With less than four minutes left in regulation Saturday night, the story lines were plentiful: the gallant play of Pittsburgh’s defense, which was minus its top two members for most of the rainy game because of injuries; the continued domination of Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby against the Flyers; and Evgeni Malkin, scorned in these parts for taking a baseball swing at Michael Raffl in the teams’ previous meeting, scoring an important goal.
And then, in a matter of minutes, the Flyers’ season – which would have been dead in the (rain) water with a loss – was suddenly revived.
In a shocking 5-minute, 3-second sequence, they scored three goals – two with goalie Brian Elliott pulled for an extra attacker – and inched to within seven points of a playoff spot with 20 games remaining.
Claude Giroux picked the perfect time to end a goal-scoring drought and give the Flyers a 4-3 overtime win at sold-out Lincoln Financial Field.
“I’ve got goosebumps,” Giroux said after putting a shot through the legs of goalie Matt Murray with 3:01 left in the rainy overtime. “Sometimes, the hardest wins are the nicest wins.”
“Crazy ending,” left winger James van Riemsdyk said. “We stay alive here.”
It was van Riemsdyk’s goal, on a rebound while the Flyers were on a six-on-four (with their goalie pulled), that got the Flyers within 3-2 with 3:04 left in regulation. Jake Voracek, who battled back from an illness, then tied it with a bad-angle shot from near the side boards with 19.7 seconds to go.
“I just didn’t see it,” Murray said of Voracek’s goal, “but I need to do a better job of finding it. They threw a lot of traffic at the net, but I have to do a better job.”
Brian “Moose” Elliott allowed a bad goal to Malkin to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 third-period lead, but the veteran goalie was terrific the rest of the game, finishing with 40 saves in his first start since Nov. 15.
Elliott was sharp in the previous two games after relieving Carter Hart in the first period.
“I have battled pretty hard to get back,” Elliott said of his long injury layoff between starts. “It definitely tests you. Tests you mentally and physically. To get an opportunity like this, I definitely didn’t want to let the guys down. They didn’t let me down; they came back for me. It’s a special time of the year right now.”
The Flyers still have long odds to make the playoffs. Very long. Sports Club Stats estimates they have a 1.8 percent chance to qualify.
They have keys games Tuesday against Buffalo and Thursday in Columbus. Fact is, all of their games are critical. When you are trying to come back from a 16-point deficit to play in the playoffs, there is little margin for error.
To their credit, they are on a 13-3-1 run, including Saturday’s comeback win over their arch-rivals that was the most improbable of those victories.
“It didn’t look good, but we found a way to get back in the game and make it 3-3,” said Giroux, who had just one goal in his previous nine games. “It was kind of a weird game. I think I spent more time trying to clean my visor than actually playing. Other than that, the experience was great. The fans are so crazy, and they’re still our fans.”
“If we lost that game, it would be tough to work from here,” Voracek said.
Now, their work is still meaningful, their season still full of hope. If they somehow become the first team in NHL history to overcome a 16-point deficit and sneak into the postseason, they will look back at a wet night at the Linc as the turning point.