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After early-season struggles, Flyers’ Ivan Provorov wearing it well these days

The defenseman returned from the bye week looking refreshed, and his play has rebounded, too.

Ivan Provorov (center) is congratulated by teammates after his goal during the Flyers' win in Minnesota on Tuesday.
Ivan Provorov (center) is congratulated by teammates after his goal during the Flyers' win in Minnesota on Tuesday.Read moreJim Mone / AP

ST. PAUL, Minn. – There are things that Ivan Provorov doesn’t like to wear.

A minus after a game. An excuse after it. A silly-looking motorcycle helmet with “POG” scribbled across it; although, for much of the hot streak that has elevated the Flyers into the playoff conversation, you could argue it was Provorov’s contributions on Tuesday night that were most worthy of player-of-the-game status bestowed by the players after each victory.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” he said facetiously Tuesday night, after teammates coerced him to don the helmet for his interview with the media following their 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild.

A joke. Provorov doesn’t exactly wear too many of those either, although when someone quipped recently that the Flyers defenseman endures interviews the way most men endure trips to the dentist, he broke into a wide smile.

But it hasn’t been great for him for much of this season, as reporters have tried to root out a dip in performance that all – coaches, media, fans – but he identified.

Was it the lingering effects of the Grade 3 shoulder separation that left him so vulnerable in those final playoff games last season? He has said no repeatedly.

Was it a change in sticks? Provorov admitted he tinkered to get comfortable with one early on but said it was no longer an issue.

Was it the contract negotiations that stalled once the season began? Again, no.

“I’m aware of what’s going on,” he was saying at his locker recently. “But it doesn’t affect me. I love hockey for what it is. It’s not like I love it for the paychecks. I’ve been playing the game since I was 5, and there’s nothing I’ve wanted to do more than to play hockey.”

Through the first three months of the season though, there was an uncertainty and inaccuracy to his game that did not exist in his first two seasons as a pro. Some speculated that he was simply young, but Provorov’s maturity in tough situations those first seasons was the most-compelling argument against that. Perhaps it was a nagging injury incurred early on (perhaps to the left hand that he often pulled from his glove and squeezed while off the ice) that was the root of uncharacteristic soft passes from his own zone and those that badly missed their mark, even at short range.

Whatever it was, it seemed to get solved by the simplest of solutions: rest and relaxation at last. Since returning with a tan from the Flyers’ eight-day bye last month, Provorov has looked more and more like his old self, culminating in a 30-minute, 19-second effort in Tuesday’s win, which followed a nearly 24-minute performance in the Flyers’ 4-1 loss to the Penguins the previous night.

Provorov had a sort of defenseman’s version of a Gordie Howe hat trick on Tuesday: He scored a goal, prevented one with a stick save, and finished a plus-2 despite the heavy minutes on top of heavy minutes.

“Definitely one of the toughest ones, flying three hours, getting in late,” he said. “Especially playing a fast game, after the effort we put in [against Pittsburgh]. We stuck with it today. Didn’t really have the first period we wanted, but that’s why you play the whole 60” minutes.

Or, in his case, half. That’s something he will gladly wear, he said, the iron-man reputation he forged over his first two seasons, and the one he has reclaimed through the Flyers’ resurgence into the playoff hunt.

“I mean, the bye week was good to get away,” Provorov said. "To recharge the batteries mentally and physically.

“Physically, I put a lot of work in [in] the summer, so the 82-game season doesn’t affect me. I don’t feel tired. I don’t have weeks or days where I don’t feel as good as the other ones. But, everyone needs a mental break. When you keep doing the same thing over and over again, sometimes it’s nice to get away and turn your brain off.”

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The Flyers had Wednesday off and were scheduled to resume practice Thursday. They will play a home-and-home series against Detroit this weekend. ... Jake Voracek had an assist to extend his scoring streak to eight games, with three goals and seven assists for 10 points in that span. It’s his fifth career streak of eight games or more. His career high is 10, reached in October and November of 2014. ... The Flyers were credited with 20 blocked shots; the Wild had four. In the 25 games since Scott Gordon took over as coach, Travis Sanheim’s average ice time has ballooned to 21:26. He has 11 of his 21 points in that span.