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February 23, 2019

Instant observations: Claude Giroux saves Flyers' season with overtime winner in outdoor thriller

The atmosphere was electric. The weather held up. And the hockey was as good as promised. 

The 2019 Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial was a complete success — an epic overtime battle between two bitter rivals with playoff hopes on the line.

After clawing back from a two goal deficit with around five minutes left — the future of the entire franchise on the line — Claude Giroux showed why he is one of the best Flyers of all time, netting an overtime winner to clinch victory 4-3 in front nearly 70,000 fans.

The Flyers did everything they could to make the next two plus days very, very hard for their front office with the trade deadline on the horizon. Here's what we saw in a game we will never, ever forget:

The Good

• Gritty entered the Linc like he was performing in Cirque Du Soleil. That's the very definition of "good."

And then, he went streaking:

 Oh yeah, there was also the game. Sean Couturier took control of a rolling puck to find nylon midway through the first, equalling the score at 1-1 (from Oskar Lindblom and Jake Voracek). It was a beauty and got the nearly 70,000 fans back into things as Philly fought to keep its season alive.

There was a palpable buzz after that goal, through the first intermission and up until the Penguins took the lead back. 

• The rules of the outdoor game, with possible heavy rain, was that the game would be official after two completed periods (if the third was unplayable). Philly seemed to know that coming out of the locker room for the second frame, as they opened up a 7-1 shot advantage to start things with several good looks. 

• With about half the fans already exiting the Linc premises, the Flyers got a critical 4-on-3 and were able to take advantage, as shot after shot was fired on net with James Van Riemsdyk was able to hit the back of the net to cut the Pittsburgh advantage to a single goal, 3-2.

• After pulling Elliott, the Flyers barraged the Pens defense — and for much of the period, out-shooting them 22-10 over the final 20 minutes. After an icing and ensuing face off, Voracek sniped the puck right off the draw passed Murray for the improbable tie, 3-3, to force a sudden death overtime.

• Oh, and G's game-winner:

The Bad

• Sidney Crosby is very, very good. After a TV timeout in the first, the center made a move on Brian Elliott following a Jake Voracek turnover and shelved the puck over his shoulder to get the Pens on the board first. Crosby has 14 points in his last seven games and is red hot.

• The Penguins' second goal, coming halfway through the second, beat Elliott high too on a slapshot from defenseman Justin Schultz (to put Pittsburgh ahead 2-1).

• Looking desperately for an equalizer, the Flyers offense looked potent until an unlucky bounce off a skate netted a goal for the Flyers' other Pittsburgh enemy, Evgani Malkin. Up 3-1, the fans slowly started to file toward the exits with 12 or so minutes to go in the third (see more of this in "ugly.")

• Depending on how you want to categorize the following, the Flyers and Penguins do not like each other. And several times throughout the game scuffles broke out after whistles. A pair of roughing penalties were handed out to Robert Hagg and Garrett Wilson in the first.

And thennnnn a melee ensued after a questionable Wayne Simmonds check on Brian Dumolin. 

• It's hard to blame Elliott for the Flyers' woes defensively. They just were to sloppy with the puck and gave Pittsburgh way too many chances to put the puck on net. Matt Murray was also his usual rock solid self in net.

• It looked slippery out there. And it probably was, outside of the controlled environment of the Wells Fargo center across the street, varying degrees of precipitation made it just a little harder for skaters to find an edge, change directions and stop as quickly as NHLer's are used to.

The Ugly

• Seeing hockey fans in ponchos bundled in layer upon layer (it was 39 degrees at puck drop) was odd to be sure. Seeing a press box filled with reporters looking at radar maps all game long was even odder. I am not sure there was any kind of perfect solution with rain in the forecast and a suboptimal window for getting the game in a day later. But with the sell out crowd amped and the game going off without a hitch, it's hard to blame the NHL for the weather.

• More than a third of the stadium left with the Flyers down 3-1. Sure, the stadium was packed. Sure, they wanted to beat traffic with the Flyers looking surely done. But, wow. Those fans will be eternally punished for not having been present for the end of one heck of a hockey game.

• Whatever happens to this team between now and when the trade deadline passes Monday afternoon, trailing for the final Wild Card spot by seven points now, the season is very much on the line with the deadline looming.

Which means under the biggest non-Stanley Cup spotlight in the sport — even after an epic comeback for the ages — Wayne Simmonds, and perhaps a few other Flyers we know and love have played their final game in Orange and Black. The fact that they kept their season alive as long as they did, thanks to their incredible winter spurt (and thanks to Carter Hart) leaves fans optimistic for the future.

But the ugly reality of the sport will rear its ugly head as the team will reshape itself into a contender — or at least try to — between now and next October.

Or maybe Chuck Fletcher will say: "Let's give it a try and keep the band together." It will be an interesting two days.

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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