The Blackhawks want what the Flyers have right now.
A dominant No. 1 line.
The Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek trio scored all three of the Flyers' goals Thursday, dominating the Blackhawks' top line in the first 25 minutes of a 3-1 victory (see observations).
“When you get a chance to play against one of the top lines in the league, you get excited about it,” Claude Giroux said. “Coach told us that we were going to play most of the game against them. I think when you play with the same guys for a good amount of games, you feel more comfortable and the chemistry is more there.”
Giroux scored his ninth goal of the season 4:58 into the game on a perfect one-time feed from Voracek. A little more than seven minutes later, Shayne Gostisbehere teed up a similar pass for Voracek, who ripped home his fourth goal in his last seven games (see highlights).
Three goals, four assists and a plus-9 rating compared to Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane that finished with a minus-5 and no points. The Flyers' "Big Three" has combined for 60 points in the Flyers' first 16 games of the season.
“It was a big matchup and a big challenge for us,” Couturier said. “We’re willing to go against anyone. We feel really confident about our game right now. We can outscore any line or any pairing. We've just got to keep going.”
“You’re talking about competitive people,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “There’s three good players on that line and they’re all different, they play the game differently, they have different elements, different strengths, but the three of them together, big credit to them — it has worked well for our hockey team to this point.”
Hakstol assembled the Flyers' top line by transitioning Giroux from center to left wing during the second week of training camp, and the Flyers' head coach has yet to deviate from that trio this season. On the other hand, the Blackhawks are desperate to try anything.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville shook up his lines again, this time pairing Toews and Kane together with Sharp in an attempt to rekindle some magic from the glory days of their Stanley Cup seasons. The Flyers proved the experiment to be an utter disaster as it barely lasted 20 minutes before Quenneville pulled the plug and switched Sharp with the speedier Brandon Saad.
Hard to believe this was the same Chicago team that put up 10 goals on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins just a month ago.
“[Ivan Provorov] and [Robert Hagg] did a great job against their top line and frustrating them," Gostisbehere said. "When you’re frustrating their top line, it’s kind of like cutting the head off a snake. The rest of the team will fold. I think we did a lot of good things out there of limiting time and space because they’re a skilled team."
Gostisbehere became the quickest defenseman to score 100 points in a Flyers uniform, reaching the milestone in 155 games
“Yeah, it’s awesome, a tremendous honor to do it but do it with my teammates and my coaches, they put me in those situations to go out there and get those points,” Gostisbehere said. “It’s huge. It’s a nice group effort — family support, everyone.”
After the Flyers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, they appeared to shift into cruise control and were outplayed over the final 35 minutes. Brian Elliott, who lost, 3-0, to the same Blackhawks just eight days earlier, bailed out the Flyers on more than one occasion with perhaps his best all-around game since joining the Flyers.
Elliott turned aside 38 shots and was vital in helping the Flyers kill off Chicago’s two-man advantage for 1:44 near the end of the second period.
“It was huge," Elliott said. "They could have tied it up there at the end of the period and we would have been tied going in. Killing that off was big for our guys. We did a really great job. They didn’t do much on it. You keep things to the outside on that and they didn’t cross box us, so that’s good.”
When asked which save stood out the most, Elliott pointed to a pass he disrupted as the one play that was fresh in his mind.
“Taking away that pass from Kane in the 5-on-3 with my stick," Elliott said. "I was happy with that one because that’s an open net at the backdoor.”
“It’s big, to be able to get that at that time of the game and that situation," Hakstol said. "[Elliott] did a good job, made some saves for us. PK battled hard, big part of the game.”
The Flyers' win also marked the 14th consecutive regular-season win over the Blackhawks at the Wells Fargo Center, dating back to Nov. 9, 1996.
Quenneville might consider reuniting Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull on a top line if he thought it might bring the Blackhawks a win in Philadelphia.