With 20 minutes left and the Flyers down 2-1 at TD Garden in Boston, it looked like the clock was approaching midnight on their playoff hopes.
A loss in regulation time would leave the Flyers six points behind the Bruins, who also maintain two games in hand.
But then some rather unlikely things happened.
First, Sean Couturier connected on a power play at the 6:56 mark to tie the score.
That was followed by a shocker: Four-time NHL Selke Trophy (best defensive forward) winner Patrice Bergeron tripped and fell. That left a clear path for defenseman Travis Sanheim to race in and score with 1:52 left in the five-minute tiebreaker.
With the 3-2 win, the Flyers closed to within three points of the Beantowners with another game between the two scheduled for Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
Besides picking up a valuable point, the Flyers also broke a five-game (0-3-2) winless streak against the Bruins this season, which should give the Flyers a little more confidence playing that team.
Many people saw this effort coming, based on the Flyers’ structured play in Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout loss at the Islanders. The Flyers kept the Isles in check for most of the game and used the momentum from that game to maintain their precision play for the Boston match.
Ultimately, this could be the kind of win the Flyers need to stay in the playoff race for their final 19 games.
Sanheim was as surprised as anyone when Bergeron stumbled clumsily to the ice.
In a flash, Sanheim was on top of Boston rookie goalie Daniel Vladar for a quick shot inside the left post.
“I think we knew it was a big game coming in,’’ Sanheim said during a post-game media Zoom call. “So obviously it was a pretty big goal.
“We needed the two points. We would have liked to have them in regulation but we got the two points nonetheless. It was a good team win, it felt good to get that one.’’
Couturier has been through plenty of playoff drives in his career and knows what it’s like to play in these types of situations.
“It’s a huge extra point that we got there,’’ said Couturier after the Flyers raised their overtime record this season to a strong 5-2. “We’re battling for a playoff spot, they are as well. Good thing we came out on top there.’’
The veteran center confirmed the Flyers appear to be trending in the right direction, even though the sample size of the last two games might be rather small.
“The last two games we’ve played two pretty well-structured teams,’’ Couturier said. “They don’t give up a lot and we’ve kind of done the same thing. We’ve tightened things up, not given up as much. Offensively, we’re battling hard and creating our chances.’’
Much of the credit for this win has to go to veteran goaltender Brian Elliott, who was particularly sharp in the first two periods. The Bruins attacked in waves but Elliott stood his ground.
“We played well positionally,’’ said Elliott, who gave up a power-play goal to Bergeron but only one other at even-strength. “It’s going to be another battle tomorrow night. We have to bring that same intensity and persistence. . .that’s the type of game when we do that we win.’’
Coach Alain Vigneault came close to calling Sanheim’s goal a “season saver.’’
“We talked about it before the game,’’ he said. “We needed to win this game, play well, play hard which we did.
“Tomorrow is just as important as today.’’
>Can momentum carry over to Tuesday?
Vigneault agreed with the premise the way you play in the first of a back-to-back can have an effect on the second game.
“Coming back against the Bruins is probably even a bigger task with the veteran group that they have,’’ he said. “The experience (they have), it’s a challenge.
“Tomorrow is going to be another hard-fought game. They’re going to be ready, we’re going to be ready and it should be an exciting game.’’
>Konecny snaps slump
Travis Konecny gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead with a goal which ended a 12-game drought.
“I really liked his (Konecny’s) game the last game which is why I kept him with ‘G’ (Claude Giroux),’’ Vigneault said. “He’s working the right way, you get rewarded when you do that.’’
Konecny confirmed getting the goal, off an assist from Giroux, was a relief.
“It was nice to get that one,’’ he said. “Honestly, I’ve just been trying to play the right way, working hard for your linemates. It’s a matter of time before a bounce goes your way. It was just my turn to get one of those nice bounces.’’
>Big play by Giroux
In overtime, Giroux came up big by foiling a two-on-one opportunity for the Bruins. Moments later, the Flyers turned the tide and won it.
“He’s been one of our more consistent players throughout the year,’’ Vigneault said. “He’s really, in my estimation, led this group with the right example – working hard, preparing himself. We need more guys to follow his lead.’’
Sanheim scored his second goal of the season. It’s his second career overtime game-winner, both of which have been at Boston. The other came on Jan. 31, 2019. . .Ivan Provorov had two assists. It’s his 12th career game of two or more assists, and second this season. . . Defenseman Philippe Myers played his 100th NHL game. . .Carter Hart is scheduled to start in goal for the Flyers on Tuesday night.