What a different feeling this time than 11 days ago when the Flyers went into their mandatory five-day bye with a pile of losses and plenty of self-doubt.
Three games later and they have three wins with just three goals allowed over the past five days.
“Definitely a lot happier,” Shayne Gostisbehere said after Thursday’s 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
“Better mood in the room right now. It’s been in this room the whole time. We know we had it in us. It’s great going right into break here.”
The Flyers have cleaned things up a bit at the All-Star break. There’s focus for the stretch run, which begins next week.
This time they secured the win with some outstanding penalty-kill work and heroics from an unlikely character in rookie Roman Lyubimov, who scored the game-winner with 2:37 remaining (see feature highlight).
“It’s three games, but I like the way we played all three games,” said Wayne Simmonds, who continued to build a case for team MVP with a goal and critical shorthanded minutes during a four-minute penalty kill in the opening period.
“For us, it’s keeping that attack mindset and not sitting back and not making mistakes.”
Simmonds has a goal in each of these three victories.
The opening period greatly resembled what transpired the night before on Broadway against the New York Rangers, as the Flyers lost every one-on-one battle, got hemmed into their own zone and were running around chasing pucks that weren’t going off their own goaltender.
And then … Ivan Provorov drew a double-minor for high-sticking against the second-ranked power play in the NHL. All the Flyers did there was simply undress Toronto with six — count 'em — clears and held the Leafs to just one shot.
“They have a good power play,” Simmonds said. “We know that, we did a lot of scouting on them earlier this morning. Our four-minute kill was huge for us. It got us a little bit of momentum and we got one after that, so it was good.”
The crowd roared and the momentum carried over with Simmonds on the ice for 1:26 of the kill. When back to even strength a minute later, he took a splendid pass from Travis Konecny and beat Curtis McElhinney for a breakaway goal and 1-0 lead.
“T.K. made a great play,” Simmonds said. “I kind of looked around me and there was no one around and I just went in on a breakaway. I made a move and the goalie went down first and I put the puck over him.”
That’s hockey momentum and something the Flyers rallied around for what became a stronger second and third period.
“I thought it’s what we did with the puck,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “They check very well. We turned three or four pucks over to the middle of the rink inside our blue line just under their pressure.
“As the game went on, we handled that better. That allows you to get out of your zone and through the neutral zone better. … Once we had the puck and what we did to get it out of our zone 200 feet to the other end.”
Michal Neuvirth had a good bounce-back effort from his last start against New Jersey. He made a clutch pad stop on Mitch Marner in the second period but could not stop William Nylander, who jabbed at a rebound late to make it 1-1.
What makes that goal hard to swallow is Brandon Manning could not clear the puck and Gostisbehere was out-muscled in the paint for the rebound. Instead of sinking, the Flyers got stronger in the next period.
Neuvirth withstood a bit of a push from the Leafs at the end.
“I knew they would put a lot of pucks on me early,” said Neuvirth, who made 27 saves. “I was focused the whole game. When we come back on Monday, we've got to be ready to go.”
Now as for that hero … Lyubimov has just four goals this season. He rarely draws star attention. He can remember only once ever scoring a game-winner and that was some time ago when he played in Russia.
“I scored a goal and was the third star,” he said.
Incidentally, he was the first star in this game.
“This was good," he said. "I shot low. Picked up the puck on the rebound.”
His parents will watch this game in Russia by Friday.
“Yeah, they wake up at 2 at night and watch the game at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. in Moscow,” he said.
They’ll see their son be the hero, but won’t fully sense the relief he and his teammates have right now going into All-Star weekend.
“It’s definitely what we wanted,” Konecny said. “We got back from the bye week and made sure we were going to do things right. Put games into segments and make sure we were getting a certain amount of points.
“We’ve done what’s been asked of us and I think it’s really important to go into that break with a positive mindset. It’s a good break for us, but good luck to Simmonds there, too. We’re hoping he has a good time. He deserves it.”