Two weeks ago to the day, the Flyers were coming off a 6-1 loss to the Bruins and had arguably their hardest stretch of the season staring them in the face. They had lost three straight and were about to head on the road to face some of the top teams in the Western Conference. Their goaltender Steve Mason, whom the team had just signed to an extension, was letting in goals at a rate not yet seen during his Philadelphia tenure. Penalties and sloppy play had defined the month of January and the Flyers were slipping in the Metropolitan division standings. While there would be plenty of hockey after the February 9-25 Olympic break, the rest of the division had turned up their play and falling too far out of the playoff race could prove to be insurmountable.
Instead of limping into the mandated 16-day respite from the regular season, the Flyers are going in guns blazing. Philadelphia capped off their seven-game stretch Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 win over the Calgary Flames. The Flames, who had won six of their previous seven, would prove to be just as dangerous as some of the other high-profile opponents over the stretch.
Ray Emery would start in place of Steve Mason, who was dealing with leg cramps toward the end of his last start against the Avalanche. Although the win against Colorado ensured a winning record over the two-week span, the result of Saturday afternoon’s contest would dictate how the team would be carrying themselves before their extended time off. A win would keep the Flyers riding high whereas a loss to an inferior, albeit up-and-coming, Calgary team would leave a sour taste in the team’s mouth for over two weeks.
The two teams skated to a 0-0 stalemate in the first period. Both the Flyers and Flames had stretches where they dictated the flow of the contest and the play was up-and-down throughout the first 20 minutes. With no penalties and few whistles, one got a chance to see both teams operate within the confines of their system. The Flyers outshot Calgary 11-8 through the first, with both Emery and Flames goalie Reto Berra making key stops.
After similar play carried along through most of the 2nd period, the Flyers finally broke through. Wayne Simmonds, who continues to stand out more in more in every game, took a pass along the Calgary goal line. He would hit a soft spot in the high slot with a pass to Brayden Schenn. Schenn quickly whipped the puck past Berra’s shoulder and the Flyers took a 1-0 lead.
Neither team would score over the remainder of the frame, although the Flyers were able to kill off a couple of Calgary power plays. Heading into the 3rd, the Flyers were in control and had an opportunity to create more distance between themselves and their opponent. They would waste little time doing so when a Scott Hartnell deflection on a Claude Giroux shot beat Berra just over four minutes into the 3rd. Giroux whipped a loose puck off the boards and it ricocheted off of Hartnell to make it 2-0. Hartnell now has 15 goals on the season and has flourished since his return to the team’s top line.
The Flames would spoil Emery’s shutout bid when Matt Stajan scored with a little over two minutes left in the 3rd. However, for the 2nd straight game the Flyers were able to fend off a late flurry of pressure with an empty net. They would close out the win by a 2-1 final and wrap up the pre-Olympic seven-game gauntlet with a tidy 5-2 record.
The Flyers will now have to deal with the same challenge as every other team in the NHL. They will have to find a way to carry over their momentum after over two weeks of downtime into the end of season dash to the playoffs. The Orange-and-Black are firmly in the thick of things and, given the start of their season, one can’t help but be thrilled with the progress seen from the club in a little over half of an 82-game season.
Philadelphia has several key figures heading over to Sochi. Jake Voracek and Michael Raffl are two extremely important wingers and the trio of Kimo Timonen, Mark Streit, and Andrej Meszaros make up almost all of the team’s offensive threat from the blue line. They will have to hit the ground running when they return from the Olympic break. They have division showdowns with the Capitals and Rangers and a home showdown with the Sharks mixed in before the March 5th trade deadline. If one were to ask me if I thought this Flyers team, as-constructed, is ready to compete for a Stanley Cup I would have to say no. However, I would submit to the notion that a few transactions could possibly position them for a playoff run. General Manager Paul Holmgren has never been shy about making a move and if it improves the team, everyone knows that Ed Snider wants to win another Stanley Cup.