PHILADELPHIA – They don’t call them trap games for nothing.
Faced with the prospect of playing a wounded Canadiens team (five straight losses) at Montreal on Saturday afternoon, the Flyers might have been excused for overlooking a terrible Detroit team at home on Black Friday.
And they almost did.
The Red Wings gave the Flyers all they could handle for the first 40 minutes of the afternoon contest at the Wells Fargo Center before finally tossing in the towel.
If not for some sharp goaltending by Carter Hart (voted second star of the game) and opportunistic offense from the Sean Couturier line, the outcome of this game might have been different.
Instead, it was a 6-1 victory, the Flyers’ third straight win.
To their credit, the Flyers stuck to their system and played disciplined hockey, even when they were only ahead by a 2-1 score late in the second period.
“To be honest, I think they (the Red Wings) were a better team for two periods,’’ said Jake Voracek, who finished the game with three assists. “It’s always hard to play against those teams but honestly they have nothing to lose in the standings.
“They swing away, they move around with all five guys in the zone and sometimes there’s a little trouble with that. But we got moving, we knew we had to stay patient. We knew we would probably find a way to win the game and kudos to us for sticking with it in the third period.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault said his team knew Detroit was not exactly going to be a pushover.
“I knew off the hop it was going to be hard,’’ the coach noted. “We have four games in six (days), this is the third in that sequence. I figured we needed the saves early (which they got from Hart) and that enabled us to find our legs.’’
Why is there a tendency to overlook a team like Detroit with the worst record (7-18-3) in the NHL?
“I think a lot of times, the expectations are it’s going to be easier,’’ Vigneault said. “But there are no easy games in this league. You have to play the right way and earn your wins. It took us a little time to get going but we did.’’
Several players voiced similar comments.
“The score was 6-1 but I don’t think we played that great,’’ Couturier said. “It could have went one way or the other. I know in the first period they were all over us. Special teams got the job done (a power-play goal on three chances and all three Detroit power plays killed).’’
Added Kevin Hayes: “I don’t think we had the start we wanted. Our first period really wasn’t what we wanted. We were up 2-1 at the end of the first period but we knew that wasn’t the way we wanted to play. Sticking to the structure, playing the right team defense. . .we knew things would eventually go our way.’’
Even Shayne Gostisbehere, Hayes and James van Riemsdyk got into the scoring act.
After sitting out three games due to some uninspired play, Gostisbehere returned to the lineup and paid almost instant dividends.
He scored a power-play goal – exactly what coach Alain Vigneault was looking for – with 57.1 seconds remaining in the first period.
Gostisbehere took a pass from Couturier down low, spun around and whisked a backhand shot past goaltender Cal Pickard, one of a record eight netminders who played for the Flyers last season.
“I think ‘Coots’ did a good job, he fumbled it a little bit there,’’ said Gostisbehere, who scored just his second goal of the season. “Jake (Voracek) made a great play and I was just trying to get it to the front of the net because I knew we had guys there and luckily it went it.”
Despite leading at the first intermission, the Flyers must have felt a bit fortunate for the 2-1 edge.
After 12 minutes in the first period, they were being outshot by the 7-18-3 Red Wings.
Detroit still took a 27-26 edge in shots into the third period.
Scott Laughton got the Flyers off on the right foot with a breakaway goal at 2:56. Laughton broke across the middle, took a pass from Matt Niskanen and beat Pickard with a short shot.
Detroit earned a tie at 8:09. Robby Fabbri scored with ex-Flyer Val Filppula getting one of the assists.
In the second period, the action went back and forth until Niskanen sent Couturier rushing in as the clock was running out. Pickard stopped Couturier’s initial shot but couldn’t cover the rebound try.
Hayes and Oskar Lindblom scored in the first minute of the third period to seal the deal. With 2:09 to play, Van Riemsdyk scored just his second goal since Oct. 26.