NEWARK, N.J. – The close-out kids continued to build their case as playoff worthy Saturday night, rallying from an early road deficit and suffocating the surprising New Jersey Devils in the third period for their 12th victory in their last 17 games.
Leading by one goal after two periods, the Flyers’ 5-3 victory at the Prudential Center marked the seventh time in that stretch that they took a lead of one or two goals into the third period and emerged with two points. In three other games, they rallied to win games in which they were either tied or behind.
“It’s easier to go into third periods when you’re winning,”’ said Jake Voracek, who had two assists. “When you’re losing you play scared. Like we showed during that stinking losing streak.’’
The Flyers were winless for 10 games before their recent surge.
“I think we’re confident about what we have to do now,’’ said Travis Konecny, whose third-period goal gave the Flyers much-needed breathing room. “We have to chip pucks out and keep things simple and if we do that then we should close games.’
After waiting half the season for the two top draft picks to meet, the first period of Saturday night’s Flyers-Devils game played out as if a status report on each player’s progress.
Already the Devils’ first-line center, Nico Hischier set up Jesper Bratt’s tap-in at 5:43 of the first period, retrieving a blocked shot just ahead of – you guessed it – Nolan Patrick. As we learned through the struggles of Shayne Gostibehere and Claude Giroux last season, Patrick will likely need most, if not all, of this season to recover from abdominal surgery and regain completely the skating and skills that made him the second pick behind Hischier in last year’s amateur draft.
Ill, Gostisbehere was not in Saturday night’s lineup, replaced by rookie Travis Sanheim, who was a healthy scratch in the previous five games.
But Hischier, who turned 19 on Jan. 4, has his limits, too. At 175 pounds, he ceded 35 pounds to Sean Couturier on the Flyers’ tying goal at 14:35 of the initial stanza. With the rookie draped all over him, Couturier – who had just replaced Patrick in midshift — pushed across the rebound of Andrew MacDonald’s directed shot from the point.
Outshooting the Flyers, 13-6, in that period, New Jersey failed to pad its lead via three power plays. The Flyers entered the game with a penalty kill that ranked 28th in the NHL, and the Devils have the league’s third best power play at home and are seventh overall.
The Flyers are, however, slightly better on the road (15th). And as has been the case for most of their surge into the playoff picture, Brian Elliott made several stellar saves during those advantages.
The Flyers were not as fortunate after Patrick continued the parade to the box early in the second period, clipping Bratt with his stick after missing badly on a stick check. Nine seconds into the power play, Kyle Palmieri found the far post with a blistering shot and the Devils led, 2-1, at 1:46.
Patrick went to the box again for the infraction at 5:35 of the second – his very next shift. He had 3:06 of ice time to that point. He finished the game playing just under minutes — about half the ice time Hischier commanded.
The Flyers killed that power play impressively, even got a little momentum bump. Voracek’s power forward move drew the first New Jersey penalty at 10:24. Then, for the second time in recent games, he redirected a cross-ice pass with his skate to Giroux, whose shot was tipped in by Wayne Simmonds at 11:53 of the second. It was Simmonds’ 15th goal of the season.
Couturier put the Flyers ahead, 3-2, with another power play goal at 18:16 of the second, beating Schneider to his short side. The Devils entered the game with the league’s eighth-best penalty kill (83.3 percent).
The Flyers’ sixth stick penalty, this one a slash on Konecny at 19:17, gave New Jersey another man advantage as the third period began. They killed it, and a few minutes later, a breakaway pass Ivan Provorov laced through three Devils onto the stick of Konecny gave the Flyers enough breathing room to close out another one. Michael Raffl’s eighth goal at 12:04 capped the Flyers’ scoring, and gave coach Dave Hakstol his 100th win in the NHL.