When a team needs to hit the comeback trail, it has to count on its leaders to show the way.
Which is why Flyers coach Alain Vigneault decided to shorten his bench for the third period of Monday night’s game in Buffalo.
Down 3-0 to a Sabres team which came into the game saddled with 17 straight losses, Vigneault parked his youthful trio of Nolan Patrick, Oskar Lindblom and Joel Farabee on the bench and gave additional ice time to veterans such as Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek.
The move paid off. The Flyers scored three times in the final period, including Couturier’s tying goal with 1:29 to play in regulation time, then got the deciding goal from Ivan Provorov at 42 seconds into overtime for a gut-check 4-3 win at KeyBank Center.
Vigneault gave the impression he was playing a hunch by limiting his forwards to just three lines for the final 20 minutes but there was some strategy involved.
“We’re down by three, we needed this game,’’ Vigneault said in a media Zoom call. “So I decided to shorten up the bench and went with what I thought were our nine best forwards.’’
In the second period, Vigneault put Couturier between Giroux and Voracek and that trio produced the Flyers’ second goal of the rally, with Giroux firing a shot past Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullman.
“The guys found a way to get it done,’’ Vigneault said. “At this time and the situation that we’re in. . .if we’re going to move forward and get the job done, your top players have got to be your top players.
“That’s one of the reasons I put ‘G’ back with ‘Coots’ and Jake. We needed a push, we needed those guys to step up. By shortening up the bench, it gave more ice time to a few guys and we were able to find a way to win this game, which we desperately needed.’’
With 18 consecutive losses, the Sabres tied the NHL record for futility, initially set by the 2003-04 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Why the slow start for the Flyers? It’s becoming a habit.
“We discussed this morning as a team how important this game was,’’ Vigneault said. “And the way we needed to play.
“We didn’t come out that way for the first 35 minutes. Then I decided to make a couple line changes. I didn’t go in the room between the second and third periods. Sometimes teams and players have to figure things out.’’
That they did. Kevin Hayes scored barely two minutes into the third period and the Flyers sensed things were changing.
“The Hayes goal gave us a little momentum,’’ said Vigneault, whose team moved to within one point of Boston for the fourth and final playoff spot in the NHL’s East Division.
“At this time and the situation that we’re in. . .if we’re going to move forward and get the job done, your top players have got to be your top players.’’
Giroux saw the need for the change.
“I mean in the third, the urgency was there,’’ he said. “If we wanted to come back in this game, we needed to play better, smarter and harder.’’
The captain reiterated these slow starts can be dangerous and nearly cost the Flyers this game.
“We need to find way to get us going earlier,’’ Giroux said.
>Elliott comes on strong at the end
Starting goalie Brian Elliott looked handcuffed on the second and third Sabre goals but Vigneault gave him credit for settling down and holding the fort later on, allowing the Flyers to make their comeback.
“Other than that second goal, I thought Brian did what I want a goaltender to do for us, give our team a chance,’’ Vigneault said. “They had the better chances for the first half of the game, they were the better team.
“When we made those changes, we got back in a better groove. Brian gave us a chance and he was a big part of the win.’’
>Hayes goal made Flyers believers
The attitude on the bench changed after Hayes scored to make it 3-1.
“I think when ‘Hayesy’ got that goal, you could see everyone on the bench got a little boost,’’ Giroux said.
Like the other vets, Hayes saw plenty of ice time in the last period.
Added Hayes: “I think AV (Vigneault) made a coaching decision, shortened the bench a little bit. The guys who were called upon ended up battling through. It’s definitely a challenge when you’re getting put out there a lot. You’re supposed to be a leader on this team and you have to be sure you’re doing the right thing.’’
>Provorov discusses slow starts
The Flyers have now won two straight games where the opponent has scored first. That’s not a formula for success.
“I’m not sure why it keeps happening,’’ Provorov said. “We fall behind early, don’t have a good start. We only start playing when we’re behind.
“Maybe the next game we should come out and think that we’re down 3-0.’’
>By the numbers
Per NHL Stats and Information, the game marked the sixth time in franchise history that the Flyers have erased a deficit of three or more goals in the second intermission or later to win a game. The last time was Oct. 25, 2016, also against Buffalo. The previous occasions are below.
Ivan Provorov recorded his second career overtime goal and ninth career game-winner. It’s his 25th career two-point game (goal, assist. Provorov led the team with six shots on goal and 10 overall attempts, and also led the club with 25:27 of ice time.