PHILADELPHIA – This is what “could have been’’ looks like.
If things had gone differently this season, maybe the Flyers wouldn’t have had to make such a big deal out of a 7-2 hammering of the East Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins.
But events, including the COVID-19 break in their season, conspired to push the Flyers out of contention almost before the season was half over.
So for whatever consolation it provided, the Flyers went out and knocked their Pennsylvania rivals out of first place with a wire-to-wire beating on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
And to think it took a third-string goaltender, Alex Lyon, to play perhaps the game of his limited NHL career to get the job done.
Ironically, the last time the Flyers scored seven goals was way back on Feb. 7 in a 7-4 win at Washington. That was the last game before a half-dozen or more Flyers tested positive for the coronavirus and forced the postponement of four games in the process.
The Flyers staggered through the rest of the month, then went into a tailspin which saw them go 6-10-1 in March.
April wasn’t much better and the Flyers were eliminated from playoff consideration with a couple weeks left on the schedule.
But Philadelphia looked like a completely different team on Monday night.
For instance, the Flyers scored first, breaking an ignominious streak of 11 straight games allowing opponents to register the first goal of the game.
There’s not a man on the Flyers who won’t tell you it’s so much easier when a team isn’t “chasing’’ the game.
As Jake Voracek, who posted three assists, pointed out, the Flyers were “faster’’ to pucks. Result? A season-high 45 shots.
Shockingly, the Flyers scored three times in the first period (which is usually their total for a full game), took a 4-0 lead into the second intermission and kept their composure after the Penguins scored two quick power-play goals early in the third.
If somehow the Flyers had been able to show this kind of composure throughout the season, things might have been a lot different.
“We played with the puck for most of the night,’’ Scott Laughton noted. “You’re not chasing the game as much. Get a couple opportunities and build on your confidence.’’
Kevin Hayes, Shayne Gostisbehere and Claude Giroux all connected in a first period which saw the Flyers outshoot the Penguins, 20-11. The Hayes goal at 5:58 was one of those phantom plays where play was allowed to continue until the first whistle and then was confirmed by league review.
“I thought it was good for our group to get a win and it was nice to snap the puck around a little bit,’’ Laughton said. “And I thought we made it a lot harder on them to make chances.’’
Why the Flyers haven’t been able to get that all-important first goal remains a mystery but James van Riemsdyk confirms it can be a make-or-break development.
“When you get that first goal, you feel like it kind of energizes the team,’’ JVR said. “It takes a lot less energy, at least it feels that way, to play the right way when you have a little bit of a lead like that rather than trying to chase down games which is what we’ve kind of gotten in the habit of doing lately.’’
Lyon set the tone, coming up with one big save after another, including one play where the puck hit the knob of his stick, started bouncing toward the goal line and the goaltender dove to stop it at the last instant.
“Everybody was happy with his battle level,’’ coach Alain Vigneault revealed. “He really gave us a chance. What we did was make the other team pay for mistakes.’’
Which is usually the other way around with the Flyers.
Lyon was asked if this was the best game of his NHL career. His record now stands at 6-7-1, 3.30 goals-against average.
“My focus has been to start games a little bit better,’’ he said. “Tonight I felt good. It takes a little time to find that rhythm and find that groove. I felt like tonight I found a real good recipe for success. I felt like tonight everything game together.’’
>Support for Pride Night
The Flyers showed full support on Pride Night, especially in the pre-game warm-ups, with sticks decorated in relevant colors.
“It’s just a small way we can show our support to the community,’’ van Riemsdyk said. “And that something as small as putting tape on your stick like that shows you’re an ally.’’
>Satisfaction for beating Penguins
Voracek put the win over the Penguins in perspective.
“It was a good feeling to score a few goals in the beginning,’’ he said. “It felt good but the excitement isn’t as high as if you were playing for something.’’
>Voracek moves into 10th place on alltime scoring list
Voracek’s three assists give him 604 points with the Flyers, moving him past Rod Brind’Amour and into 10th place on the team’s alltime scoring list.
Ever the joker, Voracek deadpanned his answer.
“Well, I’ve played for a long time,’’ he said. “If you play in Philly for 10 seasons, that’s a long time. If you produce, you’re going to get up there. I really don’t weigh in on that to be honest.’’
For the Flyers, it was the first time they had held a 3-0 lead at any point in a first period since Jan. 15 vs. Pittsburgh and the first time they had held a 3-0 first-intermission lead since March 1, 2020 at the New York Rangers. . . Giroux finished with two goals and an assist. It’s his 60th career game of three points or more.
Lyon made 35 saves on 37 shots. It’s the second-highest single-game save total of his career (36, Jan. 16, 2020 vs. Montreal) and the highest single-game save percentage of his career (.946) for a game where he played the full 60 minutes. The 37 shots were the third-most he’s faced in his career behind a pair of 40-shot games.