In a curious coincidence, the Flyers awoke this season at precisely the same time the Eagles hibernated for the winter.
Their hockey team’s eight-game winning streak, extended by Monday night’s 2-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks, began with a 7-4 victory over the Minnesota Wild one day after that pass slithered through the hands of Alshon Jeffery, and with it, a chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions. And it short-circuited a nice reversal from the Eagles’ early-season ineptitude and miscues, and it appeared to be triggered by a forced change in what most would concede is football’s most critical position: quarterback.
Likewise, the catalyst of the Flyers' crawl from the tomb has been 20-year-old goaltender Carter Hart, whose play last month earned him both the NHL’s monthly rookie award, and its second star overall. On Monday, it was more of the same, Hart stopping 41 Vancouver shots, including a leaping block of Nikolay Goldobin’s rebound shot during a late third-period power play that Chris Long would be proud of.
There were several others before and after that, creating an impressive pile of kindling on the opposing bench for the eighth game in a row.
``It’s almost like miracles out there,’’ said Sean Couturier, whose hooking penalty created the need for divine intervention.
Hart’s solid and often spectacular play and his unflappable demeanor has steadied a team that had literally lost all sense of identity in trickling to the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
That’s the clean narrative, but the reality, as was the case with the Eagles, has additional layers. Key injured players returned for the Eagles over the weeks that Nick Foles replaced Carson Wentz. Young defensive backs who had struggled mightily in a first encounter with the Saints matured incredibly by the time of the rematch.
The Flyers' streak, like the Eagles' late-season surge, has been marked by a return to form by some of their leaned-on players and radically improved performances of some of their less-experienced ones.
Nolan Patrick has been the playmaker he was projected to be when drafted second overall two drafts ago. Given additional minutes and responsibility under new coach Scott Gordon, Oskar Lindblom has excelled too. He drew a first-period penalty by swarming the Canucks' net.
Elevated to the first line, James van Riemsdyk has found the scoring touch sought when the Flyers signed him to that free-agent contract last July. Of late, Ivan Provorov has played like Ivan Provorov. Travis Sanheim is a top-pairing defenseman.
The general manager who replaced Ron Hextall eventually replaced the head coach with Phantoms coach Scott Gordon. In an incredibly short amount of time, Gordon has flipped the fortunes of both sides of the special teams, although to be fair the penalty kill had begun to show improvement before his arrival.
He has amped that up with a more challenge-oriented kill. And lately, and oh-so-suddenly, the Flyers have gone from a team with no potent power-play units to a team with two of them.
The second unit got the game’s first goal Monday, Patrick drawing defenders as he crossed the blue line, dishing it to Travis Konecny, who set up Couturier with a cross-ice pass at the top of the slot for his 21st goal of the season. That goal, the Flyers' seventh in their last nine power-play opportunities, came against the Western Conference’s second-highest-percentage penalty kill.
``I think the biggest thing has been guys getting pucks back after shots and winning battles,’’ Patrick said. ``And that’s opened up a lot of chances for us.’’
After a slow start due to injury, Couturier too has rounded into the form that made him last season’s Selke Trophy runner-up as the NHL’s top defensive forward.
The Flyers still at times shadow their former selves. After an ill-fated jailbreak attempt to extend a 2-0 lead midway through the second period backfired into two-on-none goal the other way, some of their hot-potato tendencies returned for a while. Hart played the puck onto a trailing player’s stick, and if he was like any 20-year-old I’ve ever known, that should have unwound him, too.
"I played against him a few times in junior and obviously knew he was good,’’ Patrick said. ``I didn’t know he was that good. He’s going to be a superstar for a long time.’’
The Canucks entered the game clinging to the final playoff position in the West, with a 4-1-2 record over their last seven games. Of the Flyers’ eight victories since this town turned its collective undivided attention to its winter sports teams, seven have come against teams that entered the game inside that playoff tier that once appeared so unattainable for this team.