Flyers Deliver Clutch Punch Toward Playoffs

Brian MahoneyContributor IMarch 13, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - MARCH 13: Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers scores at 19:57 of the third period to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 at the Wachovia Center on March 13, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

A buzzer beater in hockey? Almost, as the Wachovia Center roared in triumph with only 2.1 seconds left in the 3rd period of Saturday's action. You can now exhale, Philadelphia.

The Flyers needed this clean, dramatic ending that fans will be talking out for quite some time, and it may define their playoff future. Certainly, Saturday's 3-2 victory showed their resiliency against a powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks, the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Down 2-1 with three minutes ticking away on the clock, a stench of defeat pervaded the Wachovia Center. At last gasp, Scott Hartnell and Chris Pronger's clutch goals with two minutes remaining turned the tables on the season's outlook.

Following a heart-wrenching defeat to Conference foe Boston Bruins, Flyers' owner Ed Snider expressed concern and indignation toward the lack of execution. When asked if they were losing grasp on playoff hopes, Snider hotly replied, "We better damn straight make 'em," regarding their positioning currently at the No. 6 spot. With a crucial game wasted on a hapless defensive effort, the microscope was tightened upon their defensive scheme to protect goalie Michael Leighton.

Questions were answered Sunday as the defenders put their bodies out there, poke-checking and clawing away at every inch the puck was passed by the Blackhawks in the Philadelphia zone. Attacking Chicago with offense as well, scoring opportunities were generated in abundance through two periods. Leighton anchored the net with a steady hand, making marvelous saves that is proving the efficacy of his now 17-8-2 record. Leighton's 39-save game overall proved his ability to stay headstrong in a game that meant a lot to both sides.

By the third period, Daniel Carcillo wrapped around the net and squeaked the puck to the left circle where Simon Gagne's 13th goal of the season (and 7th in the last 10 games) provided the Flyers with their first lead. Then, Chicago struck back with a Kris Versteeg power play goal. Following that, superstar Marian Hossa ripped a one-timer passed Leighton for his 20th goal of the season with nearly 7 minutes remaining.

Hockey fans know that the grind of a third period winding down takes a toll physically and mentally on both teams, especially when trailing. But the Flyers fired away and never wavered to surge against Chicago goalie Cristobal Huet. With a laser pass across ice to Scott Hartnell, he fought off a defender to rip his most significant goal of the seasaon, snapping a 13-game scoreless streak, counting the games before the Olympic break. The ice may have melted with the heat Philadelphia was bringing, and the fans sensed much excitement. The waning moments of regulation were coming quick, but Claude Giroux's diagonal pass to defenseman Chris Pronger uplifted the arena in an exhilirating fight to the finish.

Expecting a rigorous stretch of road games (starting tomorrow against division foe New York Rangers), the Flyers notched a critical win that gives them breathing room in an already tight conference separated by slim margins. The Rangers will come into tomorrow's game 9th in the Eastern Conference with 69 points while the Flyers will be hungry for more off their current 76 points, building a new momentum in the last part of the regular season.