PHILADELPHIA – For the Flyers, the outlook for the game appeared as dismal as the weather and their playoff hopes pretty much all wet.
Trailing the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, and time running out, the Flyers looked to be on their way to a third straight regulation-time loss.
But the Flyers somehow summoned some resolve, got a goal from James van Riemsdyk with 3:04 to play and another from Jake Voracek with just 20 seconds on the clock to send Saturday night’s game at Lincoln Financial Field to overtime.
In the extra session, Claude Giroux scored at 1:59 of overtime to give the Flyers an uplifting 4-3 win.
Three goals in a span of 5:03 against the former two-time Stanley Cup champions. Pretty inspiring stuff.
This win, the first ever by the Flyers in an outdoor game (they entered the game 0-2-1), just might have saved their season.
“I think all of us in here recognized the importance of this game,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “We really couldn’t afford not to get any points against these guys. Again, we were able to make up a little bit of ground.
“Certainly that would keep us alive, I would say.’’
Instead of being 10 points behind Pittsburgh, they are now only seven.
For Wayne Simmonds, it was an especially emotional win.
This might have been his last game as a Flyer. He’s expected to be traded on or before Monday’s trade deadline.
“I think you savor it a little bit more,’’ said Simmonds. “This has been my home. I consider myself a part of this community, a part of this team.
“It’s special being out there and getting the two points tonight.’’
Voracek’s shot from a very wide angle somehow found its way under goaltender Matt Murray.
In fact, Voracek had assists on the Flyers’ other two regulation-time goals, too. Did he sort of take the team on his back Saturday night?
“Our line was in the offensive zone a lot and I think we were making a good push everytime we were on the ice. With that kind of weather, in the third period, we weren’t sure what was going to happen.
“To be honest, I didn’t believe we were going to win. The ice was kind of heavy in the third period. I think we’re a pretty good team coming back. That’s what we did today.’’
The Flyers feel like they’re still in the playoff chase.
“I think it was the biggest win of the year,’’ Voracek said. “If we lost that game, I think it would be tough to go from here.’’
Giroux was pleased to finally end the Flyers’ outdoor game jinx. He raised his stick in celebration.
“It was just kind of a release to finally win an outdoor game,’’ he said. “It was a battle to get it. Sometimes the games that are the hardest to win are the nicest to win.’’
Goals by Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz and Evgeni Malkin keyed the Penguins’ early lead in front of a sellout crowd of 69,620 spectators.
The game was played under a steady drizzle but the moisture did not seem to affect the pace of play all that much.
And the weather did little to dampen the emotion of the contest. Heavy hits dotted play, with Simmonds, Nolan Patrick and Shayne Gostisbehere all participating in the physical side of the game.
A goal by Schultz at 10:01 of the second period broke a 1-1 tie.
Schultz’s shot from the top of the right circle through a screen beat Brian Elliott short side.
In the third period, Malkin scored when his shot hit Elliott’s glove, popped up, went over his shoulder, tipped off the goalie’s right skate and trickled into the net at 6:49.
Although the Penguins held a 18-8 edge in shots and had the better of the scoring chances, the Flyers managed to get to the first intermission tied 1-1.
Sean Couturier continued his productive ways on offense, scoring at 12:06 to even the score.
Oskar Lindblom provided the impetus for the goal, driving down the left boards and setting up Couturier for a one-timer past Matt Murray.
Since Jan. 8, Couturier has registered 28 points in 20 games, moving him within Giroux for the team lead.
Crosby’s favorite target throughout his career has been the Flyers and he didn’t disappoint on this night.
On his goal, Crosby took advantage of a Voracek turnover and used a Kris Letang set-up to deke past Brian Elliott for Pittsburgh’s first goal at 7:59.
Things heated up at 16:23 when Simmonds, perhaps playing in his last game as a Flyer, lowered the boom on Brian Dumolin as the defenseman approached the boards.
Simmonds was challenged by both Letang and Jared McCann before heading to the penalty box as the crowd roared its approval. Letang fell during a scrum with Gostisbehere and appeared to injure himself.
In the second period, there was more physical play. First, Pittsburgh defenseman Jack Johnson stuck out his knee to hit Nolan Patrick’s knee but got away with a simple tripping penalty.
Later, Patrick exacted revenge by plastering Johnson to the end boards.
Gostisbehere, not known for fierce body hits, executing one on McCann after the Patrick-Johnson exchanges.
Both Letang and Dumolin did not return to action, so the Penguins had to finish the game with just four of a possible six defensemen.