Flyers beat Jets in overtime in Zepp's debut
WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Rob Zepp, who is 33 years old but is the newest Flyers goalie, is a survivor. After seven years in Germany and stops in the OHL, ECHL, and AHL, Zepp made his NHL debut Sunday night in Winnipeg.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Flyers goalie Rob Zepp, who at 33 years old made his NHL debut Sunday night, is a survivor.
So are the Flyers.
They overcame a two-goal deficit for the second straight night, but this time in far more dramatic fashion, stunning the Winnipeg Jets in overtime, 4-3, at the MTS Centre.
NHL scoring leader Jake Voracek won it 10 seconds into overtime, scoring his second goal of the night. Vinny Lecavalier had tied it with 3:14 left in regulation with HIS second goal of the game.
The late heroics enabled Zepp to become the oldest player to win his NHL debut since Hugh Lehman in 1926.
"The way the guys battled there in the third period was unbelievable," said Zepp, whose team overcame a late 3-1 deficit. "I said to them that I appreciate this more than anyone knows. I've been playing hockey for 26 years, trying to get here. And to get here and be able to play _ the game wasn't perfect, obviously _ and then to get the win at the end was just incredible."
After seven years in Germany and stops in the OHL, ECHL, and AHL, Zepp made 25 saves _ and kept the Flyers within 3-1 with the best stop of the night in the closing seconds of the second period. He denied Mark Scheifele with his outstretched right skate. Scheifele was all alone in front after the Jets had a three-on-two break.
"If we go into the room and it's 4-1, it makes a big difference," captain Claude Giroux said.
Added Giroux, who was Zepp's teammate in Germany during the NHL's 2012-13 lockout: "He's worked so hard to get here. There's nobody that deserves this more than him…We're really happy for him and wanted to get the win for him."
Zepp "kept us in the game in the beginning; they came out very hard," Voracek said.
The Flyers allowed 17 shots in the first period, but tightened up considerably the rest of the way. They surrendered just two third-period shots.
"You could feel the positive emotion from the guys and the way they were battling and taking it to them in the third period," Zepp said.
Lecavalier, who ended a 14-game goal-less streak, knotted the score at 3 when he knocked in a slot shot after a turnover by Jay Harrison.
In overtime, after Giroux harassed massive defenseman Dustin Byfuglien into a misplay, Voracek picked up the puck, swooped in from behind the net and ended the comeback with his 14th goal _ tying him with Wayne Simmonds for the team lead.
When the game ended, angry Flyers coach Craig Berube and Byfuglien _ who spent the night punishing the Flyers, especially Giroux, with jarring hits _ got into a shouting match on the ice.
Giroux said Byfuglien "really gave it to us. He probably hammered me six or seven times. That's good. It's part of the game. And it gets you involved a bit. That was a fun game to play."
Byfuglien was credited with five hits and seven blocked shots.
The Flyers had inched to within 3-2 when Mark Streit's shot, through a screen, was tipped by Lecavalier past goalie Ondrej Pavelec with 13:54 to go in regulation.
In the opening 20 minutes, Winnipeg had pushed around the Flyers with its physical play, fired 17 shots, and built a 2-1 lead on goals by Matt Halischuk and Byfuglien. Those goals erased Voracek's tally 46 seconds into the game.
After the referees missed an apparent offside, Halischuk scored on a tracer from the right circle with 13:22 remaining in the first. Fifty-five seconds later, Byfuglien went around Nick Schultz, and, as he came out front, defenseman Braydon Coburn skated the other way, thinking the big forward was covered.
Byfuglien beat Zepp, and the Jets had a 2-1 lead.
Zepp got an opportunity because Steve Mason went down with an apparent back injury Friday, and Ray Emery looked shaky in a 7-4 win in Toronto on Saturday.
And with the Flyers in the middle of playing three road games in four nights, Berube decided it was the perfect time to use the goalie they call "Zepper."
"I'm looking for some energy in the game _ first-period energy," Berube said before the game. "I like what I saw in the preseason with him ... and he's played well in the minors."
"It's his first start, and it's something we can definitely rally around," Coburn said before the opening faceoff. "We know there's going to be a lot of emotion there for him, and hopefully we can jump on the bandwagon."
But it was the Jets who had the energy in the first period, and they increased the lead to 3-1 when Mathieu Perreault scored on a rebound with 8:39 left in the second.
And so the Flyers, outshot by a 26-13 margin, faced a two-goal deficit heading into the third period.
Giroux was hit in the face by Chris Thorburn's inadvertent stick in the second period _ no penalty was called _ and went down on the ice in agony, but he returned to the game a short time later. Giroux also took several punishing blows from the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Byfuglien in the first two periods.
Zepp signed a two-way deal with the Flyers in July. He had a strong preseason with the Flyers and continued to play well with the Phantoms.
Zepp grew up outside Toronto, and when he was about 9 years old, he had his photo taken with his idol, goalie Jeff Reese of the Newmarket Saints, then an AHL team in Ontario.
Reese now happens to be the Flyers goalie coach.
"We were season-ticket holders for the Saints, so we were hard-core," Zepp said.
During the NHL lockout in 2012-13, Zepp was on a Germany team that had Giroux and Danny Briere on its Berlin roster. "Ever since then, a dialogue kind of opened up between myself and the Flyers," Zepp said.
That dialogue led to Zepp signing a one-year, two-way contract for $600,000 _ and Sunday's triumphant debut.
"I thought he really handled himself well," Berube said. "I mean, it's a tough rink to come into, especially for a guy who hasn't played in the NHL."