The Flyers continued their surge Thursday night, and displayed a relentless style that has been their calling card during their long winning streak.
Even if they were playing on back-to-back nights.
Showing no letdown from an emotional win in Washington the previous night, the Flyers defeated the Carolina Hurricanes at the roaring Wells Fargo Center, 4-1, for their eighth straight victory.
The win, coupled with Washington 6-5 overtime loss to the New York Rangers, put the Flyers in a virtual tie for first place with the Capitals in the Metropolitan Division. Both teams have 87 points, but Washington owns a 36-35 edge in the second tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins). The teams are tied at 30-30 in the first tiebreaker: regulation wins.
Ivan Provorov (plus-3), Michael Raffl, Nic Aube-Kubel, and Sean Couturier scored for the Flyers, and Carter Hart (28 saves) lifted his home record to 19-2-2. Scott Laughton contributed a pair of assists, Matt Niskanen was plus-4, and Robert Hagg had four blocked shots and five hits.
“During this winning streak, what’s been really good has been the mind-set,” Couturier said. “Our guys are focused every night; it doesn’t matter who the opponent is. That’s something that shows maturity in our team, and I think we just have to keep going.”
After Carolina got to within 2-1 early in the third period, Aube-Kubel and Couturier scored 26 seconds apart to increase the Flyers’ advantage to 4-1.
Aube-Kubel scored on a bad-angle shot, and Couturier deposited a rebound with 15:06 left. That gave the Flyers four goals or more in their last eight games.
The Flyers’ fourth line got goals from Aube-Kubel and Raffl, and the unit, which is centered by Nate Thompson (assist, three blocked shots, plus-2, wins in 69% of his 13 faceoffs), played more than usual. They were on the ice for 12-plus minutes apiece, topped by Aube-Kubel’s 14:30.
“That was some of the fastest hockey, execution-wise, I’ve seen in a long time,” coach Alain Vigneault said about the game in general, adding he used the fourth line more because the team was playing on back-to-back nights.
“I knew we were going to need four lines — and four lines played well. Nate’s line, I thought, set a good tempo for us. They were strong on the forecheck, strong in their one-on-ones. All had some big blocked shots."
The Flyers were coming off Wednesday’s draining 5-2 win in Washington. The Hurricanes were well-rested, playing their first game since Saturday.
No matter. The Flyers (40-20-7) looked like the hungrier team and they finished 3-0-1 against the Canes this season.
Laughton said the Flyers fed off the animated crowd.
“Our crowd was really good tonight. I had chills a couple times,” he said. “They were really loud and behind us the whole night. It was lots of fun to play tonight. They gave us some energy, for sure.”
The Flyers have outscored their opponents, 36-16, during their eight-game winning streak.
Raffl took a feed from Tyler Pitlick and finished a three-on-two rush that gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead midway through the second period. That gave the Flyers a staggering 23-6 second-period domination over opponents in the last 13 games.
“I thought that in the second period, our execution tonight was some of the best I’ve seen all year long,” Vigneault said.
Laughton also had an assist on the goal, giving him nine points (three goals, six assists) in the last six games.
Carolina’s season, like the Flyers’ in 2018-19, has turned into a daily question: Who’s our goalie tonight?
Injuries to James Reimer and Petr Mrazek have left the Hurricanes desperate for a healthy goalie. So desperate, in fact, that their last win was recorded by an emergency goaltender who had been driving a Zamboni.
Since then, they have lost four straight.
On Thursday, the Canes used a 24-year-old goalie, Alex Nedeljkovic, who was playing in just his fifth NHL game. An AHL All-Star this season, Nedeljkovic played well in the first 40 minutes, and he made terrific second-period stops on Joel Farabee (rebound) and Claude Giroux (point-blank shot).
The Flyers took a 1-0 lead on Provorov’s 13th goal of the season with 1:37 left in the opening period.
Taking a feed from Laughton, Provorov’s shot was denied by Nedeljkovic, but he gathered the juicy rebound and put a backhander into the net for the 44th goal by a Flyers defenseman, tops in the NHL.