The Colorado Avalanche entered their game on Wednesday night in fairly dire need of a victory.
They remain deeply entrenched in the Western Conference Wild Card race, but recent inconsistencies - and a few other teams out west heating up at just the wrong time - have left them on the outside looking in, sorely in need of a few more two-point games in their favor to finally seal the deal.
It was the worst possible time, therefore, for Semyon Varlamov to wind up ill before the game - but although he was unable to win an eventual crease battle, Andrew Hammond stood tall to keep the team in a game they just couldn’t find a way to score in.
FINAL SCORE: PHILADELPHIA FLYERS 2, COLORADO AVALANCHE 1
The game immediately started off with the Flyers going on the offensive, but Andrew Hammond - making his first NHL start in over a year and only his second appearance since leaving with a concussion this winter - didn’t let them jump on an early lead. Three shots against in the first minute of play were all turned aside, giving the Avalanche a chance to get their feet under them a bit and get things rolling.
Unfortunately, they weren’t able to turn the pressure around all that much; around 10 minutes into the first, Claude Giroux would get the puck moving up the ice and would ultimately set in motion the beginning of the end for the Avalanche.
After some good puck movement by the Flyers through Colorado’s zone, Giroux was able to get the puck back on a sneaky good cross-ice pass from Shayne Gostisbehere on the point, and his rocket of a slapper went top shelf to open up scoring for the visiting franchise:
The game continued to boast a back-and-forth air from the two sides, trading offensive chances with Colorado making a serious offensive push at around the 14-minute mark.
They were ultimately unable to sustain pressure, though, and the Flyers found their mark again with less than two minutes to go in the period, this time on another one-timer from the up-and-coming Ivan Provorov.
The Avalanche would enter the first intermission down by two, but only getting outshot 11-9.
The second period saw the Avalanche get outshot, but not entirely outplayed; they would watch as Matt Nieto picked up his 14th of the season just five minutes into the period on a relentless effort right inside Michal Neuvirth’s crease:
Neuvirth stayed in the game after the goal, which saw him desperately sprawl in an attempt to cover the puck and ultimately let one slip past - but he wouldn’t get much more time in the game, leaving just a few minutes after Nieto’s Long Beach-made tally with an undisclosed injury.
In his place, Petr Mrazek took over netminding duties - and although he hasn’t put up the best stats since arriving in Philadelphia, the phenom that Detroit once found so promising was the Mrazek that showed up in Denver. He turned away all 17 shots he faced in the final 31 minutes of the game, denying Colorado the chance to come back and even force an extra point from the matchup.
The third period was a relentless effort for Colorado, who outshot the Flyers 12-9 despite taking the only penalty (an interference call on Carl Soderberg) in the 20-minute frame.
Unfortunately, their efforts were for naught; although Philadelphia was tired after playing the night before and largely unable to clear their own zone for minutes at a time in the third, Mrazek held on to give the team a close 2-1 final decision.
- This game was a bit of a must-win for the Flyers as well, as they currently have no guarantee they’re seeing playoff action, either. Only Boston and Tampa Bay in the east, who have both already cleared 100 points, are locks in that conference - and in a battle of desperation, it appears that the Flyers ultimately came out on top.
- That being said, credit where due; although the Avalanche were only able to put one past the in-game tandem of Michal Neuvirth and Petr Mrazek, the Flyers only managed two goals on 33 shots against Hammond for a .939 save percentage in all situations. It may still sting that they lost, but this is a huge confidence boost for the Hamburgler; he hadn’t seen NHL action since early February 2017, and he’s coming off of a lengthy stint on IR after getting concussed again. He’s had a bit of a problematic history with head injuries, so we hope that Varlamov and Bernier are both ready to return in the event that the team does see the postseason - but for a guy who had the feel-good story of the league just a few years ago, it was nice to see a really sound performance.
- He hasn’t been the star of the team this year - that would clearly be Hart candidate Nathan MacKinnon, who managed three shots on goal and a 64% Corsi For rating at even strength over a 21-minute performance, despite going goalless. But nonetheless, Matt Nieto has been a fantastic redemption story for the team this year. He has 14 goals and 24 points in a nice 69-game sampling, three points shy of his career high and surpassing his former career high in goals by 4 (and counting). For a 1-year, $1-million contract, that’s fantastic value; if the team is able, they should certainly consider asking him to stick around next season via a qualifying offer.
- Speaking of redemption stories, it was disappointing to see Nail Yakupov walk away from the game without a goal, although he had some other moments that showed he’s likely trying his best to address the areas of his game that Bednar has been requesting. He got fairly shelled in terms of shot differential, clocking in above only Gabriel Bourque on the night - but he recorded one shot in just over 10 minutes of ice time, getting two hits and a blocked shot in, as well. He also drew a penalty late in the second, giving the team a nice chance to get back into things. Hopefully, the club hasn’t given up on him just yet; while he may never again be the offensive phenom he was his rookie season with Edmonton, his overwhelmingly positive attitude and attempts to work on his game are infectious. Erik Johnson mentioned during a post-game scrum that Yak always scored those goals when you needed them most, so there’s always a chance he gets brought back on a cheap RFA deal of his own.