Travis Sanheim knew time was running out. The Flyers were down, 1-0, to the New York Rangers as the second period drew to close on Monday night.
In the waning seconds of the session, Sanheim said he wasn’t thinking of himself as the defenseman who had gone 15 games without a goal. He was just a hockey player trying to make a play.
“I didn’t know there was only one second left,” the 23-year-old said with a laugh, "so I guess it’s a good thing I shot it.”
He saw an opportunity, skated toward the net and sent the puck bouncing through the legs of Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Sanheim pumped his fist in the air, then skidded into Claude Giroux for a congratulatory hug.
It wouldn’t be Sanheim’s final celebration of the night. He’d knock in another goal with 4 minutes, 11 seconds left in the third period, putting the Flyers up, 3-1, and securing their fourth straight victory. Later, on a power play in the final minute of the game, he assisted on Nicolas Aube-Kubel’s first NHL goal.
In the 5-1 win, Flyers fans saw a lot of promising signs — goalie Carter Hart’s continued dominance, Kevin Hayes’ emotion translating into two goals and the return of young Joel Farabee. Coach Alain Vigneault said it was encouraging to see the team not play at its best and still manage to win.
For Sanheim, it was just the second two-goal game of his career, both of which were against stellar goaltenders. His first came against the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky in a December 2018 home game, which Sanheim entered on a 31-game goal-less streak.
After his big game on Monday, he heads into the three-day NHL Christmas break -- and then a six-game road trip -- with renewed confidence.
“As of late, I feel more comfortable out there," Sanheim said. “Sometimes early on in the season you don’t necessarily have that confidence out there. [You’re not as] comfortable to get up and make the plays the way you would mid-season.”
“Not sure why it tends to take me a little bit, but I’m happy to try and contribute when I can.”
The Flyers drafted Sanheim in 2014 with the 17th overall pick in the first round. Last season, his first full one with the team, he recorded nine goals and 35 points and was eventually promoted to the top pairing with Ivan Provorov. He was particularly impressive in the final stretch, collecting 25 of his 35 points in his last 51 games.
The strong performance led the Flyers to re-sign Sanheim to a two-year contract this summer. With the deal, the Manitoba native was primed to play a large role going forward. In June, he called this year’s group “a playoff team" that could compete for the Stanley Cup.
However, Sanheim’s had an underwhelming start this season, which included a late October stretch when he allowed opponents to score in three straight games.
“I’m obviously getting chances,” he said Monday. "Things aren’t going my way at times, but you just got to stick with it. If you’re generating, you’re eventually going to break through. It was nice to get a pair [Monday].”
Sanheim isn’t concerned about the three-day break (Dec. 24-26) stalling the Flyers’ momentum. In fact, he said, he thinks it’ll be beneficial, allowing he and his teammates to rest and reflect on what they’ve accomplished so far — and what they have left to do.
“We’ve done a lot of good things up until this point, and it’s something we want to continue in the second half” of the season, Sanheim said. "It seems like right now we’re getting everyone on board and everyone playing the right way. That’s kind of what you need going down the stretch.”
Lindblom continues to inspire
Coach Alain Vigneault got emotional at his post-game press conference after Monday night’s win. When asked what has caused the team to rebound from a dreadful 0-3 road trip and win four straight, Vigneault’s eyes welled with tears.
He knows what may had played a part: the bone cancer diagnosis of 23-year-old left winger Oskar Lindblom, which has rallied not only his locker room but also the city of the Philadelphia and the entire NHL community.
“I’d like to say it’s as simple as seeing Oskar in the morning” after the team got back from the road trip , Vigneault said, “and seeing that smiling face and him telling us ‘You guys got to win tonight.’ ”
“I don’t think it’s as simple as that," the coach continued. "I’m not exactly sure, but I know seeing him and being able to win that game and us getting back on track, that was a big moment.”
Did the coach plan to use Christmas break to think about hockey? Not so much, he said.
“For me, I’m going home," said Vigneualt, who’s a Quebec City native. "My parents are 85 and 86. I’m going to enjoy Christmas and enjoy spending time with my family.”