PHILADELPHIA – When the schedule offers up a conference opponent at this time of year, it’s a double-bonus for a team that can pull off a win.
So the Flyers were especially pleased to be on the right end of a 4-1 score against the Florida Panthers on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The winners picked up two valuable points in the wild card standings and denied the visitors a chance to move up in the playoff race.
Coming off an impressive 7-2 win at Washington on Saturday night, the Flyers carried that momentum over in this match.
In James van Riemsdyk’s opinion, the Flyers are making a pitch to hit their stride at just the right time.
“The strong game the last game (Washington), the bounces went our way,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “We wanted to follow that up with a strong effort against a team we’re fighting for playoff position with. When you’re playing teams you’re in that pocket with, it’s even more important to get those points.’’
After allowing Florida the first goal of the game, the Flyers came back to tie in the opening period, then poured in two more goals against their old goaltender/nemesis, Sergei Bobrovsky, in the second period to run their home record to 19-5-4.
The 19 home wins already ties the total for the entire 2018-19 season.
Considering that starting goalie Carter Hart was off for a whopping 27 days (lower abdominal strain), it was a pretty remarkable effort. He stopped all but one of 31 shots.
“Carter made some big saves,’’ coach Alain Vigneault noted. “Give credit to him, give credit to our goaltending coach (Kim Dillabaugh). He gave him the work he needed to come in tonight.
“I thought as the game went on you could see he (Hart) was feeling confident.’’
Helping Hart’s cause was a great defensive effort by players like Travis Konecny, who blocked a team-high five shots.
And speaking of home records, Hart improved to 14-2-2 in the friendly confines of the WFC.
With the win, the Flyers jumped over idle Carolina into the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It was nice to get back out there,’’ Hart said. “It’s not fun when you’re just watching from the side. I went through all the different scenarios I could in practice to make sure that I was a hundred percent ready.’’
This was the start of a stretch of games against Eastern Conference playoff contenders, so it was good to get things going on the right foot.
“We knew they (the Panthers) were a fast team,’’ Ivan Provorov said. “We knew we had to take care of the puck, make smart decisions. From now on, every game is important. It’s a tight race. So you can’t afford to lose any points.’’
Added Scott Laughton: “Carter was really good, he prepares so well. Good to see him come back and make some key saves. This game was huge, especially at home. We’re trying to play with swagger – we have to prove we’re a good team.’’
The Flyers broke the 1-1 tie at 5:24 of the second period. Florida’s Aaron Ekblad was trying to push the puck out of the zone as Jake Voracek hopped off the bench to replace an exiting Morgan Frost.
Voracek suddenly was alone, had the puck on his stick and that created a two-on-one rush, with Riemsdyk finishing off the play with a backhander past Bobrovsky.
“Obviously, Jake has been doing this for a long time,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “He’s a great playmaker and you know he’s going to find you if you get to the good spots on the ice. I just tried to get to an area where he could give me the puck and he made a great pass.”
With 51.1 seconds left in the period, Laughton took control in the right circle and swept a pass toward JVR in the slot. Bobrovsky stopped the initial shot but the rebound came to Travis Sanheim on the opposite side for an easy put-back.
Strangely enough, Sanheim has scored six goals in eight career games against the Russian goalie. That’s six of his 19 career goals overall.
“It’s kind of a coincidence,’’ Sanheim said. “But if I can keep scoring against him for the rest of my career I’ll be happy with that.”
The Panthers jumped on top early with Mackenzie Weegar connecting at the 3:07 mark of the first period.
But the Flyers responded at 13:58. Provorov took a shot from the left hash marks that made its way through an Aleksander Barkov screen for the defenseman’s 10th goal of the season.
Defense partner Matt Niskanen has been impressed with Provorov’s skill level.
“He thinks the game through really well,’’ Niskanen said. “He sees all the plays, he knows what’s going on and has a great feel for the game. He has great timing and obviously a lot of skill with his physical abilities.”
The Flyers return to action Tuesday night against the Islanders in Brooklyn. Philadelphia is 5-4-2 in the second half of back-to-back games. . .Claude Giroux received a big ovation when it was announced he had registered his 800th NHL point on Saturday night at Washington. Giroux has 233 power-play assists for his career and needs just two more to pass Bob Clarke for the all-time franchise lead.