PHILADELPHIA – It was supposed to be a special night, with the Eric Lindros number retirement festivities and all, but the Flyers weren’t responding with their effort through two periods.
Then two improbable heroes emerged.
First, rookie Nolan Patrick stole a puck from Toronto’s Mitchell Marner and scored to make it 2-1 just 1:33 into the third.
After a Wayne Simmonds goal tied the score at 3:25, the other unlikely star, goalie Michal Neuvirth took over with a game-saving stop on the Leafs’ Patrick Marleau with 2:37 to play.
That gave Sean Couturier the chance to come through with a goal just 18 seconds into overtime for a Flyers 3-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night.
Satisfying to say the least, especially after Tuesday night’s embarrassing 5-1 bombing by the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
The Flyers entered the game just 1-12-2 when trailing after two periods.
Somewhere up in a suite, Lindros must have been smiling. This is the kind of hockey his “Legion of Doom’’ line produced in the mid-‘90s.
With the win, the Flyers completed a three-game sweep of the Leafs, the first time they’ve managed to do that since a four-game whitewash in 2011-12.
The Leafs picked up two goals in the second period (Connor Brown, Frederik Gauthier) just 38 seconds apart against Neuvirth, making only his second start since Nov. 28.
Brown got in behind defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and scored at 12:57. Then Gauthier connected from a scramble in front of Neuvirth.
In the third period, the Flyers rallied on the unassisted goal from Patrick. He stole the puck as he skated beside a defender near the Toronto net and then swept a shot past Frederik Anderson.
Simmonds continued the rally at 3:25 in a shorthanded situation when he broke in two on one with Valtteri Filppula and finished off a well-placed feed.
That was just the Flyers’ second shorthanded goal of the season. They entered the game tied with the New York Rangers for last in the NHL.
In the overtime, Neuvirth made a save on the Leafs’ Auston Matthews and managed to get the puck up ice to Travis Konecny, who fed Couturier for the game-winner.
Only fitting with one of the greatest players in franchise history in the house.
“It’s a huge come-from-behind win,’’ Patrick said. “It was pretty special night with the Lindros jersey retirement. So it was a fun night.’’
Patrick’s line produced the only goal in the Ranger game and added two more in this game. Obviously there’s some chemistry forming with Simmonds and Filppula.
“I thought we had a lot of chances the last couple games,’’ Patrick said. “I was really happy Simmer got that tying goal. He’s been great for our line. And a great leader in the room, too.’’
Neuvirth’s big save on Marleau typified the goalie’s performance. He’s only played in 12 games this season so it’s been difficult to stay sharp.
“Obviously it was tough giving up two quick goals,’’ he said. “I survived the second period and had time to regroup.
“This is so huge. Being down 2-0. When we tied it, I said OK, it’s zero-zero. You have to be your best now. Just happy the way the guys responded.’’
The Marleau save at the end might have been the play of the night.
“I thought (Nazem) Kadri was going to shoot,’’ Neuvirth said. “But he passed it. I was just quicker than the shot.’’
Couturier now has 12 goals in his last 11 games. It’s still a mystery why he was not named to the NHL All-Star Game. His 26 goals stand tied for third in the NHL.
“The guys stuck together, came back hard in the third,’’ Couturier said. “They played well enough to deserve this one.
“We just wanted to get back to playing the right way. We didn’t change our game plan, even when we were down.’’
Couturier credited Patrick with making the game-changing play.
“It was huge, especially coming from him,’’ Couturier said. “He’s been playing pretty well lately. Nice to see him get that goal, get the monkey off his back, maybe. It was a huge goal, gave us some wings. We just kept going after that.’’
Rookie Tyrell Goulbourne returned to the lineup, with Taylor Leier going back to the bench. . .The Flyers painted No. 88 decals behind each net as part of the tribute to Lindros on his number retirement night. . .The Flyers are now 6-0 all-time in games when they retire jerseys.