March 31, 2016
There were many reasons that Wednesday’s Flyers-Capitals game – a 2-1 shootout victory for the Flyers – felt like a playoff atmosphere, but if forced to pick just one, let’s focus on the sheer violence of the whole thing:
(GIFs via the excellent Sons of Penn)
In total, the teams combined to dole out 64 hits in addition to plenty extracurricular activity like the cheap shot by Jason Chimera on Shayne Gostisbehere. They just kept on coming.
Even Braden Holtby, undoubtedly on high alert with Ray Emery in town, decided that he’d rather stick up for himself than accept what would have been critical 4-on-3 man advantage in overtime. It was the only mistake Holtby made the entire game.
Or was it? Understanding that the Caps don’t have much to play for, the netminder’s coach didn’t seem too concerned with his decision making.
“In that situation I would probably say the referee wasn’t going to call that [goalie interference],” Barry Trotz said. “He wants to get out of Philadelphia. You have to be disciplined in all areas and we’ll have to be in the playoffs. It was good for us.”
Both teams can take a lot from what was a well-played hockey game. If the Flyers do make the playoffs (where they would likely draw Washington in Round 1), the Caps understand that they can match the level of physicality.
Holtby acknowledged that the Flyers were better on the night. To the Presidents’ Trophy winners, that knowledge sounded more valuable than the extra point in the standings.
“I think the biggest difference in two teams was the desperation level of Philadelphia,” Trotz later said. “Ours probably wasn't as high and it probably shouldn't be, human nature and all that. At the same time, we battled hard.”
Out of necessity, the Flyers have been playing playoff hockey for a couple of months. The Orange and Black were far more worried about the result than how the game was played, but now they can look back at going toe-to-toe with the best team in the NHL.
For instance, the captain rebounded from some nasty hits in the past couple of games to throw three of his own against Washington. Just as important, he was also responsible for setting up the Flyers’ only goal.
“It felt like playoff hockey,” Giroux said. “Our intensity was up. There were hits everywhere. It was fun to play.”
Ever since Steve Mason was traded to the Flyers in April 2013, he has been very good. Some people don’t want to believe it, but the 27-year-old goalie has posted a .922 save percentage since joining the Orange and Black.
The problem for Mason has been staying healthy, which makes his past month even more impressive. Since March 5th, here is what the Flyers’ number one goaltender has done:
• 12 starts in 25 days
• .933 save percentage
• 1.91 GAA
Michal Neuvirth is a major reason that the Flyers currently find themselves in a wild-card spot, but after he went down to injury, it has been the Mason goalie who has logged very heavy minutes.
“It would be a lot more difficult if we weren’t in the playoff run,” Mason said of the workload. “You know because of the games and how meaningful and fun they are to be a part of it makes playing a lot easier.”
How Dave Hakstol decides to utilize Mason down the stretch will be interesting. The Flyers have six games remaining, but all three are back-to-backs. In a league-wide trend, goalies have been playing fewer back-to-backs. Would Hakstol try to sneak in Anthony Stolarz for his NHL debut against an eliminated Ottawa team with huge games in Detroit and Pittsburgh looming right after?
For his part, Mason wants to keep going. With saves like this, why wouldn’t he?
“Yeah you know it’s a situation where I’m feeling good right now,” Mason said. “I just want to keep going but at the end of the day it’s not my decision.”
Good news on the injury front for a top Flyers prospect:
Travis Konecny does not need surgery. Expected to re-join Sarnia but not next game.— Dave Isaac (@davegisaac) March 31, 2016
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann