NEWARK – When Wayne Simmonds was traded away this past Monday, there were questions about how his absence would affect team chemistry and accountability when a teammate ran into trouble.
On Friday night, those questions were answered.
After the New Jersey Devils’ Kurtis Gabriel drove Nolan Patrick’s head into the boards at 5:02 of the first period – getting a five-minute boarding major penalty – the Flyers toughened up and made sure no one else took liberties.
That attitude set the tone for a 6-3 win at the Prudential Center, allowing the Flyers to keep pace with Eastern Conference playoff contenders such as Carolina and Montreal, both of which won on Friday night, keeping the Flyers five points out of a postseason spot.
As long as the Flyers stick together, they have a good chance of staying in the playoff chase.
Philadelphia got off to a quick 2-0 lead on a pair of James van Riemsdyk goals but the Devils came storming back to tie in the second period.
Only a fortunate-bounce goal by Travis Konency with 29.6 seconds left in the second period broke the feisty Devils’ momentum.
The Flyers got things back on an even keel in the third period.
Cam Talbot picked up the win in his first start in goal for the Flyers. It was his first action since playing for Edmonton way back on Feb. 9.
While that was gratifying, the bigger news was the Flyers had each other’s backs throughout this game.
“If you look at tonight, there were a few scrums,’’ Sean Couturier observed. “Guys stuck up for each other. It was a five-man unit in there in battles.
“It’s good to see. That’s usually what good teams do. We have to keep doing that.’’
Konecny appreciated the way the Flyers responded to Gabriel’s antics.
“You saw what he was doing,’’ Konecny said. “It was just a matter of trying to protect ourselves. ‘Patty’ (Nolan Patrick) is one of my good buddies. I’m going to stick up for him everytime, if someone is messing with him.
“That’s all it is. Everyone’s just sticking together. We’re a close team so that’s not going to fly with us.’’
Coach Scott Gordon believes that sort of esprit de corps can pay off in the long run.
“The whole game he (Gabriel) was running around,’’ Gordon said. “There’s a right time and a wrong time to do it (retribution). I don’t know how clean those hits were but the one from behind on Patty was wrong.’’
Patrick, who had to go through concussion protocol before returning to action, might be a skill player but he’s not going to put up with any nonsense. He got Gabriel later with an elbow to the head.
“Obviously I didn’t feel too good,’’ Patrick said. “It’s not the way you want to get hit. That’s the way that guy plays. That’s the way to respond, the way we did by beating them.
“We’ve had a lot of guys stepping up lately.’’
While the Flyers didn’t score on the five-minute power play from the Gabriel penalty, the lengthy man advantage may have tired out New Jersey’s penalty killers because the Flyers did score on their next power play at 12:53.
Claude Giroux got the primary assist as van Riemsdyk got the puck past goaltender Cory Schneider.
It was JVR’s eighth power-play goal of the season.
Talbot contributed during the five-minute major by stopping Blake Coleman on a shorthanded breakaway.
“I felt a little off in the first period there,’’ Talbot said. “They took it to us in the first five minutes and I had to get my legs under me. It was a huge save in the five-minute power play. For me, that was a big confidence-booster. I hadn’t played in a while. It’s a save I needed and the team needed.’’
Added Gordon: “To get that save, at least we weren’t starting the game on what looks like a promising situation turning into a real negative situation. That was a huge save.’’
Van Riemsdyk followed that up with his second goal just 1:23 later. New Flyer forward Ryan Hartman set up van Riemsdyk for a one-timer.
“It (staying together) is something we’ve tried to do all year long,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “Stay together as a pack in those situations. Not get pushed around by other teams. Guys responded, jumped in pretty well and that’s a good thing.’’
The Flyers might have been feeling too good about themselves as the second period began.
Damon Severson’s rebound shot eluded Talbot at 4:25, then Jesper Bratt was left alone in front for a goal at 8:49.
Then, as time was running out, Konecny rushed in and tried to get off a shot. The puck caromed back off his skate, slid across off defenseman Kevin Rooney and into the net.
The Flyers restored their two-goal lead just 27 seconds into the third period when Couturier’s shot found its way past Schneider.
Later, at 6:33, Ivan Provorov tipped in Travis Sanheim’s shot.
Patrick was slow getting off the ice after the first-period incident but returned to action. . .Radko Gudas’ assist was the 100th point of his career. He was playing in his 400th NHL career game. . .After starting the season 2-5 in the second half of back-to-back games, the Flyers have now gone 4-0.