Jake Voracek’s official ice time Monday night, in the Flyers’ 5-4 victory over the Rangers, was 18 minutes, 50 seconds, all in overtime. That’s how it had to feel for him. That’s how it felt watching him. His last shift lasted 1:51. The cardiovascular implications of that fact are astounding. Try to keep up that pace in anything — running, Tabata, anything — and you’ll be lucky if your spouse doesn’t end up dumping you in the recycling bin afterward.
“I was dead,” Voracek said.
Only half. He had enough energy left to make the kind of daring, creative play that reveals the player he is when he’s at his best, and there’s no doubting Voracek was at his best Monday. The overtime game-winning goal, a game-tying assist on a Claude Giroux power-play goal, a scrum late in the second period to defend Giroux and Nolan Patrick: Among those three elements, on a night the Flyers needed a win after having lost five of their previous seven games, Voracek’s performance was as good as any he’s had in his nine seasons with the team.
“That’s why he’s making $8 million right there,” Flyers forward Joel Farabee said.
Farabee is correct, of course. Though Voracek generally has been better and more conscientious defensively this season and last than he once was, the Flyers signed him in 2015 to that eight-year, $66 million contract on the promise that his wondrous offensive skills would overcome whatever shortcomings he might have. Often, they do. Sometimes, they don’t.
Monday was a do, in a big way. The Rangers spent most of overtime carrying the puck, seemingly attempting to lull the Flyers into a trance, or at least tire them out so much that their three-man structure might crumble and Artemi Panarin or Chris Kreider might get a scoring chance. Voracek already had finished one minute-plus shift during the extra period when Rangers goaltender Keith Kinkaid tried to sweep the puck to Panarin, tried to make a long pass to a player who was just about as gassed as Voracek was. Voracek darted in.
It was a gamble, to put it mildly. If Voracek didn’t come up with the puck, he’d have been stuck at the wrong end of the rink, completely exhausted, as the Rangers embarked on a counter rush with just less than 80 seconds left in overtime. Had Panarin or another Rangers player scored, Voracek might have passed out on the Madison Square Garden ice, and coach Alain Vigneault might have told the team to leave him there.
Instead, Voracek lifted Panarin’s stick, stole the puck, faked out Kinkaid, and slammed the puck home so he could get a decent night’s sleep.
“I just got a good bounce there, and I knew I had some time,” he said. “Good thing that Kinkaid bit on that thing. It was a good feeling, but I was pretty tired after, yes.”
His assist on Giroux’s goal, which created a 4-4 tie 5 1/2 minutes into the third period, wasn’t so exhausting. In what appeared a designed play, Giroux won a faceoff to Voracek, then curled around the Rangers’ net, appearing on the other side just as Voracek slipped a pass through the crease and on to Giroux’s stick. As it turned out, it was a designed play, just not an old one; the two had drawn it up in the MSG ice shavings seconds earlier.
“When they’re on, it’s so fun for me to watch,” Farabee said. “G’s goal was actually one of the crazier things I’ve seen. Jake literally set that whole play. He said, ‘We’re going to win it. It’s going to go down to me. G, pretend like you’re going up the wall. Then, go back door.’ I was watching from the point. I actually couldn’t even believe it. One of the cooler things I’ve seen. They’re so good.”
They can be, and with the way this team burps up the puck in its defensive zone, with the save-percentage numbers on Carter Hart and Brian Elliott pretty ugly at the moment, they will need to be. This team is lacking size in too many spots, is too light on the puck too often, and, if it can, should acquire another veteran defenseman, preferably one who can play with or above Ivan Provorov.
Until those things change, the cluster of forwards who have been carrying the Flyers all season will have to keep bearing the burden. Monday night was Voracek’s turn. It was a heavy one, but they were fortunate. He managed it. Barkeep, oxygen all around.