After a heart-stopping finish to Wednesday’s one-goal win over Pittsburgh where every move seemed to be the right one, Murphy’s Law caught up with the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday as they kicked off a five-game homestand.
Peter Mueller, Tomas Kopecky and Jonathan Huberdeau scored in the first period — the former two in a 29-second span and the latter on a penalty shot, fueling the Florida Panthers’ 5-2 victory.
Mueller and Huberdeau both ended with a pair of scores, and the latter ended up with a career-high four points, while Scott Clemmensen improved to 5-1-1 lifetime against the Orange and Black by posting 32 saves, and came just over six minutes from recording his first-ever shutout against Philadelphia.
Nonetheless, Florida put the brakes on a five-game skid (0-2-3) and finished its brief truncated season slate having won two of three in the Quaker City.
“Getting four points out of Philadelphia is not too shabby, and we walk out of the place still standing,” Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said. “That’s not always the way it’s worked here in Philly. A lot of atmosphere here, a lot of character, so it’s good to come in here and get some wins.”
Luke Schenn and Jakub Voracek provided the lone tallies, while Ilya Bryzgalov was pulled in the second period after yielding four goals on 15 shots. Brian Boucher finished up with 10 stops for the Flyers, who had won the previous two outings of a six-game road trip by a combined 13-5 count.
The loss came hours after Flyers GM Paul Holmgren revealed that leading goal scorer Matt Read will miss at least six weeks with torn muscles in his rib cage.
The shock from that news must have filtered out to Bryzgalov, who reacted late on a left-point shot from Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov in the first 20 seconds, one which rang off the far post and back off the goaltender before sliding within inches of the goal line.
It was an omen of things to come.
“This is part of the schedule. Last night’s game was hard fought but this one was just as important tonight. We weren’t as crisp in the first 10 minutes as we were last night,” said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. “We didn’t make a lot of mistakes early but the ones we did, they were point-blank and cashed in on them.”
The first miscue was leaving Huberdeau alone along the boards on the left wing, and leaving Mueller alone to cruise in between the circles for a perfectly-placed wrister and the game’s opening score at 8:15.
Less than 30 seconds later, Panthers defenseman Mike Weaver sent a quick lead pass up the middle, which Kopecky took in stride and beat Bryzgalov for a 2-0 lead.
Laviolette predictably called his timeout to help wake up his charges, and it did the trick — although backfired in spectacular fashion.
Just after the midway point of the period, Huberdeau appeared to be in the clear on another breakaway up the middle. However, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen turned on the jets and caught up to the rookie within several strides, then attached himself to the youngster’s back and prevented a shot.
“I love being in a shootout, penalty-shot situation,” Huberdeau said. “They gave me the opportunity, very happy they have the confidence in me, and it was great to come through for the team.”
The result was not just a penalty, but a penalty shot, which the native of Quebec scored with ease, drawing Bryzgalov into a poke check and sliding a backhander through the five hole. In frustration, the Russian goaler tossed his stick, but drew no reaction from an already non-plussed crowd who sensed it wasn’t his fault.
“That’s what we talked about. After the game, on the plane home…we were trying to make sure the energy level got back to where it was (in Pittsburgh),” Laviolette countered when asked if he was concerned about the compete level.
He could have talked about it in the morning skate, in the locker room, in the commissary, out in the hallway two hours before the opening faceoff. The rest of the team could have allayed his fears with a positive response.
It still wasn’t going to work. The Flyers were a spent team after being so ramped up to beat a bitter division rival on the road, that they forgot about the emotion-sucking, disciplined yet mediocre Panthers who were just a bit fresher from not having played.
Timonen said it bluntly: “I’m usually straightforward, but you saw a tired Flyers team today. We came back from a six-game road trip, we played a hard-charged game yesterday and got the two points, we didn’t get in until 2 a.m. We were tired today.”
They’ll need a Laviolette-granted rest day on Friday to regroup before a 1 PM start on Saturday against the Winnipeg Jets.
Despite 13 recorded shots, the best opportunity for the hosts in the first period came when Ruslan Fedotenko had Clemmensen dead to rights as the goaltender had to push away Erik Gudbranson from his crease, yet shot right into the gut of the Boston College product and saw the rebound harmlessly swept away.
In the second period, Sean Couturier streaked in alone up the left-wing side, cut across the crease and had the entire net at which to shoot, but still pulled his backhander across the crease and back out the opposite side.
It was just going to be one of those nights.
Florida went up 4-0 during a power play at the 11:46 mark on a broken play — literally. Gudbranson managed to snap his stick in half which attempting to shoot from the bottom portion of the left circle, and the puck squirted to Drew Shore, who pushed it to Huberdeau for a tip-in while he stood behind the goal line to Bryzgalov’s right.
That was pretty much the goal which sealed the outcome and brought on Boucher for the remainder.
Schenn’s point blast restored some life to the less-than-capacity crowd with 6:11 remaining in regulation, and Mueller netted his second of the contest less than a minute later before Voracek tied the infirm Read for the team lead in goals on his wraparound chance with 4:25 remaining.
Notes: Florida has won four of its last five games in Philadelphia…Huberdeau’s previous career best was three points (1G, 2A) on January 19 vs. Carolina in his first NHL contest…Flyers defenseman Niklas Grossmann totaled five of his club’s 12 blocked shots…Mueller notched his first two-goal effort since January 18, 2012 against Florida while playing for Colorado…Huberdeau picked up his second career multi-goal effort, following a two-score night in a 6-5 OT loss to the Washington Capitals on February 12…Philadelphia uncorked 73 shots in all, 34 which hit the net, 23 blocked and 16 missed wide…Claude Giroux unleashed 10 shots but only two were credited as being on net…Voracek extended his point streak to four games and has notched at least one point in nine of his last 11 games….The Flyers fell to 5-3-1 against the Southeast Division this season.