November 5th, 1999 marked the last time the Philadelphia Flyers had beaten the San Jose Sharks in San Jose. December 12, 2000 marked the last time the Flyers had beaten the Sharks anywhere. On Monday night, the Flyers essentially erased those dates from the record books and put on an improbable third period performance on the road, against one of the best road teams in hockey. Not only did the Flyers win the game, but they won it convincingly, and absolutely pounded the Sharks, who were 20-3-3 at home coming into Tuesday night's game. Four third period goals led the Flyers to a 5-2 win, as Sharks' goaltender Antti Niemi was absolutely overwhelmed by the Flyers' late offensive attack.
The fact that the Flyers trailed 2-1 at the end of two periods made the outcome of this game all that much more impressive. Consider everything that was working against the Flyers: they hadn't won in San Jose since 1999, they hadn't beaten San Jose since 2000, the Sharks have a nearly spotless home record this year, and the Flyers have been a shaky third period team for the better part of two seasons. Every one of those things was overcome by the orange and black last night, capped by a memorable early third period explosion.
The Flyers did actually start the scoring in this game, as they were handed a power play just minutes into the game. Mark Streit converted on a powerful slapshot from the blue line, his seventh goal of the year set up by Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell. But the Flyers gave both the man advantage and the goal right back to San Jose. Defensemen Matt Irwin slapped the puck down the ice from the opposite side of center ice. Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto beat the Flyers defense to the puck, and Wingels set up Nieto for an attractive goal. The goal was made possible by the Flyers essentially falling asleep on defense, something that has been a problem lately.
On another poor defensive play later in the period, the Flyers allowed Nieto to score again, as the puck was passed between three Flyers by Brent Burns from the end boards. Nieto logged his second goal of the night and put the Sharks up 2-1. It looked like it would be another tough night for Steve Mason and the Flyers' defense, but adjustments were quickly made, and that would be the last goal Mason would allow.
With no scoring for the rest of the first and the entire second period, it looked like the Sharks defense had figured the Flyers out. Of course, in today's NHL, nothing is ever a sure thing. Just one minute into the third period, the Sharks seemed to fall apart on defense a little bit, allowing Matt Read and Steve Downie to move up in tandem, with Read beating Niemi on a puck that Niemi should have stopped.
The Flyers were just warming up (or perhaps Niemi was just cooling down), as they would score two more goals in the next two minutes. Michael Raffl found himself at the right place at the right time, as Niemi had just coughed up a big rebound on an Erik Gustafsson shot, which Raffl wasted no time putting in the back of the net, giving the Flyers a 3-2 lead. About 90 seconds later, the Sharks turned the puck over to Claude Giroux in the neutral zone, who kept his distance from the net but was still able to get it by Niemi, perhaps on a bit of a screen play, with a blistering wrist shot. Niemi would be pulled in favor of backup Alex Stalock at this point.
So there they were, just four minutes into the third period, with three quick goals and a 4-2 lead all of the sudden. The Sharks and their fans seemed stunned, as things like this do not normally happen to the Sharks at home. In the past few seasons, they have been solid if not one of the best in the league at home. This didn't matter to the Flyers, and for good measure, they'd tack on one more before the final horn. Jakub Voracek received an incredible pass from a red-hot Claude Giroux and put it right past Stalock to put the icing on an impressive 5-2 Flyers win.
The Sharks were a tale of two teams in this one. The defense stood up and didn't allow many pucks through to Niemi through the first 40 minutes of hockey. A combination of the Sharks seemingly falling asleep on defense and Antti Niemi perhaps being unprepared for the results let the Flyers grab hold of this game with absolute command in the first four minutes of the third period. The Flyers saw opportunity knocking and took full advantage. Also, they were backed up by strong play from Steve Mason, who stopped 20 of 22 shots and basically shut down Sharks' stars such as Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
Whether the Flyers made the right adjustments after two periods of play or if the Sharks decided to lay back and wait for the final horn is debatable. On the record sheet, this is another much-needed two points for the Flyers, who try to keep pace in the Metropolitan Division. After an incredibly solid shutout win orchestrated by Steve Mason at Los Angeles on Saturday against the Kings, the Flyers come out and get two more big points on Monday night. Their daunting three game road trip ends at 2-1 with 4 points out of a possible 6, which is an incredible result for the orange and black.
However, the teams they are competing with in the Metropolitan Division are all playing very good hockey right now. The Flyers remain fourth in the division, and sit at ninth in the Eastern Conference, with the New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes all winning at a steady clip. They have lots of competition in their division, which will certainly be a challenge down the stretch.
All in all, it is very promising to see the Flyers go into one of the hardest places to play against one of the top teams in the league and absolutely batter that team in the third period. While it may not have been a complete game effort, it shows that the Flyers have an explosive scoring threat that can sometimes not be contained. Also, this is not the first time this season the Flyers have awakened in the third period – or any other period – and have scored explosively and quickly. This makes them a formidable threat down the stretch. At the same rate, more consistency would help them win more games, which is something they lack at times.
Regardless, the Flyers sit fourth in the Metropolitan Division and ninth in the Eastern Conference with a 28-23-6 record, good for 62 points. The Blue Jackets also have 62 points and the Rangers have 63, so it would be relatively easy for the Flyers to catapult to second in the division and as high as fifth or sixth in the conference. Every point is a big one these days. The Flyers will return home to take on the Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames in the final two games before the Olympic break. They'll host the Avalanche Thursday night at 7 PM.
San Jose – 7:33 – PPG: Matt Nieto (5), Assisted by Tommy Wingels (18) and Matt Irwin (14)
San Jose – 12:32: Matt Nieto (6), Assisted by Brent Burns (16) and Joe Thornton (48)
Philadelphia – 1:11: Matt Read (15), Assisted by Steve Downie (18) and Sean Couturier (17)
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