MONTREAL — The Flyers are in the midst of the most stunning in-season reversal in franchise history, going from last place to first in less than three months, going from losing 10 straight in November-December to their current points streak of 12 games (10-0-2).
"I think we've earned it. I think we deserve it," second-year right winger Travis Konecny, whose emergence has played a major role in the turnaround, said after Monday's 1-0 shootout win in Montreal. "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 to get there, so we just have to keep working hard."
Washington moved back into first place Tuesday with its 3-2 win over visiting Ottawa, but that the Flyers are even battling for the top spot is remarkable when you consider that only two teams in NHL history have ever won a division title for a season in which they had at least a 10-game winless streak, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Having gone through so much early-season adversity and grown into a Stanley Cup contender more quickly than almost anybody imagined, the players have a close bond and are glad general manager Ron Hextall didn't make any deals at Monday's trade deadline.
Their coach seemed happy about it, too.
"Chemistry is a big part of this game,'' coach Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers' sixth straight win improved their record to 26-8-3 since Dec. 4; entering Tuesday, that was the most points in the NHL in that span. "I think that's been a major factor in our group being able to dig out of a real big hole a couple of months back and continue battling together."
Added Hakstol, whose lineup changes and tweaks to the forecheck have been golden: "Sometimes, chemistry is the highest thing on the list in terms of the game of hockey. Right now, we have an awful tough schedule coming up down the stretch. So we're going to be tested at a lot of different levels. We have to keep growing during that time period.''
The Flyers have won seven straight road games, and they are 9-3 in their last 12 one-goal decisions. That has put them in a three-way battle with Pittsburgh and Washington for first place in the Metro with a little more than a month remaining.
The acquisition of goalie Petr Mrazek has given the team a lift. Mrazek, acquired because of injuries to Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, has earned his new teammates' confidence with his quickness, his puck handling, and his ability to make a momentum-turning glove save at the most critical time.
It doesn't hurt that he has a 12-5 career record in shootouts and is 8-0 over the last two seasons. Looking ahead, he also has great career numbers in 10 playoff appearances (1.88 goals-against average, .931 save percentage).
"Ever since he's been here, he's been making big saves and keeping us in games," said Couturier, mindful that Mrazek is 3-0 with a 1.30 GAA, and .947 save percentage since the Flyers acquired him from Detroit for two conditional draft picks.
The Flyers have 19 regular-season games left, starting Thursday against visiting Carolina, a team fighting for its playoff life. The remaining schedule includes two games against Pittsburgh and one vs. Washington.
"It feels good. I mean, who would have thought a few months ago" they would be battling for first, Couturier said after the escape in Montreal. Couturier paused and added, "We can't be satisfied. There's a lot of games left, and we have to keep rolling."