On the last weekend of the NHL regular season, the Philadelphia Flyers started their final two games of the year against the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was already a meaningless game between two teams on opposite sides of the NHL standings; Philadelphia had already been eliminated from playoff contention when, on Sunday night, they lost to the New York Rangers 4-3 after a valiant effort in the dying minutes of the game. Although that was the final nail in the coffin, their inconsistent play over the course of the entire season cost them a chance at the playoffs.
Columbus is a team that already knows their exact playoff situation for next week. They will be the 3rd seed in the Metropolitan Division and will be taking on the Pittsburgh Penguins. Although Pittsburgh has home-ice advantage, don’t count the Blue Jackets out from stealing a game or two in the ‘Burgh. Columbus has the 4th best road record in the league.
As the 1st period began, it was the Blue Jackets who got early pressure on Flyers goaltender Steve Mason. Early on, the Blue Jackets were playing the puck out wide to get opportunities in the middle of the ice. They were able to be succesful due to their quick passing plays to find the open man. The Flyers were doing a good job of minimizing any big chances.
While the Blue Jackets were getting the shots, it was the Flyers who were controlling the puck. The issue was, however, they weren’t getting clear lines of sight on goal. For the 1st half of the 1st period, it was a tale of two teams who were excelling in places the other team wasn’t excelling in. It looked as if both teams were a bit stuck in mud.
Just under 11 minutes into the first, Alexander Wennberg had an opportunity in the slot, but his 2 chances were snuffed out by the sliding body of Steve Mason. It was the first big opportunity of the day, and it opened up the game just a bit. Voracek almost corralled an air-pass sent to him from Ivan Provorov in the slot, but he was unable to control the puck.
At the 12:52 mark of the 1st, Flyers center Pierre-Edouard Bellemere showed fans why he was absolutely capable of being the Gene Hart Memorial Award winner with a snipe over the shoulder of Sergei Bobrovsky down the right-wing side. Speeding down the wing, he received a pass from Chris Vadevelde to put the Flyers up 1-0.
Just a moment later, Wayne Simmonds was able to dig the puck out of small scrum closing in on the Columbus goal, and his shot hit Bobrovsky in the chest. Rebounding back to Simmonds, Bobrovsky had to slide across to capture the puck in his body, and the game stayed at a 1-goal disadvantage for the Blue Jackets.
After a shot by Michael Del Zotto found its way into the goal from the point, referees immediately called no goal on the ice. Bobrovsky was tripped up by his own defenseman, Seth Jones. What the refs saw was different from what the fans and, ultimately, Dave Hakstol saw. The referees believed it to be Sean Couturier who tripped Bobrovsky, and after replays in the arena showed that to be a falsehood, Hakstol challenged the play. In a rare case of the Flyers winning a coach’s challenge, the call on the ice was overturned, and at the 14:24 mark of the 1st period, Michael Del Zotto extended the Philadelphia lead to 2-0. Hearing the fans chant loudly in the Flyers’ direction was very cool to hear.
After William Karlsson of the Blue Jackets mishandled the puck during his escape from the crease area, Wayne Simmonds picked it up directly in front of the goal. Testing his and Bobrovsky’s patience, he tried to pull the puck back to his forehand side to slot it in. As bodies started flying into the crease, the puck rolled behind the net and out of danger. At the end of the 1st period, the Flyers led in goals 2-0 and shots 10-7.
Very early in the 2nd period of play, Shayne Gostisbehere was called for holding. On the ensuing powerplay, the 12th best unit in the league scored on a goal that took multiple weird hops on the way to the net only to direct off of Mason’s arm and in. Seth Jones was the one to cut the Philadelphia lead in half at the 1:07 mark of the 2nd period.
Sean Couturier found the puck on his stick in the slot, but he could not finish it. After a shot from Nick Schultz at the hashmarks didn’t find its way into the net, Scott Hartnell and Sean Couturier started the pushing and shoving grudge match, leading to Hartnell being sent to the penalty box and a powerplay for the Flyers. On the powerplay, Jake Voracek caught a beautiful stretch pass from captain Claude Giroux and walked in on goal. Sliding it under the pads of Bobrovsky, Voracek was able to capitalize on the Flyers powerplay at the 6:42 mark of the 2nd to put their lead back to 2 goals.
Nearing the halfway point of the 2nd period, Travis Konecny put the pack past Kyle Quincey and was subsequently tripped by him. With the man-advantage, the 1st line went to work for the Flyers. A fantastic passing sequence from Simmonds, Giroux, and Gostisbehere was almost capped off by a goal, but the final pass awkwardly caught Giroux between his skates and flew by him. That was the best chance they would get.
