The Flyers had played a tentative, poor opening period and allowed the Washington Capitals to do their thing with the puck and even grab a late lead on them.
Dave Hakstol wasn’t happy between periods. He sensed the Flyers were reacting and not initiating. His captain, Claude Giroux, was unusually candid.
“We need to play better hockey right now, play more as a team, be more aggressive and we can’t be scared of losing,” Giroux said. “We have to be excited to win.”
The Flyers played a strong final two-thirds of regulation. They got outstanding goaltending from Steve Mason, particularly in overtime, and then used Wayne Simmonds’ stick and Mason’s blocker on the final shooter to defeat the Caps 3-2 in a shootout Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
“Our attitude [changed],” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “They were pushing really hard that first period and we weren’t expecting it. We battled back hard, didn’t let the score get to us.
“[Hakstol] said to wake up a little. … We responded well. You can ask anyone of these guys, there was a different feeling to this game. It felt like a playoff game … We pinched ourselves a bit to get going.”
You might have thought that the Flyers already started their Christmas break given their largely lethargic performance in the first period.
“Some of the possession they had, we stood and watched a little bit,” Hakstol said. “But give them credit, too. They’re awful good … we just needed to do a little better job and we did after that intermission.”
Simmonds said both teams “waded” into the game but if that’s the case, the Flyers were swept away by a Caps undercurrent early.
“It was pretty intense,” he said. “You knew at any moment, any mistake and the other team could capitalize. … Going into the third period, we had to be aggressive and not sit back.
“That’s when bad things happen. We wanted to be aggressive. (Brayden) Holtby played great, but we did a good job pushing it.”
Mason saved them from allowing a goal or two. His acrobatic glove save on Justin Williams off a slick pass from Evgeny Kuznetsov was worthy of a highlight video. That’s about the only Flyers video you’d want to see from that period.
In the shootout, Williams shot last and Mason got a piece of it to clinch the win.
“Got a little bit of it with my blocker and actually lost my footing there,” Mason said. “It was good to get the blocker in.”
Andre Burakovsky, who scored twice in the Caps’ season opener and then went the next 26 games without one, regained his stroke in the first period’s final two minutes to make it 1-0.
Michael Raffl ended a stretch of five games without a point with his seventh goal to tie the game early in the second period on a nice wraparound. Holtby got over to the post late and tried to knock the puck out of the air with his stick. Referee Mike Leggo, standing behind the net, ruled no goal, but upon review it was overturned.
That lead didn’t even last six minutes before the Caps went ahead on a dirty goal from Lars Eller.
With 21 seconds left in the period and both teams skating four-on-four, Giroux scored his first goal in six games to re-tie things.
Holtby made an initial stop on Ivan Provorov attacking from the left, but Burakovsky muffed the rebound right to Giroux, who fired it back on net from the high slot.
“Provy did a good job of finding a breakaway and I thought he was going to score, but their goalie made a good save,” Giroux said.
“It kind of hit a lucky bounce on the boards and I was going to pass it to Provy, but guys on the bench have been yelling at me to shoot the puck, so I thought I would just put it on net.”
It stayed like that all through the overtime with breathtaking saves here and there from Mason, including a sprawling scorpion save on Matt Niskanen near the end of OT.
He was pretty sharp in the shootout, as well.
“He’s making saves out there and you are on the bench kinda shaking your head,” Giroux said. “He’s pretty sick. We’re all in this together and you gotta kinda help him.”
Simmonds rewarded him with the game-winner.
“We needed one more and we got it and then Mason shut it down like he did all night,” Simmonds said.