MONTREAL – The Flyers were in last place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division in early December. Fans were calling for coach Dave Hakstol to be dismissed.
Less than three months later, they sit atop the division.
The Flyers climbed into first place Monday night with their sixth straight victory, a 1-0 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. They moved ahead of Washington, which lost to dangerous Columbus, 5-1.
Both goalies took turns making sensational saves in a wide-open, 11-shot overtime before Sean Couturier won it in the sixth round of the shootout.
“We didn’t play our best game, but we found a way to grind it out and get a big two points,” Couturier said.
With the hard-earned victory, the Flyers increased their road winning streak to seven, went to 10-0-2 in their last 12 games, and are 26-8-3 since ending a 10-game losing streak on Dec. 4.
No NHL team has more points in that span of excellence.
Recently acquired goalie Petr Mrazek (28 saves) was superb as the Flyers swept the season series from Montreal – they won all three games – for just the third time since the teams began meeting in 1967-68. The Flyers also swept the Habs in 1995-96 and 2002-03.
“He stood on his head tonight,” said right winger Travis Konency, who was robbed twice by Montreal rookie goalie Charlie Lindgren in the fast-paced overtime.
Jake Voracek gave the Flyers a chance when he scored in the third round to keep the shootout alive. Voracek gave Couturier some advice before he shot.
“He told me it’s open, maybe fake him out on the glove side and go low blocker, and I just listened to him,” Couturier said.
The Flyers, who haven’t won a division title since 2010-11, became the second team in franchise history to win 10 games in February. They finished the month 10-1-2, joining the 1975-76 team (10-0-4), which was a Stanley Cup finalist.
Mrazek recorded his 14th career shutout and is 3-0 since he was acquired from Detroit.
“Ever since he’s been here, he’s been making big saves and keeping us in games,” Couturier said.
Mrazek said shootouts “are for the fans. I like the challenge of one-on-one, but I feel it’s flip a coin for who’s going to win.” He denied Montreal on five of six shootout shots and improved his career shootout record to 12-5, including 8-0 over the last two seasons.
Couturier was asked how it felt to be in first place.
“It feels good. I mean, who would have thought a few months ago” they would be there, he said. He added, “We can’t be satisfied. There’s a lot of games left, and we have to keep rolling.”
“We’ve been through a lot this year. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t fun,” Giroux said of the 10-game skid that is now a distant memory. “But we stuck with it and just kept working harder and good things happened.”
As for having a slim lead atop the division, Konecny said “I think we’ve earned it. I think we deserve it. It’s been a long road and a lot of hard work, and it’s definitely not done yet. If anything, we’re just getting started. It’s harder to hold the spot than get there, so we just have to keep working hard.”
The Flyers were dominant in the third period but failed to connect on a power play that was awarded with 6 minutes, 25 seconds remaining. They were 0 for 3 and had a total of one shot on their power-play chances.
Mrazek made a great glove save on Jacob de la Rose’s ticketed left-circle blast to keep the game scoreless with 2:17 left in regulation.
Like Mrazek, Lindgren was brilliant, and made 33 saves, including six on Couturier.
“He made some big saves for them,” Giroux said. “I think we could have done a better job of getting some traffic in front of him, but at the end of the day, it was two good goalies going at it.”
Montreal was missing goalie Carey Price, sidelined by a concussion suffered in last Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Flyers. The Habs, who are virtually out of the playoff race, went with Lindgren over veteran Anttti Niemi.
The Canadiens controlled most of the second period as they outshot the Flyers, 15-8, but Mrazek kept the game scoreless.
“The last 10, 11 minutes of the second period I think was the key,” coach Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers improved to 2-5 in shootouts this season. “I thought [Mrazek] was tremendous during that stretch where they built the momentum and had a lot of good scoring chances. And obviously in the shootout he was excellent.”