As befits a month whose weather can’t decide whether it wants to be February or July, the Philadelphia Flyers continued their April slate by not deciding if they wanted to win or lose Thursday’s game until the final minutes of regulation.
It was sped along by Claude Giroux’s double minor for high sticking, which led to Colin Greening’s game winner with 5:36 left in regulation that helped the Ottawa Senators to a 3-1 victory.
Zack Smith and Daniel Alfredsson also lit the lamp, while Robin Lehner stopped 24 shots as the Senators, who managed to snap a season-worst five-game losing skid, maintained a sixth-place tie in the East with the Islanders, who won in Boston.
Ilya Bryzgalov was quite awake during the proceedings, and if it were not for his 32 saves, things could have been a lot worse for the Orange and Black.
Giroux was credited with Philly’s only score of the contest, but the hosts fell for the third straight game and the sixth time in their last 10.
“All losses are tough,” said a typically tight-lipped Peter Laviolette. “We’re in the business of winning hockey games and not getting that done is frustrating.
Gut-check time came with 6:07 left in regulation in a tie game, when Giroux took a stupid penalty for high-sticking in the neutral zone, clipping Mika Zibanejad from behind and drawing blood after the rookie skated past him.
Only 31 seconds into the first minor, Greening found a hole in the defense on the right wing and, with a Patrick Wiercioch pass in tow, ripped the go-ahead goal over Bryzgalov’s glove.
“Yeah, it’s happened before,” Laviolette said about the breakaway, puncturing the presumed wisdom which stated such easy shots were exceedingly rare. “There was a line change and a missed coverage. They’ve been bringing five guys back on the power play, but this time they only brought four back.”
The Flyers had played with fire minutes earlier, when Scott Hartnell took another indefensible penalty, this one an obvious slash which turned a Sens forward’s stick into kindling. That time, the penalty kill came through, but if you go to the well one too many times with a depleted roster, the odds will not be in your favor.
“Most of the game we had tried a different power-play breakout, and I think they were used to that,” Greening said. “So when they put me on instead, I was the one that was hanging back and trying to keep the defenseman back. Luckily the defense kind of parted and I saw an opening and Patty saw me and I got a break.”
Speaking of, the club’s odds to reach the postseason for a sixth straight time took another nose-dive, now seven points out with eight games remaining.
Bryzgalov was sent to the bench for an extra skater following a timeout with roughly 90 seconds to play, but the hosts failed to reduce their deficit further. Alfredsson put the capper into the empty cage inside of seven seconds remaining — lending some gravitas to what could be his final visit to Philadelphia after a 17-year career.
“I actually thought the third period was our best period,” Laviolette admitted. “We generated the most offense, it was probably the tightest defensively, but we didn’t get the results we were looking for.”
Ottawa broke through with just 3:20 played after the opening faceoff. The Flyers defenders were trapped along the left boards at center ice while Mark Methot sent a long feed into the middle, where Smith gathered and had nothing but time and space ahead of him before beating Bryzgalov with a backhander.
Seconds before, on the previous shift, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, playing in his first NHL game, narrowly missed a tip-in at the right post.
The Flyers equalized at 11:16, while shorthanded. Simon Gagne broke in along the left wing, and though his attempted lead pass to Giroux was blocked, he recovered a bouncing puck and his shot from below the circles crossed up Lehner with Giroux providing a screen and dropped behind him.
Bryzgalov made 15 saves and Lehner seven through a scoreless second period.
Notes: The Giroux marker was his first short-handed score all season, and the Flyers’ second this year…With Danny Briere still out of the lineup with a concussion, Gagne took up the mantle as the Flyers’ leading active scorer vs, Ottawa, with nine goals and 17 assists in 38 total games…Just prior to the game, the Flyers announced the signing of forward Petr Straka to an entry-level contract. The 20-year-old winger completed his season with Baie-Comeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League having scored 41 goals with 82 points in 55 regular-season games, complemented by eight goals and 10 assists in eight playoff contests…He departs the Q after four seasons (three with the Rimouski Oceanic) having tallied 97 goals and 111 assists over 212 games…On Wednesday, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren confirmed that defenseman Nicklas Grossmann will be out an additional 2-to-3 weeks with a concussion…The season series is knotted at one win apiece, with the final meeting in Ottawa in both teams’ season finales on April 27.