The Philadelphia Flyers came into the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics with four consecutive wins. One of those was a rare home loss for the San Jose Sharks, the team visiting the Wells Fargo Center Thursday, Feb. 27.
The pictured stars helped San Jose shake the earth in Philadelphia in a second period so dominant the entire league may feel a little tremble. Seeing an offense that struggled through injuries explode should get everyone's attention.
Is this what the team is capable of now that Logan Couture and Raffi Torres returned from injuries that predate the Sochi Olympics? If so, this could very well be the beginning of a 23-game, 45-day run to end the 2013-14 NHL season that lays the track for a run to the Stanley Cup.
Torres played his first game all season, giving the Sharks their first lead just 4:25 into the game when he swept in a rebound from a Jason Demers point-shot that ricocheted off Andrew Desjardins. They were playing much of the game on the attack but only got five first-period shots on goal.
Thus the Flyers were able to turn two great shifts into a lead. On the rush six minutes after they gave up the goal, Steve Downie fed a pinching Andrej Meszaros who cleaned up his own rebound to tie the game; Matt Read got the secondary assist. Wayne Simmons and Vincent Lecavalier assisted Brayden Schenn's go-ahead, backhand goal 22 seconds later.
San Jose struggled to the end of the period and for almost four minutes of the second. One penalty and it was all over.
With 19 seconds left on a hooking penalty to Dan Boyle, Michael Raffl went to the box for tripping Adam Burish. The Sharks had been struggling on the power play (one goal in their last 27 chances), but finished their first one of this game strong with two shots in the final 30 seconds.
Sixteen seconds into getting the man-advantage, Joe Pavelski got the puck from Patrick Marleau and showed great hands to transfer it to his forehand so he could put it wide of Steven Mason to reach 30 goals for the second time in his career. Dan Boyle got a secondary assist on the play, and San Jose kept the puck in the attacking zone very well all night.
Before six minutes past, Pavelski tied his career high from 2012 with 31 goals when he deflected a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot in from the slot to tie the score. His line then earned an attack-zone faceoff and watched as Demers added to his team-high blue-line scoring by feeding Marleau, whose shot came off Couture's shoulder before being snapped in before Mason could close the five-hole.
Barely over three minutes went by before San Jose struck again. Joe Thornton sent the puck up the middle, where it found its way to Matt Irwin. The best the young defenseman could do was tip it forward, but that put it on the stick of Pavelski, who spun and whipped it in for the first goal against Ray Emery and his second career hat trick—both in the 2013-14 NHL season.
The next came in the final seconds before the last intermission. Mike Brown got the puck from Desjardins and fired it on net. Torres fought to free his stick in front just in time to pot the rebound in the far side.
While killing a penalty in the third period, Couture tried to feed Tommy Wingels on a two-on-one before going in to clean up the loose puck when the pass failed. Emery lasted a few more minutes and two more shots before the Flyers went back to Mason.
One of those "saves" was clearly the hat trick goal for Couture once the camera shot was enlarged—options the league also had in the four minutes they reviewed it. The review was inexplicably ruled inconclusive, but ultimately the only way that score actually matters to the Sharks is if the final standings for the 2013-14 NHL season reach a fourth tiebreak. Even then it would be simply one more obstacle to a Stanley Cup, not preclude one.
Philadelphia did score once more—Read's second point was a goal from Sean Couturier and Nicklas Grossmann—to make the score a little more respectable. However, the opposition was already on autopilot yet won every battle but hits (13-19): 29-30 in shots but 57-51 in attempts and 11-10 in blocks, with two more faceoff wins yet three fewer turnovers.
So thorough is the domination that there should be plenty of gas left for the trip to the Buffalo Sabres Friday—a team that benefitted from an improperly-disallowed San Jose goal earlier this season. A team that has no chance of making the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs should still be in reach the day after a win like this.