What a game! There was a little of everything this evening: end-to-end rushes, fights, smooth defensive plays, gritty work along the boards, fantastic saves, weird bounces, and an overtime just for good measure. Oh, and all that happened before some idiot threw a smoke bomb on the ice.
The atmosphere at the Wachovia Center was heavy from the first puck drop. Beyond pure baseball thrill, the assembled crowd came aware of the Flyers’ early struggles this season, aware of their victory last night, and painfully aware of their historical issues with the New Jersey Devils. Mike Knuble’s goal in the first period (and what a typically Knuble goal - down low in the crease and dirty) spawned outbreaks of taunting for Martin Brodeur. I’m always nervous when I hear that starting. Too many years of watching those Devils win Stanley Cups after defeating my Flyers, I suppose.
Three fights and several big hits later, the tension in the building only seemed to increase. Both teams remained extremely patient with the puck, the Devils by choice and the Flyers by necessity. I had forgotten how much anxiety builds up during these games, watching the puck bounce from blue line to blue line while each team tries to break through the other’s defensive line. It’s the type of game that has you on the edge of your seat, simultaneously focused on and frustrated with the events below you. You hold your breath as you wait for the other shoe to drop, which it usually does when the Devils are in town.
Except tonight. Martin Biron compiled routine saves with a few stupendous saves in order to backstop his team to the final buzzer. I couldn’t find a video of it, but Biron made a poke check late in the game that saved the Flyers from falling behind 3-2. His late stop on Gionta was quite impressive as well and inspired the positive version of the “Mar-ty” cheer among the Flyers fans.
One moment I particularly enjoyed occurred with about five and a half minutes remaining in the second period. The Flyers were on the power play. Mike Richards gets the puck along the far wall, turns, and dishes a pass across the ice to Luca Sbisa. Sbisa dropped from the point to Brodeur’s door step and nearly put one past the veteran goaltender. Doc Emerick may have called it a “piddling” move, but it was a smart play from the young defenseman.
Sbisa clearly showed some frustration in his body language. So Richards came across the ice and gave the kid a fist pump of sorts. Okay, I realize it sounds awkward in a Barack and Michelle Obama sort of way. But Richards was trying to keep the kid’s spirits up by giving him encouragement. It’s striking to see a young captain, only 23 years of age, aware enough of his surroundings to notice the 18-year-old defenseman’s mood and smart enough to respond with a positive action.
I loved seeing this team celebrate at the game’s close, coming together with about as much excitement as I’ve ever seen from a team during the regular season. They’ve earned the two days of rest. Hopefully they can convert this experience into a deeper confidence when they face the New York Islanders on Tuesday.
UPDATE: There’s an interesting blog going on NHL.com discussing the 15 game Super Saturday marathon occurring in Toronto’s war room. Some great insights into the early Knuble goal as well as Gagne’s almost goal and Carter’s OT game-winner.