DENVER – In perhaps their grittiest win of the season, the Flyers gained some much-needed breathing room in the playoff race Wednesday night, but they lost goalie Michal Neuvirth to another injury.
Neuvirth was outstanding in his first game in more than five weeks before suffering an injury in the second period of the Flyers’ 2-1 win over desperate Colorado at the Pepsi Center.
Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov scored goals, and Petr Mrazek stopped 17-of-17 shots in relief as the Flyers completed a 1-0-2 road trip.
The Flyers, who started the night as the conference’s top wild-card team, moved into a tie in points with the second-place Penguins in the Metro. Pittsburgh has played one fewer game.
They also climbed seven points ahead of Florida, which lost in Toronto, 4-3, and has three games in hand on the Flyers. Florida is trying to inch into the second and final wild-card spot.
Fatigued from playing on consecutive nights and huffing and puffing because of the altitude change, the Flyers looked spent in the final five minutes as the Avalanche were in the offensive zone most of that time.
With the Avs buzzing around the net and firing shots from all angles, the Flyers threw their bodies at pucks.
“Just a gutsy effort,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “It’s no easy task coming in here on a back-to-back, but our guys never look for an excuse. I thought everybody that was in the lineup tonight went out and did their part.
“Guys sold out and blocked shots and were doing everything they can.”
The Flyers had 33 blocked shots, a franchise record since the statistic became official in 1997. Andrew MacDonald had seven blocks, followed by Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and Jordan Weal with five apiece.
Mrazek denied Gabriel Landeskog from deep in the right circle to keep the Flyers ahead, 2-1, with 10 minutes, 16 seconds left in regulation. With 3:49 to go, he turned aside an all-alone Erik Johnson from the doorstep.
In the closing seconds, the Avs swarmed the net, but Mrazek had all the answers. At one point, the red light went on to signify a goal, but the puck went wide after a wild scramble.
“Those last five minutes felt like 15,” Mrazek said. “But lots of blocked shots in front of me and a couple lucky bounces.”
“We played all 60 minutes. Everybody battled hard and played for each other,” Provorov said after playing 27:42, the first time he has surpassed the 27-minute mark since Dec. 23.
Giroux equaled a career high when he notched his 93rd point of the season, taking a well-placed feed from Gostisbehere and whipping a one-time shot from the left circle past Andrew Hammond. That gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead with 9:36 left in the first.
“We’re playing good hockey right now and playing the way we want,” said Giroux, whose team has points in its last seven games (4-0-3).
“Every point matters now,” said Mrazek, who figures to be the Flyers’ go-to goalie with Neuvirth sidelined.
Mrazek resembled the goalie who was superb in his first three starts with the Flyers before going into a tailspin.
“It’s not always easy for a goalie to come in (in relief), but he did a good job of battling,” Giroux said.
“Neuvy was playing really well, and then Petr came in and was unbelievable,” Provorov said.
Hammond was recalled from the AHL Wednesday because Semyon Varlamov (ill) and Jonathan Bernier (injured) were unable to play. A one-time phenom when he broke into the league in Ottawa and was known as the Hamburglar, Hammond played in his first NHL game in 13 months and appeared shaky in the first period before settling down. He had struggled in the AHL this season.
The Flyers were playing on back-to-back nights and the Avs were rested, but the visitors had more energy in the opening period and took control.
Provorov (15th goal, second point of the night) made it 2-0 by blasting a point drive past Hammond with 1:48 to go in the first. Jake Voracek created a screen in front of the net.
Jordan Weal, who has recently looked like the player who had eight goals in the final 19 games last season, set up the goal.
The Flyers killed two second-period penalties, including one that occurred late in the first period, and they didn’t allow a shot in those four minutes.
But shortly after they killed the second one, Matt Nieto scored on a rebound after Travis Sanheim was unable to clear the puck out of harm’s way, cutting the deficit to 2-1 with 14:24 remaining in the second.
Shortly thereafter, Neuvirth robbed Mikko Rantanen in front and appeared to injure himself on the play. He began stretch as if he had injured his groin.
Exit Neuvirth. Enter Mrazek.
The Flyers nearly made it 3-1, but Hammond denied Matt Read — who excelled on the penalty kill and was one of the Flyers’ most active players on the attack — from point-blank range with a little under seven minutes left in the second.
Neuvirth, who hadn’t played since Feb. 18 because of an injury, looked sharp as he made nine first-period stops, including a save on J.T. Compher after he went in alone following an Andrew MacDonald turnover.
Colorado, which had former Flyer Mark Alt in its lineup, has made a remarkable turnaround and began the night one point out of a playoff spot. The Avs have made a 42-point (and counting) improvement from last season.
“We knew they were fresh. We knew what we were up against,” said Gostisbehere, who has five assists in his last three games. “But I think we play pretty well on back-to-backs and we got the job done tonight.”
The Flyers are now an admirable 8-5-2 in the second half of back-to-back games, and many of those wins were against top teams such as Tampa Bay, Washington (twice), and Vegas.