Never mind that the play was sometimes a little sloppy, as expected.
Never mind that it was an exhibition game and didn’t have any bearing on the standings.
Never mind that no fans were allowed in the building.
Hockey was back, and after 140 days since their last game, that’s all that mattered to the Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday at Scotiabank Arena.
The Flyers won, 3-2, on Scott Laughton’s overtime goal in Toronto, the Eastern Conference’s hub city, in the teams’ lone tune-up before the season restarts.
Laughton, was sent in on a breakaway by Travis Konecny’s perfect long pass.
Pittsburgh’s Jason Zucker had tied it with 3 minutes, 56 seconds left in regulation, putting in a rebound of an Evgeni Malkin shot.
Carter Hart played two solid periods, stopping 11 of 12 shots before being relieved by Brian Elliott, who made three point-blank saves on Malkin in the third period. Elliott stopped 11 of 12 shots in a Penguins-dominated third period.
Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes also scored for the Flyers. Hayes also hit the post twice, excelled on a penalty kill that was 3-for-3, and was the Flyers’ best player.
“I think every day, our goal is to get one step closer to where we were when COVID hit,” said Hayes, who had eight shots, including five on goal. “I think this was a step in the right direction. You can practice as much as you want, but you have to get some games in. I thought the pace was pretty high.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said he liked the Flyers’ first-period execution but that the team wasn’t as effective after the opening 20 minutes.
The next three game in the round-robin tournament, will help the team build its conditioning and some momentum, Vigneault said.
“I’m happy we got this first game out of the way. It was a typical September or early October game,” he said, referring to the normal time of the year for exhibitions. “Players are looking for their game shape, their game tempo. I think we’re going to move in the right direction here.”
Neither team had played since March 10. Two days later, the season was halted because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary opened the scoring, but Couturier — who became a first-time dad Thursday and wore the hospital bracelet he was given when his daughter, Ella, was born — and Hayes answered with goals to give the Flyers a 2-1 first-period lead.
“It was tough. Pretty emotional,” Couturier said about leaving his family so soon after his daughter’s birth. “But it is what it is. We’re doing what we love doing and just living the dream, and you can’t really complain.”
Sheary finished off a three-on-two as he fired an off-wing shot from the right circle past Hart with 14:54 left in the first. About 6½ minutes later, Couturier, on a delayed penalty on Pittsburgh, took a feed from Claude Giroux and whipped a slot shot that deflected off defender Marcus Pettersson and beat goalie Matt Murray.
Hayes, taking advantage of a Malkin turnover that was forced by Konecny’s forechecking, made it 2-1 with 29 seconds left in the first. Hayes continued his torrid pace. He had five goals in the Flyers’ three intrasquad scrimmages at Training Camp 2.0.
The teams tried to get out the rust as they prepared for the NHL’s 24-team tournament. The Penguins will open a best-of-five play-in series with Montreal on Saturday, while the Flyers will face Boston on Sunday to start a three-game, round-robin tournament.
The winner of the Penguins-Canadiens series will be among eight Eastern Conference teams to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Flyers have already qualified and are playing for their seeding among the top four conference teams.
If the Penguins oust the Habs and the Flyers remain seeded fourth, the Pennsylvania rivals would face each other in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Flyers went 1-1-1 against Pittsburgh in the regular season.