Apparently Ilya Bryzgalov wanted to pay tribute to his just-traded but little-used backup Michael Leighton. You remember Leighton, the journeyman who suddenly came of age in the 2010 playoffs and carried the Flyers to the brink of a Stanley Cup. That quest ultimately fell short when Leighton surrendered one of the weirdest goals imaginable to the Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane, clinching the championship here in overtime.
On Wednesday night Bryzgalov, no stranger to coughing up weird goals himself (see: Game 5 vs. the Devils last year) decided to duck when David Desharnais’ shot, coming just 20 seconds after the Montreal Canadiens had tied it, deflected off Brayden Schenn’s head and came zeroing in aimed straight for his head. Only one problem there: When he ducked, that left enough room for the puck to sneak into the net, giving the Canadiens a late second-period lead. Surely Leighton, on his way to join former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus, would’ve loved it.
Most of this freakish season that odd goal would’ve spelled doom for the Flyers — and deep into the third period it sure looked like things might end that way. But suddenly Wayne Simmonds redirected the tying goal into the net. Just 90 seconds later Erik Gustafsson’s pass intended for Matt Read caromed off a defenseman past Montreal goalie Carey Price to put them ahead.
Add a Jake Voracek open netter in the final 39 seconds and voila: Not only do you have a 5-3 Flyers victory, but in the process their first three-game winning streak of the season.
“I really liked our second period, so it was unfortunate what happened at the end of where they scored a couple goals,’’ said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, as the Flyers earned points for the third time in the last four games when trailing inside six minutes remaining. “but I think just we had resilience and the guys didn’t stop.Certainly that’s an area we have not been good at up until this point, so it’s nice to see some results in the third period. We’re putting games away, we’re coming back in games and getting the points and wins that we need.’’
Despite that, with 35 points the 16-17-3 Flyers remain four points out of playoff spot. Suddenly, though, both 7th and 8th place appear up for grabs with the Rangers, Devils and Islanders all holding at 39 points. But the Flyers, who’ve climbed to 11th, can’t help but like the way they’re responding to the challenge, as they overcame Bryzgalov’s shaky performance, which the goalie refused to discuss afterwards.
“We are just playing kind of with confidence right now,’’ said Read. “We had a couple bad goals against, but we knew we were going to come back.We just waited for the opportunity and we got two quick ones there at the end that kind of sealed the deal.”
There’s no time to bask in the glow of victory, with a three-game road trip beginning tonight in Toronto.
“We won’t give up,’’ said Sean Couturier, who snapped a 27-game drought when his shot deflected off a defenseman’s stick, caromed off Price, then hit P.K. Subban’s leg and trickled through. “We still have a chance and if we keep winning we’ll be right back in the mix.We can’t focus too much on what’s going on around the league. We got to make our own destiny.’’
The Flyers’ destiny seemed all but lost when Bryzgalov’s meltdown put them in a hole. But now, unlike most of this season, they’re finding a way to dig their way out of danger.
“We don’t control what other teams do,” said captain Claude Giroux. “If we keep winning, that’s the only chance we have of getting in.We’re on a little high now, so we have to keep going.’’
Yes, they have no choice. But at least for the first time all season it appears, finally, that they have a chance.