This was more than a playoff push by the Flyers. It was a gut punch that landed squarely on the team directly in front of them in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Detroit Red Wings, a proud franchise that has made 24 straight trips to the playoffs, arrived at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night three points ahead of the Flyers. They left after a 4-3 loss that narrowed their lead to a single point.
Factor in the two extra games on the Flyers' schedule and you could argue that they are now in a better position than the Red Wings. But 3½ weeks remain in the NHL season, so the playoff scramble has really just begun.
All that could be said for sure after this intense game was that the Flyers came to play early and the Red Wings showed why they have been involved in every Stanley Cup tournament for nearly a quarter century.
The Flyers, 7-1-1 in their last nine games, played an amazing first period and got two goals from Michael Raffl, another clutch goal from Shayne Gostisbehere and some big-time saves late in the game from Steve Mason.
"Somewhere along the way we kind of flipped a switch somehow," Raffl said. "From that point on we've played great."
The home team compiled a 23-3 shots advantage in the first 20 minutes, but the dominance only produced a 2-0 lead. Still, it was an impressive display against a team equally desperate to pick up points.
"We knew it was going to be a playoff-type atmosphere, and it was," Raffl said. "You know a team with that kind of skill is going to make a push back at you."
A couple of faceoff wins triggered the Flyers' two first-period goals.
Sean Couturier did not get an assist on Raffl's goal, but he sent the puck back to Nick Schultz to get the sequence of events in motion. Raffl, after taking a pass from defenseman Mark Streit, bulled past Kyle Quincey and switched the puck to his backhand before beating goaltender Petr Mrazek.
"Raff has played pretty good hockey here over the last couple of weeks," coach Dave Hakstol said. "He's playing relaxed, he's playing hard. The play that he made on the first goal was just kind of classic power hockey and classic Michael Raffl."
A little more than a minute later, captain Claude Giroux won a faceoff and passed back to Brayden Schenn, whose shot rebounded onto the stick of Wayne Simmonds for a goal. That represented the continuation of great play from the Flyers' top line in the absence of star right winger Jake Voracek.
Simmonds' team-leading 25th goal gave the No. 1 line 11 goals in the eight games it has played without Voracek. They also have a combined 16 assists during a stretch in which the team has gone 6-1-1.
The Red Wings showed up in the second period and twice cut the Flyers' lead to a goal. Each time, however, the Flyers had an answer.
After Andreas Athanasiou got behind Nick Cousins for Detroit's first goal of the game early in the second period, Raffl restored the Flyers' two-goal lead with a goal that was nearly as impressive as his first one. Off balance, he gathered a rebound of his own shot and fired it past Mrazek for his 12th goal of the season.
It was the second line that actually lost Voracek, but during his absence Raffl has scored four times, dished four assists and is a plus-four.
Detroit cut the Flyers' lead to one again with 5:39 left in the second period when Tomas Tatar dug the puck away from Radko Gudas and fed Pavel Datsyuk in front of the net for an easy goal.
This time, Gostisbehere answered with his 16th goal of the season near the end of the second period. The rookie defenseman tried to slide a pass to Ryan White, but the puck deflected off the right knee of defenseman Danny Dekeyser and through the legs of Mrazek for an insurance goal the Flyers needed.
It was a lucky play, but it came on a night when the Flyers played a solid game and that is usually when good things happen.
The fifth annual CCM/USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game will be played Sept. 22 at the Wells Fargo Center. Fifteen participants in the game have gone on to become first-round draft picks.
Schenn has 16 goals and 16 assists in the Flyers' 35 games since the start of 2016. . . . Mason made his fifth straight start in goal and is 4-0-1 in that stretch. . . . Defenseman Andrew MacDonald returned to the lineup after missing Saturday's game against Florida with a lower body injury.