PHILADELPHIA – There’s nothing better to get a hockey team playing loosey-goosey than to tell it the playoffs are simply a dream.
Just look at how the Flyers performed against the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets on Monday night.
No jittery puck-handling moves. No tight grips on the sticks. No panic decisions in the defensive zone.
Result? A 3-1 win at the Wells Fargo Center, giving the Flyers their first four-game winning streak of the season and victories in five of their last six.
Even though the Flyers are still an imposing 12 points out of a playoff spot, they’re starting to feel a little better about themselves.
Once again, they were led by the goaltending of rookie Carter Hart, who turned in another steady performance.
There was concern that the Flyers might show up with a little rust after having seven days off due to the bye week/All-Star break.
But that time off didn’t seem to be a problem. And don’t forget, the Jets were in the same boat.
Phil Varone gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 9:47 of the second period when he poked in a rebound past goalie Laurent Brossoit. It was just the 19th time in 49 games the Flyers have scored first this season.
As for playing a powerhouse like Winnipeg, Varone said the Flyers just had to play their game.
“You can’t be scared or nervous,’’ Varone said. “They’re just like us, they’re human beings, right? So, it’s whoever is willing to do a little more and go that extra inch.’’
Maybe the Flyers are finally gaining their composure.
“I think five or six games ago we were in the basement, so the only way to go was up,’’ Varone said. “You look around the room, there’s tons of talent in here. We were underachieving. There’s a lot more to give, even over these last five or six games. It will be tough (to make the playoffs), but there’s a lot of hockey left.’’
The Jets tied the score on a power play at 12:59. Jack Roslovic deflected a shot past Hart while on the power play.
But Travis Konecny, playing in his 200th NHL game, countered for the Flyers, deflecting Andrew MacDonald’s point shot high into the net for his 13th goal of the season.
Konecny set up James van Riemsdyk’s insurance goal with 3:35 to play.
Beating a strong team like the Jets should give the Flyers some additional confidence.
“It definitely does,’’ Konecny said. “We knew coming off the break this was going to be tough. We just kept things simple.’’
Hart has won four straight games and is now 7-5-1.
Are the Flyers starting to draw some extra confidence by Hart’s strong efforts?
“It’s impressive,’’ Konecny said. “Guys like (Winnipeg’s) Patrik Laine and (Mark) Scheifele have beaten some of the best goalies in the league (they were scoreless against Hart).
“He looked pretty confident tonight, making some big saves. We’re happy for him, we’re playing hard in front of him. It’s not like we can play looser, but he gives us the confidence. . .he’s been a wall in there for us.’’
Van Riemsdyk now has scored seven goals in his past six games. He’s finally hitting his stride after missing 16 games with a foot injury.
“That break came at a tough time because we were starting to feel good, getting into a nice rhythm,’’ JVR said. “We wanted to pick up where we left off.’’
Hart continues to impress, with this performance ranking among his best.
“I’m trying not to overthink things,’’ he said. “Just play. We had an unbelievable third period. We didn’t give them much. In a crucial part of the game like that, we battled hard.
“In the third periods where we weren’t doing well, we were giving up some leads. That was a different case tonight, in the third period, we came out with a mission and we cleaned up our end. We kept the pressure on them.’’
>Stolarz set to return
After sitting out 16 games with a lower-body injury, goaltender Anthony Stolarz is set to make his return on Tuesday night when the Flyers visit the New York Rangers.
Originally, Stolarz was called up from Lehigh Valley back on Nov. 24 after injuries to both Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth.
In nine games with the Flyers this season, he’s 2-3-2 with a 3.90 goals-against average and .880 save percentage.
At the Monday morning skate, Stolarz said he’s completely recovered from his latest injury. Last year he missed almost the entire season with a pair of knee operations.
“I’m looking forward to getting back in there and getting that competitive edge back,’’ said Stolarz, the first and only NHL goaltender to have been born and raised in New Jersey.
“It (Madison Square Garden) is definitely an exciting building, something you look forward to.’’
>Gostisbehere late scratch
Shayne Gostisbehere took part in pre-game warm-ups but was a late scratch with a lower-body injury. Gostisbehere was one of just nine Flyers players who had played in all 48 games prior to Monday night. Christian Folin was a late fill-in.