Devils’ Adam Henrique wide open on the doorstep of the Flyers goal for an easy tally past Philadelphia’s Ray Emery.
The Flyers looked all the part of a team that had spent the better part of two weeks on the road in different time zones as the Devils dictated play for most of the 1st period. Emery and the team’s defense, while not always in organized fashion, were able to fend off the New Jersey attack that included multiple power plays as the margin remained at just one after the first period, despite being outshot 14-6.
The ice began to tilt back in Philadelphia’s favor in the second frame. After being unorganized and spotty in the first period, the offense started to exploit some holes in the stout Devils defense. Despite failing to even the score, the Flyers tallied 10 shots to the Devils eight only to be stifled by Brodeur through 40 minutes. The Flyers did have a scare in the 2nd when winger Brayden Schenn had his midsection sliced by the skate of former Flyer Dainius Zubrus.
Brayden Schenn got big cut from skate on stomach. Went right back out within minutes. Hockey players! pic.twitter.com/ysweiqrKoz
— John Clark NBC10 (@johnclarknbc10) January 8, 2014
Schenn is fortunate to have not suffered any long-lasting effects, as skate-related injuries have sidelined prolific players such as Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson in the last season. The Flyers would carry over their second period momentum and, after peppering Brodeur with more chances, they finally broke through. Just hours after receiving the news that nearly brought him to tears, Claude Giroux fired a wrister past Brodeur’s left shoulder to even the scoring at one. The power play goal a little over five minutes into the 3rd energized the rest of the team and they kept the pedal to the metal.
Just before the halfway point, Philadelphia would get the best of Brodeur again. On an odd-man rush alongside the mended Brayden Schenn, Scott Hartnell would rip a pinpoint shot of his own past the future hall-of-famer and, after looking like they might close out their road trip in demoralizing fashion, the Flyers had a 2-1 lead. The goal would give Hartnell points in eight consecutive games, a career high for the veteran wingers.
For most of the remaining ten minutes of regulation, it looked as if Philadelphia would meet little resistance en route to a division win. Another even scarier moment occurred with a little under two minutes left in the 3rd when New Jersey’s Travis Zajac rocked Giroux in the forehead with a high stick. The play felt eerily similar to the incident that ended Chris Pronger’s career. Fortunately, the captain would shake things off and the Flyers would be awarded a power play.
Even with their goaltender pulled, the Devils had to play five on five hockey rather than having the man-advantage usually given in empty-net situations. After dictating the tempo and territorial dominance for almost the entire third period, the Flyers sagged back and the Devils took advantage. Marek Zidlicky’s shot from the point would fail to beat Emery, but the rebound would eventually land right on the stick of Michael Ryder and with just under 30 seconds left, the Devils would tie the game at two with Ryder’s 14th goal of the season.
The shaken Flyers would run out the rest of the clock and enter overtime failing to deal a knockout blow to their division rival. Despite being guaranteed at least a point, they would have to exert extra energy knowing a Wednesday night affair with the Canadiens was less than 24 hours away. There was also the looming possibility of dealing with another shootout, which always pose a challenge to the Flyers.
Just over a minute into sudden-death overtime, a sequence of events set in motion that would send Flyers fans through the full range of emotions. After establishing an offensive zone presence, the Devils’ Stephen Gionta would snap a shot on Emery past his left pad. The puck would ring off the goalpost and the game would continue. After gaining possession, the Flyers would make their way into New Jersey territory. The sometimes offensively-challenged Nicklas Grossmann would corral the puck at the point and inch closer to Brodeur. The goalie would commit to the Philadelphia defenseman, giving a brief opening that the Swede took full advantage of. After pumping toward the net, he would fire a slap pass down the right wing to a streaking Brayden Schenn. The wounded winger would control the puck with his skate and fire a shot past a sprawling Brodeur and into the back of the net for the game-winner.
Schenn’s 11th goal of the season would give the Flyers an overtime win to tie a bow on their impressive 5-1-0 road trip. They would move a clear two points ahead of Washington in the division with a chance to increase the margin Wednesday against a Montreal team that just learned one of their bright young players, Alex Galchenyuk, would be out for six weeks with a broken hand. Danny Briere will be making his second visit to the Wells Fargo Center since the team bought out the remainder of his contract.
While the Flyers are still well off the first-place pace of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the win improved their position in the new playoff standings. They moved into 5th place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. With four of their next six games at home, the Flyers have a chance to pick up substantial points before the early-February Olympic break. While I am certain that Giroux is still hurting from being unable to represent his country in Sochi, I am certain his vital role in the team’s comeback win over a division rival eased the pain a bit.