After having 10 days to dwell on a five-game losing streak, the Flyers certainly were expected to look motivated in their first game back from the NHL All-Star break.
Their start against the Florida Panthers was rather slow. But they woke up in the second period to gain a 1-1 tie, then got a game-winner from Noah Cates at 2:37 of the third period for a 2-1 win at Merchant Bank Arena.
Goalie Samuel Ersson blanked the Panthers over the final two periods for the victory.
Cates picked off a loose puck, cut through several defenders and beat ex-Flyer goaltender Anthony Stolarz from in close for an unassisted goal to give the Flyers the win. That ended a 22-game goal drought for the young center.
It was Ersson’s performance in the first period which really kept the Flyers from getting blown out. He limited the Panthers to just one goal even though Florida had several excellent scoring chances.
After that rocky first period, the Flyers got back to their game.
“It was kind of nice getting some chances early, getting a feel for the puck,” was Ersson’s positive spin on the situation in a post-game televised interview. “You make a couple big saves and you get your confidence up. Get a good feeling. It wasn’t too bad.”
No doubt coach John Tortorella had some rather loud comments to make at the first intermission.
“We had to get everything up to our standards,” Ersson said. “In the first, nothing really went our way. But we showed some great character bouncing back from that first period, working our way back into the game and coming up with a huge win.”
Tortorella made it clear the Flyers just had to get back to the game he knows they can play.
“All the talk the past two days has been we have to get back to our personality,” he said. “That (the slow start) is not going to be our personality, that’s for sure. The whole overall play, our determination away from the puck was just night-and-day from the first 20 (minutes) to the last 40.
“We have a good team, a team that’s willing. We just have to make sure we have the mindset that we can play with these teams and take a chance. We almost looked paralyzed in the first period. We have almost no chance if we play that way.”
Trailing by a 1-0 score going into the late stages of the second period, Travis Konecny finally got the Flyers on the scoreboard.
Konecny, who had just one goal in his previous 11 games, took a nifty pinpoint backhand pass from Joel Farabee in stride, rushed in on goalie Anthony Stolarz and beat him inside the right post at 13:33.
Konecny said taking advantage of Florida’s run-and-gun style was a key to the comeback.
“I think we just kind of used their play to our advantage,” he said in a televised second period intermission interview. “They want to play aggressive, so we just stayed tight and waited for our opportunities.”
Florida’s power play, which has been lethal of late, scored for the only goal of the first period. With Nick Seeler in the penalty box, Carter Verhaeghe cranked up a shot from the top of the left circle which eluded Ersson at 9:22.
With Owen Tippett back in the lineup after missing several games prior to the NHL All-Star break, the Flyers went with a line of Tippett on the left side, Sean Couturier at center and Cam Atkinson on the right side.
Another top line had Morgan Frost at center with Farabee on the left wing and Konecny on right wing.
Konecny and Florida’s Matthew Tkachuk got into it at the end of the second period and that seemed to get the Flyers charged up a bit, too.
“I think they were trying to play tough,” Konecny suggested. “But we’re not afraid of that. We’ll stand right in there.”
For Cates, it was a load off his back. He came into the game with just one goal for the season and that was scored more than 20 games back.
“The last 30 or so games are going to be like playoff games and I want to be a part of that, of helping this team,” Cates said. “Getting one on the board will help with the last half of the season. It was big for me, so I’m really excited about it.”
Farabee said the Flyers made the proper adjustments in this game to turn things around.
“We were just kind of on our heels,” he said. “They’re a really good team, they move the puck well through neutral zone. I felt like we were sitting back, letting them skate into our zone.
“After the first period we talked about let’s just go at these guys. Force them to make plays through us. We kind of did that. That’s what gave us our chances.”
The Flyers return to the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night to play the Winnipeg Jets. They have a day off on Wednesday. . .Philadelphia stayed with its recent trend of 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Defenseman Marc Staal and forward Nick Deslauriers were scratched. . .Seeler’s shot block in the first period gave him 142 for the season and the NHL league lead. . .Stolarz stopped Konecny on a first-period breakaway. The Flyers lead the NHL in breakaways.