Maybe it’s the new coach, who was his old coach. Maybe it’s the new goalie, who is his new roommate on the road, someone Oskar Lindblom meshed with back in training camp -- a 20-year-old who has somehow generated the repeated use of ``mature’’ to explain the sudden semblance of the Philadelphia Flyers as a dangerous hockey team.
Whatever it is, wherever it has come from, Lindblom has been representative of this new-found team adulthood. From throwing preventative checks at unsuspecting defensemen to gritting out physical battles and emerging with pucks, the 22-year-old Swede has been far more noticeable on the ice well in advance of his goal in Wednesday night’s surprising 4-3 victory over a Boston Bruins team in a death-grip battle with Toronto for the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoff scheme.
``He probably could have been different sooner if the coach had put him on a higher-up line at the beginning,’’ Flyers interim coach Scott Gordon said after the game.
This was not a dig at former coach Dave Hakstol, but a self-assessment. Gordon didn’t change a lot when he was promoted from Lehigh Valley. With few practices, he couldn’t. But among the more noticeable changes has been to bolster Lindblom to a second-line role with Sean Couturier and Jake Voracek and to increase his time killing penalties.
A plus-3 Wednesday, Lindblom assisted Couturier’s hat-trick goal by outmuscling Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy just below his own blue line. Two shots, three hits recorded, a breathless pace each time he stepped onto the ice. Nearly four of the 16 minutes and 10 seconds that Lindblom logged were on the vastly improved penalty kill, which has worked at nearly 84 percent efficiency over the last 25 games.
When it wasn’t, when it was at a league-worst 69 percent over the first 21 games, Lindblom was such a prime perpetrator that he was removed. His play on it recently has been nothing short of spectacular.
`I just want to play good and be a guy the team can trust and play a lot of minutes,’’ Lindblom said. ``It’s tough to be a pro every game; that’s the only thing.’'
``The way he is playing is the way I saw him playing in Lehigh,’’ Gordon said. ``Whether he scored or didn’t score, you got the same game from him every night. ... I think it’s easier to get more opportunities when you’re playing more. ... You go from playing six to eight minutes; now he’s playing 16. He’s on the penalty kill, and as a result, there are more situations that he’s involved in just by the volume of ice time.’’
Lindblom’s goal, his first in 31 games, is an example of that. Amid a line change, he jumped into a play at the top of Boston’s blue line that appeared to present little promise. But there’s rarely such a thing when the puck is on Claude Giroux’s stick.
Giroux peripherally swirled a pass onto the winger’s stick for a quick shot that caught the stick of Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, and caught the Bruins — and particularly goaltender Jaroslav Halak — by surprise.
That goal, at 7:16 of the first period, cut an early two-goal deficit in half, allowing his team — so often deemed fragile in makeup — to believe it could repeat the formula of Monday night, when the Flyers rallied from a similar situation to post a 7-4 victory over Minnesota.
It also finally rewarded what has been, for Lindblom, an extended stretch of noticeable play.
``I felt I was close over the last few games,’’ he said. ``It’s tough. You want to score a goal so much you start thinking way too much. I feel more relaxed now. Just trust yourself and shoot the puck.’’
It’s impossible to note this, or the improved play of Nolan Patrick, or even the seamless ascension (so far) of the man-child Hart, without looking to Gordon. These are big pieces to the Flyers future, and for much of this season, there was a hint, if not fear, that there had been a gross miscalculation.
Lindblom’s goal was only his fifth, and Patrick’s gears still slip from fifth to third too much, but that word maturity sure has popped up a lot since the 20-year-old rookie was given the net, and the 55-year-old Gordon, a former goalie, was promoted to coach him.
Hart, strangely but promisingly, has injected a sense of renewed fun in these Flyers, the root of their oft-cited maturity. Lindblom said, ``I feel that a lot … . He’s a pro. But he’s a funny guy.’’
Hart said, ``Since I’ve got here, I’ve felt they were a special group of guys. I’ve said it a million times, because it’s true. I love playing with these guys. I don’t want to go anywhere. I want to stay right here.’’