The scenario is a familiar one to Flyers fans. The Flyers have a one-goal lead with the final seconds of the game clicking by, then, bam!, the other team scores and here we are in overtime. Another hard-fought regulation victory lost at the last possible moment. But that is exactly what happened Friday evening when the Flyers gave up a goal to the Predators’ Mike Fisher with only 20 seconds left in the game, leaded to a 2-2 tie at the end of regulation. At that moment I was so frustrated that the Flyers had been unable to hold the lead, that I forgot that they actually had a chance to win the game in OT. It was too easy to think that a team that had just given up a lead at the end of regulation was not going to fare well in OT. And, we know how things go for the Flyers if OT progresses to a shootout. All I could think about was what the Flyers were lacking: focus, determination, leadership, mental toughness. And I have never been so happy to have been so wrong.
With 52 seconds left in OT, the Predators were called for a too many men on the ice penalty, giving the Flyers a 4-on-3 advantage. Before setting up for the powerplay, the Flyers called a timeout. Coach Dave Hakstol handed the whiteboard to captain Claude Giroux and he drew up what would become the game-winning play – a slap shot by rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere assisted by Giroux and Voracek. In a flash, a regulation disappointment turned into an OT victory. But I think this win meant much more than that.
Perhaps I am wrong, but I imagine that most NHL head coaches draw up their team’s plays most of the time. So Hakstol handing that duty to Giroux at such a critical time spoke volumes. I think he was saying: “I may be the coach, but you are the captain. You are out there on the ice with your teammates and you are their peer and leader. I trust you to make the best decision in this situation.” Maybe I am reading too much into this, but this move and outcome had to do wonders to the Flyers’ team psyche and confidence. As the team has struggled this season, there have been questions about team leadership, the coach’s new system, and the team’s desire to win. I think that this timeout and resulting win answers some of those questions. Namely, Giroux is the team’s leader, they do listen to him and respect him (as does their new coach), and their new coach is willing to entrust the game to his players – the sign of a good coach.
Time will tell what this moment in the Flyers 2015-16 season meant, but so far it looks good. Yesterday, the Flyers went into the always tough Madison Square Garden and defeated the New York Rangers 3-0. A turning point in that game was reportedly Flyers defenseman Luke Schenn coming to the defense of teammate Nick Schultz when Schultz was injured on a hit. Though he was hit with a penalty for fighting, Schenn’s teammates praised him for turning around the momentum of the game. Another boost to the team psyche and self-confidence, which seem to be getting stronger by the day. Maybe it will be proven that giving Giroux the whiteboard during OT of that Black Friday game against the Predators was one of the smartest things Hakstol did all year.