OTTAWA – As the late, great Rich Ashburn was fond of saying: Hard to believe, Harry.
The Flyers, a team that looked dead in the water after losing 10 straight early in the season, temporarily climbed into a tie for first place in the Metropolitan Division on Saturday afternoon.
They defeated free-falling Ottawa, 5-3, at the Canadian Tire Center and moved closer to becoming the second team in franchise history to win 10 games in February.
“We’re playing some good hockey now,” captain Claude Giroux said after the Flyers extended their points streak to 11 games (9-0-2). “Everybody has bought in to what we’re trying to do and it’s a lot of fun.”
“We always believed in ourselves, and we know we have a good team here,” said rookie defenseman Robert Hagg, who contributed a goal and four hits. “Obviously, we’ve proved that in the last couple months. Hopefully, we can keep it going and make a push for the first spot and get into the playoffs with a good feeling.”
Giroux secured the win with a sensational breakaway goal with 15 minutes, 45 seconds left in regulation, putting the Flyers ahead, 3-1. (The lead grew to 5-1 before a pair of garbage-time goals by the Sens.)
Giroux, who set up the Flyers’ first goal, took a long pass from Brandon Manning (three points) and beat goalie Craig Anderson by faking a backhander and scoring on a reach-around forehand shot. It was his 22nd goal and his seventh in the last nine games, and he said he had never tried such a move in his career.
“It kind of just happened,” said Giroux, who went to high school in the area and had lots of relatives and friends at the game.
Ivan Provorov, Hagg, Nolan Patrick, and Manning also scored for the Flyers, who won their fifth straight and temporarily moved into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the Metro and climbed one point ahead of Washington.
The Capitals, however, beat Buffalo on Saturday night, 5-1, to slip back into first place, a point ahead of the Flyers and Penguins. Pittsburgh lost in Florida, 6-5, and is now tied with the Flyers for second place with 76 points. The Flyers are technically ahead because they have a game in hand.
Goalie Petr Mrazek, acquired Monday from Detroit, stopped 25 of 28 shots and raised his Flyers record to 2-0.
After Giroux’s goal, Patrick (deflection) and Manning added tallies. Manning scored when he fired a shot off the wall that caromed into the net. A stunned Anderson had gone behind the net to retrieve the puck before it hit the boards and took an odd carom.
“I’ve been practicing that for a while,” Manning cracked.
The Flyers are now 9-1-2 in February. If they win in Montreal on Monday, they will join the 1975-76 team with 10 February victories. The 1975-76 team went 10-0-4 in February en route to reaching the Stanley Cup Finals.
More numbers: The Flyers are 25-8-3 (second-best in the NHL) since they ended their 10-game losing streak on Dec. 4, and they are 9-0-1 since the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
The going-nowhere Senators, who are 15th in the 16-team Eastern Conference, appeared to tie the score at 2-2 when Zack Smith deposited a rebound with 7:44 left in the second. The Flyers challenged the goal, however, and it was reversed when the video replay showed Smith was offside 11 seconds before he scored.
Coach Dave Hakstol said the reversal “could have been the turning point” in the game.
“That’s all Adam Patterson,” said Hakstol, referring to the Flyers’ video coach and the man who told the head coach to challenge the play. “That’s 100 percent his call.”
Provorov scored the Flyers’ quickest goal at the start of a game this season, and Hagg, another defenseman, later made it 2-0. But the Flyers played sloppily in the final 10 minutes of the opening period and settled for a 2-1 lead at the first intermission.
Provorov opened the scoring 28 seconds after the opening faceoff. Taking a right-wing pass from Giroux, Provorov jumped into the play and scored from the high slot for his 11th goal.
The Flyers’ quickest first-period goal had been scored by Giroux, who tallied 48 seconds into a Nov. 28 game that the Flyers lost to San Jose, 3-1.
Hagg, of all people, weaved through the Ottawa defense and scored one of the Flyers’ most artistic goals of the season, sending a right-circle wrist shot past Anderson to put the Flyers ahead, 2-0, with 12:46 left in the first. It was his second goal of the season and first in 28 games.
The goals would keep coming. So would another win.