We now know why the NHL’s Metropolitan Division is more tightly packed than the metro subway system during rush hour.
On a night when the Flyers were just 81 seconds away from separating themselves from the Devils by five points in the standings, New Jersey fought back to the tie the game in regulation before eventually winning, 5-4, in a shootout, eliminating any breathing room the Flyers were hoping to gain Tuesday (see observations).
Devils forward Taylor Hall scored a pair of goals, including the one that tied the game at 4-4 with 1:21 remaining in the third period (see highlights).
“It’s that kind of play where it’s not much we could have done. It is definitely frustrating,” Claude Giroux said. “They’re a team that’s in the race with us. It’s two points that we could’ve used.”
“Just a little breakdown. They had one extra guy there at the net front,” defenseman Radko Gudas said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job of boxing them out and know where the puck is. I thought we played a pretty solid game. There are some things we would like to change, but that’s hockey.”
However, Hall’s first score is one shot Michal Neuvirth would like to change, and most definitely would like to have back. Hall took a sharp-angled shot from near the Flyers' goal line that squeezed past Neuvirth, who failed to secure the near-side post. It was a shot reminiscent of a similar one he allowed just two weeks ago in Washington.
“For sure, that’s the one you’ve got to have,” Neuvirth said. “That was not a good goal. I’ve got to watch it on video and definitely have got to improve on shots from bad angles because a lot of teams are shooting from bad angles. The game in Vegas, I thought I had at least 10 saves from the corners. Teams are definitely going to try me.”
Hall sat out nearly the entire second period going through the NHL’s concussion protocol after scoring his first goal in which he was leveled by Gudas. It was Gudas who also blasted Kyle Palmieri in the game in New Jersey just two weeks ago that led to a fight with Travis Zajac. Although the divisional rivals refrained from dropping the gloves, the intensity was building as the two teams battled four times over the span of a month.
“I thought it was a clean hit,” Hall said of Gudas’ check. “I told them that on the ice. He’s a player that’s always going to finish his hits. Sometimes they’re dirty, but I didn’t think that one was.”
“[Those games] are just fun to play,” Giroux said. “Especially here, I think the fans kind of like that. We did a good job of staying focused on what we had to do. There are going to be games like that, but you've got to try to stay focused.”
Recently, the Flyers have been the stronger, more determined and focused third-period team, outscoring the opposition, 6-2, in the final period over the previous five games. The Flyers rallied to earn a point against Ottawa, stifled Carolina to just two shots on net, scored three goals against Montreal and locked down their defense against Vegas.
After the Flyers outshot the Devils, 6-0, in the opening five minutes of the game, fatigue and jet lag appeared to catch up to Dave Hakstol’s club, playing its third game in four days. New Jersey appeared to have a little extra jump over the final 10 minutes of regulation.
“There’s always challenges,” Hakstol said. “That’s part of the schedule now. We knew those challenges coming in. I thought the start of the game was really good for us. We had energy and we were sharp mentally. There’s just points and times in the game where a little bit of fatigue sneaks in, both mentally and physically. There’s challenges in every portion of the schedule and that was our challenge tonight.”
“Yeah, definitely, I think everybody needs it,” Neuvirth said, regarding the rest. “It’s been really tough especially with the travel. It was definitely tough to wake up today because we were still on Vegas time, but this is a tough week and we’re all professionals and we need to be ready.”
Neuvirth and the rest of the Flyers can now get their watches and bodies completely in sync with their next 20 games to be played in the Eastern time zone.
After all, the Metro doesn’t appear to be slowing down for any team.