DENVER — Their legs were weary, they were down a goaltender and under siege for the final five minutes of a back-to-back, but the Flyers found a way to steal a win and gain some ground in the Eastern Conference standings.
In a week, the 2-1 victory in Colorado on Wednesday night might be considered the game in which the Flyers put themselves in the playoffs (see observations).
“Just a gutsy effort,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “I think we've gotten a lot of those efforts throughout the year.”
The victory was dampened by the loss of goaltender Michal Neuvirth, who was making his first start since Feb. 18. Neuvirth made 10 saves before leaving with an undisclosed injury eight minutes, seven seconds into the second period.
Petr Mrazek made 17 saves to preserve the win for Neuvirth, who had missed more than a month with a lower-body injury.
“Not really sure what happened to Neuvy,” said defenseman Ivan Provorov, who had a goal and an assist. “He was playing really well. For Petr to come in and play unbelievable, great job by him.”
The win moved the Flyers (39-25-14) into third place in the Metropolitan Division, one point ahead of the idle Blue Jackets. The Flyers are also knotted with the Penguins at 92 points. Both Pittsburgh and Columbus have played one less game.
Additionally, the Flyers are now seven points ahead of Florida, which lost at Toronto on Wednesday night.
“It's good to see when you get a win and the other team loses, but lots of games left,” captain Claude Giroux said. “They have, what, seven, six games left, so we have to keep going here.”
The Flyers have earned at least a point in seven straight games and finished their three-game road trip with four points. It wasn’t easy, especially in the final five minutes when the Avalanche spent almost the entire time in the Flyers’ zone trying for the equalizer.
Mrazek was sharp throughout the onslaught, turning away shots while his skaters blocked several to keep Colorado from tying it. The Flyers finished with 15 blocked shots in the third period and 33 for the game, a franchise record since the NHL began tracking the stat in 1997.
“Those five minutes felt like 15. So long,” Mrazek said. “Lots of blocked shots in front of me, a couple of lucky bounces today. Didn't see, I think, one or two pucks get to my pad. Big thanks to these guys in front the last five minutes.”
The Flyers took a quick lead on goals by Giroux — his 27th — at 10:24 of the first, and Provorov made it 2-0 at 18:12. Colorado cut it to 2-1 on a goal at 5:36 of the second, and 20 seconds later Neuvirth made his best save when he robbed Mikko Rantanen to keep the Avalanche from tying it.
Mrazek spelled him soon after and came up big and carried the Flyers to the win.
“It's always tough when the game is on the line, up 2-1 early in the second,” he said. “I said before when you go in always important are the first couple stops. If you can make a save, you can get into the game. After that, I felt pretty good.”