Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Late magic from Giroux sparks Flyers' OT win over Blackhawks

Thanks to Len Redkoles
Philadelphia, PA -- You can forgive the Flyers for forgetting what it's like to lose to the Blackhawks on home ice in the regular season.

Disregarding that unpleasantness in the Stanley Cup Finals four years ago, you have to go back to November 9, 1996 -- a 4-1 defeat in the first year of their current home arena -- at a time when the unchecked reign of the Macarena atop the Billboard charts was finally usurped by Blackstreet's "No Diggity," to unearth their last loss as the host against their Tuesday opponents.

There was no stopping them as a nine-game win streak over almost 18 years eventually and amazingly grew to 10 on Claude Giroux's heroics, when he blew a wrister past Antti Raanta with 4.2 seconds remaining in overtime to provide a gutsy 3-2 victory over Chicago.

And yes, that was former Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith used as a screen.

"I knew there wasn't much time left. I honestly was about to pull out my lineup card for the shootout," said Flyers head coach Craig Berube. "It was a great shot, he is a determined guy and he felt like he had enough time to get down the ice and take a shot."

Scott Hartnell registered a pair of goals in the first period and Ray Emery shook off a shaky start to earn the victory with 23 saves. Philly remained one point ahead of the third-place Rangers with their sixth win in eight tries.

Since the return from Sochi, Giroux has stoked that stretch of success by posting five goals and nine assists in nine games, cracking the point-per-game barrier. 

"He's been a tremendous leader as of late. Since the Olympic break, he's been the hardest working guy, always the first one here every day," said sometime linemate Matt Read of Giroux. "In his mind, it's win, win, win at any cost. Any mistakes we make, you hear it on the bench and he just wants perfection from everybody and he's shown it in his game."

Raanta stopped 35 shots in defeat, while Andrew Shaw and Keith lit the lamp within the opening four minutes, but the defending Stanley Cup champions couldn't finish the job. Chicago, which boasts the highest-scoring offense in the NHL, have dropped three of their last four, and are now tied with Colorado eight points back of St. Louis in the Central Division.

"It seems like the endings here are always amazing. There have been three or four that I remember, but at least we got a point this time," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "It was a tough ending to a pretty entertaining game.

Thus, the Orange and Black improved to 3-0 on their 12-game gauntlet.  It also marked the first-ever OT winner by the Flyers on home ice against the 'Hawks, having come up empty in four previous tries (0-1-3) since the extra session was instituted as known in 1983.

A hesitant start from both teams tipped in the Blackhawks' favor, when Shaw was allowed real estate at the left side to tap home a centering feed from Michal Handzus just 2:29 in. Mark Streit seemed glued to a Chicago player completely out of the play at the right post, and if he'd followed the puck, might have negated Shaw's presence in front.

It was 2-0 for the visitors when Keith's left-point blast -- hardly the Al MacInnis type -- fell from an unscreened Emery's grip and rolled across the goal line at 3:51.

"He did a great job from there. I thought he read his old teammates well. He stayed composed even though we were down 2-0 right away," Berube said of Emery, who picked up his first win in his first start since February 8 against Calgary.

The hosts got a wake-up call just shy of the six-minute mark when Hartnell's intended pass from behind Raanta instead found the skate of Marcus Kruger in front and caromed back into the net.

After coming up empty on a 10-second 5-on-3 advantage and bombing out on the pair of one-man edges on either side, the Flyers knotted the score when Hartnell found a seam up the middle and ripped a shot high over Raanta's glove off a Giroux pass at 16:27. It capped a frustrating end sequence of the power play where both Giroux and Streit clanged shots off the right post.

Sean Couturier was denied a stuffer try and Vinny Lecavalier was denied in close on the rebound by a seated Raanta with 5:52 left in the second, and the hosts failed to click on the subsequent advantage.

The impasse continued in the third. Jonathan Toews failed to fool Emery on a wraparound chance seven minutes in, Giroux hit yet another post on another fruitless Flyers' power play, and Lecavalier was in on a clean breakaway with 7 1/2 minutes left but shot hard into Raanta's left pad up the middle.

"They deserved to win it and we didn’t. We had a horseshoe you know where some moments where the puck didn’t up in our net," said Toews, who was limited to one assist and two shots in 23:16 of ice time.

Things got a little interesting with 6:12 remaining as Brayden Schenn's potential go-ahead rebound goal was negated on the ice after officials deemed the puck was hit by Lecavalier's high stick before heading to the post and later into the net.

In a similar situation to last week's ending to the Devils' home game, the officials went to Toronto for a review, only to be told that high-stick plays that don't directly result in a goal are not reviewable and the on-ice call should stand. 

Fans were already up in arms and in full throat when, four seconds later, Wayne Simmonds took out his frustration in a spirited bout and defeat against Bryan Bickell.

Notes: The Flyers registered three ties (Dec. 18, 1992, 2-2; Jan. 14, 1992, 1-1; Dec. 14, 1991, 1-1) and one loss (Mar. 17, 1988, 4-3) in overtime in Philadelphia before tonight's winner ... Each of the last three Flyers wins against the Blackhawks on home ice have come thanks to goals either late in OT (Giroux) or in regulation (Chris Pronger at 19:57 of the third period in a 3-2 win on Mar. 13, 2010 and James van Riemsdyk at 19:27 of the third in a 5-4 win on Jan. 5, 2012) ... In addition, the Orange and Black improved to 13-1-3 in the Quaker City since Feb. 18, 1991 ... Two years ago today, in a Sunday matinee against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hartnell beat the clock and Marc-Andre Fleury with nine-tenths of a second left in OT to give the hosts a 3-2 victory ... In six career regular-season games, Giroux upped his total against Chicago to 10 points (1G, 9A) ... Keith hadn't scored since Dec. 17, a span of 30 games. 
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