RALEIGH, N.C. — When your penalty-kill units are ranked 26th among 30 teams, the last thing you would expect is to snap a two-game losing skid with a shorthanded goal.
Yet that’s what happened Sunday evening as Brandon Manning scored the Flyers' first shortie of the season to give them a 4-3 win over the Hurricanes at PNC Arena (see Instant Replay).
“Our penalty kill has been doing a good job lately, but we haven’t been getting bounces,” said Manning, who took a breakaway pass from Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and beat 'Canes goalie Cam Ward near the circle.
“Belly did a great job winning a puck battle and their forwards were sagging low on our guys. I saw an opportunity.”
Shayne Gostisbehere, Radko Gudas and Claude Giroux added tallies for the Flyers.
Sunday's victory completed a stretch of six games in nine days (3-3 record) and came less than 24 hours after Saturday’s wrenching 5-4 loss to the Penguins.
“We wanted to build on the good habits and it’s three of four games where we’re working toward playing a full 60-minute game,” said Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol.
“We played a good hockey game in Montreal, a good game last night and we wanted to come in here and do that again. We knew how critical the two points were.”
It wasn't easy for the Flyers to get up for the 'Canes after an emotional loss to their hated rival from Western Pennsylvania.
“Back to backs are hard and there’s not much atmosphere down in Carolina,” Manning said. “They’re a little harder to get up for. Coming off last night, we had a bit of momentum and something to build off of.”
Michal Neuvirth, who relieved Steve Mason against the Penguins, picked up just his second win of the season. His last? The season opener in Los Angeles.
Neuvirth had a mixed-bag game with 26 saves. He was very sharp as the start, so-so in the second period and sharp again at the finish.
That the Flyers came into play with a 3.89 goals against (ranked 29th) tells you their goaltending has been poor.
“I don’t think I am playing any different but the bounces are not going your way,” Neuvirth said. “Stuff like that. You just have to believe in yourself and your game.
“I came into the game confident and wanted to build on my game last night. I thought I had a good first period. It wasn’t easy to give up three goals. But mentally, I battled hard. It’s a big win for me to grind it out like. I should feel better about myself.”
Neuvirth barely settled into net in the opening minute before having to make two outstanding glove saves – one on Sebastian Aho and the other on Jeff Skinner.
It was a strong opening period for the Flyers with 13 shots. Shayne Gostisbehere gave them a 1-0 lead late in the stanza on the power play with a shot from the left point through traffic that found its way past Ward. It was Ghost’s first power-play goal this season. He had eight during his rookie season.
“I was just trying to keep the puck in real quick,” he said. “They didn't pressure too hard, they went to Jake's (Voracek) side. I had a lane and was just focused on getting by the D, who was in front.”
The 'Canes tied it to open the second period when Neuvirth got distracted trying to push Lee Stempniak out of the paint just as Justin Faulk wristed one under the crossbar.
Radko Gudas gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead, but it didn’t last long as Skinner retied it on a delayed penalty. Then an Ivan Provorov turnover led to Viktor Stalberg’s breakaway goal that gave the 'Canes their first lead of the game at 3-2.
Just as the middle period was about to expire, however, Wayne Simmonds fed Claude Giroux for a blast in the slot to make it 3-3, tying Giroux with Edmonton’s Connor McDavid for the NHL points lead (12).
“I’m more worried about the minuses,” said Giroux, who is minus-7 for the season. “You want to be a good player and need to be responsible offensively and defensively. We got some work to do in there.”
He’s not alone. Twelve other Flyers are in the minus, as well, as they try to climb out of sixth place in the Metro Division.
“They came at us hard and playing back to back with a 5:00 p.m. game, I don’t think I’ve ever done that before,” Giroux said. “Maybe we didn’t have our legs tonight but we played the way we wanted to.”
Besides this being five games over seven days, it was also the Flyers third set of back-to-back games over 16 days. Guess what? They have another set coming up in mid-week - at home Wednesday vs. Detroit and Thursday in Brooklyn against the New York Islanders.
Of a possible 12 points among those back to backs, the Flyers have seven (3-2-1 record).
“It’s a lot of games,” Giroux said. “But it’s a good thing. We’re working on our game a lot. To do that early in the season is pretty good. It’s not the record we want right now but I really believe we are getting better as a team.”