BUFFALO, N.Y. — Michael Raffl wheeled around the net and hugged a wraparound between the post, his goal providing a win and cover for an inexplicable outing for the Flyers.
Too often this season, the Flyers have played down to their opposition. Last night was no different.
The only thing more brutal than the coldest day in Buffalo since Jan. 19, 1994, was the Flyers' second period, in which they were thoroughly outplayed and outchanced by the last-place Sabres. The fiery chatter in the Flyers' locker room during the second intermission was not from the lips of coach Craig Berube, but rather from the players themselves.
"We knew," Raffl said. "We knew we had to find a way to win. At this time of year, it doesn't matter what the score is, you have to find a way to win."
Game No. 56 of the season seemed destined for overtime until Raffl broke a knot with just over 7 minutes remaining, lifting the Flyers to a 2-1 win in frigid Buffalo. They wrapped up their weeklong road trip with a 2-0-2 record.
The Flyers have now collected at least a point in nine consecutive games (6-0-3) for the first time since March 8-26, 2011 when they went 5-0-4. That spring, the No. 2-seed Flyers went seven games with the Sabres, before being swept by Boston in the second round.
The numbers say this is a gaudy run, yes, but the Flyers haven't exactly struck any fear in the teams they're chasing for a Stanley Cup playoff spot.
"I think it's a consistency thing and I think we've had that [problem] all year," Nick Schultz said. "We have to realize the type of team we are - we're a chip-and-chase team. We've got to get pucks in. The success we have is with guys who make plays in their end.
"If we do that, we're a pretty successful team. For whatever reason, we seem to get away from that at times. We get sloppy with the puck, we try to make cute plays in the middle. If we stick with what works for us, we seem to play a lot better."
An optimist would note that the Flyers are now just five points back of a playoff spot, the closest they've been since early November. The final wild-card Bruins, idle yesterday, face Calgary late tonight in Alberta.
A pessimist would say despite the fact the Flyers have picked up at least a point in nine consecutive games, they have been outmatched for large stretches, particularly in their last three games.
"I'm not questioning our process," Wayne Simmonds said. "We've got points in nine straight, we're obviously doing something right. Obviously, it could be a little bit cleaner. We're working towards that. I think we've been doing a good job of battling throughout this stretch and we've got to keep going."
A realist would calculate that while the Flyers have gained points, the biggest reason for the tightening of their gap is that the Bruins have dropped the ball. Boston's point pace has slowed from 99 points earlier last week to the historical Eastern Conference playoff requirement of 94 points.
Even so, for the Flyers to get to 95 points, they would need to go 17-6-3 over their remaining 26 games.
Last night, the Flyers failed to manhandle one of the worst NHL teams of the last 15 years, leaving Ray Emery to make point-blank saves even until the final minute.
"We weren't playing clean," Simmonds said. "We weren't playing crisp. We have to clean it up. We knew we just have to play better."
Come April, no one is going to be balking about how points were won - particularly on a dreary night against the worst possession team in hockey advanced-stats history. Buffalo is on pace for the fewest goals scored in an NHL season in 80 years. They have a minus-89 goal differential. The Sabres will be lucky to make it to 52 points, a number the Flyers have already eclipsed.
There is something to be said, though, about process. Because when the Bruins turn their slide around, and Emery struggles, and the Flyers aren't facing the Sabres, the result won't be as easy to cloak over the next 26 games.
"I think for sure, there's parts [that are concerning]," coach Craig Berube said. "I look back at the games against Montreal and Columbus with leads in the third period and we'd have liked to pull them out. The overall hockey has been pretty good. The all-around game is pretty solid right now. We've got to keep getting points, claw our way back into the playoffs."
Craig Berube opted to keep Brayden Schenn on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek,even though Michael Raffl returned to the lineup for the first time since Jan. 20. Raffl missed most of the last month with a lung infection and pneumonia. The Flyers' top line has averaged significantly more shots with Raffl instead of Schenn . . . Zac Rinaldo served the final game of his eight-game suspension . . . Zach Bogosian set a Sabres season high with 11 hits in his debut after last week's trade from Winnipeg. The Flyers as a whole had 16.