PHILADELPHIA – They say the first game back from a road trip is always the toughest. Try telling that to the red-hot Flyers.
Coming off a three-game sweep of a trek through Minnesota, Winnipeg and St. Louis, the Flyers ran their winning streak to a season high-tying five games with a 5-1 win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
This victory completed a 2-0 season sweep of the Stars, currently situated fourth in the NHL’s Western Conference standings. It also increased the Flyers’ lead over Carolina to three points for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
Owen Tippett’s fifth goal in the last six games and first of two in this game gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 3:03 of the second period and it turned out to be the game-winner. Sean Couturier won a left circle draw and relayed to Tippett for a quick shot into the net.
The assist was the 300th of Couturier’s NHL career.
Did someone say coming off a road trip is a sure-fire formula for disaster?
Not coach John Tortorella.
“Gave them a couple days off,” the coach pointed out. “Well-earned. First two shifts, (goalie Samuel) ‘Ers’ (Ersson) makes a couple big saves, one goes over the net. Other than a little bit of a lull in the second period, we played a really good game.”
Dallas finally got on the board at 12:42 with just their fourth shot of the game. Tyler Seguin took advantage of a left circle faceoff and beat netminder San Ersson from close range. But that was it for Dallas.
So the Flyers took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. They are now 16-1-2 when leading after two periods.
The Flyers’ highlight of the first period was not Sean Walker’s goal at the 19-minute mark but rather the team’s defensive play.
Checking fiercely at both ends of the rink, the Flyers held the high-powered Stars to a single shot while putting 15 shots of their own on Dallas netminder Jake Oettinger.
Walker gave the Flyers their one-goal lead when Morgan Frost made a nice pass from the boards at the attack blue line. Walker took the pass in full stride and beat Oettinger from near the right hash marks.
“They’ve got a lot of good offensive people over there,” Frost said. “So we had to tie up sticks. I think we had a lot of zone time.”
Added Tortorella: “That’s a really good team. If you give them a chance to look up ice and get going, as far as how quick they can play, you’re going to be in trouble. I thought we did a really good job of just getting sticks on pucks.”
Just 44 seconds into the third period, Cam Atkinson made it 3-1 on a power-play goal. Frost picked up another assist on the play as Atkinson batted in a puck from the edge of the crease.
It was a big goal because it kept the Stars from getting any idea of a comeback.
Atkinson has now scored three goals after going 26 games without one.
“Every team has a good PK and goalie,” Atkinsoon pointed out. “So we’re going to have to get those greasy kind of rebound goals and we’ve been doing that.”
If the Flyers were feeling any signs of fatigue from the trip, it didn’t show. The team did get two days off in a row to help the situation. Frost said the rest helped.
“It’s been a grind,” Frost admitted. “It feels like we’ve played every other day. I thought we looked really refreshed in that first period.”
Scott Laughton added to the Flyers’ scoring with a penalty shot goal at 9:15 of the third period. He skated in slowly, got Oettinger to go down, then calmly slid a short shot under the goalie’s right pad.
Then for the second straight game, Tippett scored on a brilliant solo rush at 14:30, spinning around to beat Oettinger from close range with a backhand shot.
“He has a chance to be something special,” Tortorella said. “I think he just feels good about his game. Hitting his net more with his shot. I haven’t seen a goal like that in quite awhile.”
Tippett, who now has 18 goals for the season, said the Flyers’ confidence is sky-high and there really isn’t a team they fear.
“I think we found ourselves in a lot of games lately,” he said. “Coming off the road trip, it was big for our group to kind of get some confidence going and get our game back.”
>Tough decisions again
With Couturier (minor injury) and defenseman Jamie Drysdale (illness) returning to the lineup, Tortorella had to make a couple tough scratches, so Bobby Brink, Marc Staal and Nick Deslauriers hit the bench.
“I never like sitting anybody out,” the coach said. “I think everybody is contributing. But these are decisions we just have to make.”
With Carter Hart missing six games in December (mostly due to illness), the Flyers’ goaltending arrangement has become sort of an equal partnership with Ersson.
Ersson was scheduled to start Thursday night’s game against Dallas and he led his sidekick in several categories, including win percentage and goals-against average.
Tortorella confirms he’s OK with this “rotation” because it’s the middle of the season, there’s been a lot of travel and back-to-back situations as far as doling out playing time is concerned.
“Sam has definitely earned the trust of the coaching staff,” Tortorella said, mindful of Ersson’s sparkling 2.33 GAA. “It’s not supplanting Carter. It’s just Sam has earned our trust and it makes for easier decisions.”
The Flyers begin a back-to-back set on Saturday when they play host to the Colorado Avalanche (1 p.m.). Then the Ottawa Senators arrive on Sunday (1 p.m.). . .Philadelphia has posted 30 or more shots in 32 of their 45 games this season. . .The Flyers have scored a power-play goal in six of their last seven games. . .This is the third time this season the Flyers have put together a five-game winning streak.