There were several times that Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils should have been over. Long before Danny Briere scored his second goal of the game to give the Flyers the 4-3 overtime win, the two teams should have been home, resting up and mentally preparing for Game 2.
Yet, a handful of missed opportunities by both teams led to an instance of free hockey.
As the seconds ticked off the clock in the second period, the Flyers trailed 3-1 to the Penguins in Game 1.
It was a seemingly insurmountable deficit with the way Pittsburgh controlled the play through the first two periods with their physical bullying style of play.
The Flyers needed someone to step up and stand up to the bull and Brayden Schenn did just that, both metaphorically and literally.
Schenn was charged by Penguins forward Craig Adams with only seconds remaining on the clock. Schenn turned around and absorbed all of the hit, knocking Adams on his rear-end as Schenn stood over him and smiled.
Schenn then got in the face of Adams, goading a shove to the face that wasn’t called and skated away with a smirk on his face after the referees separated the two.
That could have been the turning point for the Flyers, who came back from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 in overtime.
The stage has been set, and the opponents have been decided: the Philadelphia Flyers (47-29-9) will be facing the Pittsburgh Penguins (50-29-6) in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Based on games played by both teams on Thursday night, Pittsburgh will end the season in 4th place and the Flyers in 5th in the Eastern Conference.
The New York Rangers clinched the East with a win over the Flyers on Tuesday night.
On Saturday, the Flyers and Penguins will meet in Pittsburgh for the last game of the regular season. It will be a preview of the playoff series to come, and will likely be an interesting game, based on the last matchup between the teams.
Hard hitting, desperation saves and a little bit of extra-curricular activities sprinkled in.
Perhaps, it was a look at what the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals has in store for the Flyers and Penguins. 60 minutes of full throttle hockey with the addition of the playoffs, and the hockey world will be in store for another classic Flyers/Penguins series.
Sunday afternoon's battle - as well as one more game next Saturday afternoon to finish the season - was a preview of the almost inevitable 4/5-seed match up between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
First comes a playoff spot and then comes the top spot in the division.
It’s a stretch, but that’s what the Philadelphia Flyers (45-24-8) will keep working towards as they face the Ottawa Senators (39-28-10) on Saturday afternoon.
After a 7-1 beatdown of the despondent Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, the Flyers will look to make it two wins in a row against Ottawa. The Senators will aim to continue a streak of their own, as they’ve won two straight.
In the three games between the two teams this season, the Flyers have won twice. The Senators won the last meeting, 6-4 back on January 8.
There is nothing more frustrating than sandwiching a win in between two shut out losses.
After a 2-0 loss in Edmonton and a huge 5-4 comeback win in Calgary, the offense disappeared again, dropping 1-0 to the Sharks in San Jose Tuesday night.
There was one huge bright spot in the game though and it came in the form of goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Not even 90 seconds into the game, this game had the makings of a Bryz-aster. The Flyers turned over the puck in the offensive zone and San Jose's Ryan Clowe ripped a wrister past Bryzgalov for a quick 1-0 lead.
With that being said, it wound up being the one tally that made all the difference in this game. But be that it may, Bryzgalov picked himself up and played one of the best games he had all season, despite being on the losing side.
The one-trick pony enforcer is dying in today's NHL.
No longer is it worth having a guy on the team who only fights and skates five minutes of ice time per game. Instead, the guys who are willing to drop the gloves also have a clue as to what to do with a hockey stick and when the puck is on it.
That leaves Jody Shelley and Tom Sestito practically irrelevant on the Flyers and their pursuit of a successful season.
On and off, the two have been in the line up for the Flyers. And in the rarest, and most unfortunate occasions, the two goons were in the line up together for five times this season. In those five times, the Flyers are 1-3-1.
Before the season started, people doubted whether or not Zac Rinaldo would make the 23-man roster.
Now, Rinaldo has earned his way onto the third line.
Though it may be temporary, Rinaldo made a huge impact in Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Predators playing on the third line and it may have been the game that gives the 21-year-old a true crack at more ice time.
Before Thursday’s game, Rinaldo was averaging a little over six minutes of ice time, was a minus-7 and had only four points. But in that game, Rinaldo eclipsed the 10-minute mark for only the third time all season in his 36 games, skating a season hight 11:11.