Things get very feisty in front of the Philadelphia net when Brandon Manning and Josh Anderson started throwing down – er, wrestling. Following the fight, an innocent looking shot from Ivan Provorov found the back of the net, and at the 13:48 mark of the 2nd, the Flyers made it 4-1 on their 17th shot of the game.
Just over 2 minutes later, Boone Jenner took a pass from Sam Gagner racing into the slot, and his shot took a nasty bounce off the ice and over Steve Mason to make it 2-0 at 16:00 mark of the 2nd. Both goals given up by Mason at this point in the game were not his fault; one took a few bad deflections and one bounced wickedly on the ice.
Nearing the final minute of play, Matt Calvert picked up the puck between the hashmarks in front of the Philadelphia net. His shot hit the crossbar and floated out of danger. At the end of the 2nd, Philadelphia led 4-2 in goals and 20-12 in shots.
Just over 1 minute into the final period of play, Scott Hartnell’s stick caught Michael Del Zotto in his skates to send the Flyers back on the powerplay. Although they passed around the horn a bit, they were sloppy in getting set up.
Nearing the midway point, William Karlsson skated into the offensive zone only to be caught from behind by Brandon Manning. Throughout the first half of the powerplay, the Blue Jackets were getting pucks into high-quality scoring areas, but they were unable to get the puck by Mason
Bobrovsky was forced to come up big when Ivan Provrov received the puck with a lot of room in front of the net. Provorov skated in, but ‘Bob’ stuck his left pad out to make the save, keeping Columbus’ deficit still at 2.
The Flyers would continue to control the late stages of the game. With just under 2 minutes remaining, the Blue Jackets pulled Bobrovsky, and a major blast from the point found Mason having to jump to make the save on Oliver Bjorkstrand. After 3 missed empty-net opportunities, The Flyers would hang on to win 4-2.
FINAL: Philadelphia 4-2
SHOTS: Philadelphia 24-22
- The Flyers handed out their team awards tonight, and listed are the winners: Barry Ashbee Trophy (Best Defenseman): Ivan Provorov; Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (Most Improved): Radko Gudas; Yanick Dupre Class Guy Award (player who “best illustrates character, dignity and respect for the sport both on and off the ice”): Steve Mason; Gene Hart Memorial Award (player who “demonstrated the most ‘heart’ during the season”): Pierre-Edouard Bellemere; Bobby Clarke Trophy (Team MVP): Wayne Simmonds.
- With the Blue Jackets playing as the away team against Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs, one has to take a look at the road record of CBJ, and they are situated very well. With a 21-11-7 away record, they are among the best in the league at 4th. But, although they are 6th in the league in home records at 28-12-1, the Penguins are 2nd at 31-6-4.
- The Flyers season might be going nowhere, but the future is certainly coming. From goaltender Anthony Stolarz to forward Oskar Lindbolm to defenseman Samuel Morin, this team may look scary in just a couple of years. If things go right for the team, they could contend as early as next year.
- Dave Hakstol, the coach of the Flyers, has been under hot fire all year for many questionable roster decisions, and many fans are beginning to revolt against him. Let me come to his defense real quick: Hakstol is in his 2nd year of being an NHL coach, and with new-beginnings comes difficulty. I would give him one more year of adjusting to the NHL. Although GM Ron Hextall is very trusted to make the right choices, he will need to make a difficult decision if the Flyers don’t make the playoffs next year in regards to his coach.
- Columbus defenseman Zach Werenski, who has been injured for the past few games, is absolutely lighting up the scoring charts this year. With 11 goals and 36 assists for 47 points coming into the game on Saturday against Philadelphia, the 19-year old rookie would be in the Calder race in any other year. However, this is not a normal year with the likes of Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine dominating. His possession metrics are also extremely satisfying; he has a 54.1% CF% (Corsi For %) to go along with his 53.7% FF% (Fenwick For %). Adding on to that, his Cosri Rel % and Fenwick Rel % numbers are the stand-outs with +6.2% and +5.3%, respectively.
The Philadelphia Flyers will play their final game of the 2016-17 season Sunday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. And believe it or not, this game actually means something: who will finish with the worse record for a draft position? Although many fans of each team would love to win (and rightly so), the winners will hurt themselves in terms of a draft position and 1st overall lottery percentages. That game is at 7pm.
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs Sunday night, and that game might be the one to watch on the final day of the regular season. Depending on Toronto’s result Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins, there could be an opportunity for them to miss the playoffs. The New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning need to win out, and with Toronto losing the last two games, a collapse may be imminent. The Blue Jackets will be playing the Penguins in the playoffs next week, and that will be a fantastic series to watch.
The next scheduled Flyers game for GNGHockey will be April 9th against Carolina.
Dylan Coyle is a writer and the founder of Good Night, Good Hockey. He is also a Philadelphia Flyers, Hershey Bears, and Reading Royals reporter. You can follow him on Twitter @DylanRCoyle_BSH.