In the rarefied air of the Mile High City, the Philadelphia Flyers were going to make sure their longest winning streak in three decades wasn’t going to go by the boards without a fight. So much so that Jakub Voracek, he of two career regular-season fighting majors before Wednesday night, literally dropped the gloves to defend his team and that streak.
While Voracek, who fought Gabriel Landeskog after the latter levied an open-ice neutral-zone hit on Michael Raffl late in the second period, lost the fight, the Flyers won the one-day war, a come-from-behind 4-3 win over the Colorado Avalanche which extended the win streak to 10 games, the longest such streak for the franchise since 1985. Voracek sacrificed five minutes of game time with his fight, though it was his lungs that felt much more of the burn than his fists.
“I don’t think I picked the right city to fight in,” said Voracek to reporters in the locker room after the win. “I felt like I ran a marathon after.”
What also feels like a marathon is the tear the latest iteration of the Broad Street Bullies have been on, not losing a game since a Nov. 25 contest against the New York Rangers. Voracek is part of the “Big Three,” along with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, that has terrorized teams all season let alone during this unbeaten run. All three rank in the top 10 in the NHL in scoring; Voracek leads the way with 33 points (tied for third-most in the NHL), with Giroux (30, 8th in NHL) and Simmonds (29, 10th in NHL) close by.
Simmonds also spearheads the league’s second-best power play unit, as he leads the NHL with eight power play tallies.
Another forward who has been stellar during the run is second-line center Brayden Schenn, who has scored the game-winning goal in each of the team’s last three games. Along with the winner against the Avs Wednesday night, Schenn recorded his second career hat trick against the Stars last Saturday, then followed it up the next day by scoring the only goal of the game in overtime on the road against the Detroit Red Wings.
The youthful back line has done some growing up during this streak, specifically 19-year-old rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov, the 2015 fist-round draft pick who’s quickly evolving as one of the best rookie defenseman in the league and a Calder Trophy candidate. Seeing time on both the penalty kill and power play units, Provorov is a plus-7 during the winning streak and has five points in his last seven games. Not bad for a player who, in a game two months ago against Chicago Blackhawks, recorded a minus-5 in that contest.
Streaks like the one the Flyers are on now don’t occur without unsung heroes stepping up, and probably the most recognizable of those unheralded players is backup goaltender Anthony Stolarz. Yes, Steve Mason is on track to be a Vezina Trophy finalist, so Stolarz has not seen much time on the ice this year. In truth, the plan was to have Stolarz still be in the minors at this point, but he had to be called up to the team after Michal Neuvirth suffered a knee injury on Nov. 12 that has currently sidelined him for the past month. While Stolarz has only started two games during the streak, both of his performances stood out; He made 32 saves in a 5-3 win over the Calgary Flames on Nov. 27 and shut out the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena last Sunday.
Even with the Flyers playing some of their best hockey in years, second-year head coach Dave Hakstol, as most coaches in professional sports do, downplayed the significance of the current run his team is on.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of time to really reflect on anything other than, you take some of the good, some of the bad out of every night and really turn your focus toward the next one and try to to get ready for it,” said Hakstol after the overtime win over the Red Wings last Sunday. “Guys are playing hard and guys are having fun. I think that’s enough of a reward for everybody.”
Even if the reward comes with a burning sensation in your chest after playing 60 minutes in the thin air of Denver.
News and Notes
Down with The King?: Henrik Lundqvist, after a spell on the bench that has his thrown his No. 1 goaltender status for the Blueshirts into some doubt, was back in between the pipes on Thursday in Big D…and was greeted rather rudely by the Dallas Stars’ Cody Eakin midway through the first period.
While Lundqvist, who briefly left the game, returned to action, Eakin received a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct. The Rangers used two third-period goals to win 2-0, with the game-winner coming shorthanded from Rick Nash, who also returned to the lineup on Thursday night after missing four games with a groin injury.
While Lundqvist and Raanta, who came in for just over five minutes on Thursday, combined for the shutout for the Stars, it was the former who was desperate to reclaim his place – and his form – between the pipes. Raanta had started four straight games before Thursday, as the former Blackhawk has been fabulous this season in recording an 8-2-0 record with a 1.47 goals against and a .941 save percentage.
Raanta’s run of form also left Lundqvist officially “benched,” something he had not experienced before in his time since he started being the workhorse for the Rangers a decade ago.
“I went out there with a lot of desperation,” said Lundqvist, who has won at least 30 games in 10 of his 11 seasons. “I felt like it was an important game for me to just feel good. My game hasn’t changed over a week, but my mindset has changed.”
“It is a new experience for me,” Lundqvist added.
What’s not a new experience, at least for the Rangers, is bouncing back after losses this season. New York is now 10-0-1 in games after suffering a defeat so far on the campaign.