By the end of the second period of Thursday’s game in Florida, the Flyers had opened up a 4-0 lead on the Panthers. The last three goals had come in the closing stages of the first two periods -- two goals in the final two and a half minutes of the first and another with just over a minute remaining in the second. They were all scored by players who line up on the third or fourth lines.
Tyler Pitlick, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Scott Laughton all scored to help the Flyers to a 4-0 advantage. And while the Panthers managed to close the gap to two in relatively short order to start the third period, the damage had already been done by the Flyers.
Pitlick has been an under-appreciated addition to the lineup. From an offensive standpoint, Pitlick has six goals and 16 points this season, with five points coming in the last eight games. But where Pitlick has shined has been with his overall energy. His speed is often on full display. In Thursday’s game, he appeared to hit another gear.
Aube-Kubel has been an underrated call-up. While there is a tendency to focus on top prospects like Joel Farabee and Morgan Frost, Aube-Kubel has come in and fit the role perfectly. He brings energy to the fourth line, a good aggression to the forecheck and a physical presence that is needed on the Flyers roster. Aube-Kubel has just eight points in 25 games this season, but four have come since the Flyers return from the All-Star break.
Laughton has been the jack of all trades in the Flyers bottom six. He’s a penalty killer. He’s scored some timely goals. He’s physical and hard on the puck. Every team that competes for the Stanley Cup has a player like this, someone who fits the role of bottom-six forward but can be an offensive threat. Laughton’s goal on Thursday was his 10th of the season, two shy of his career high. He has just 18 points this season, but missed some significant time to injury, so he has only appeared in 38 of the team’s 58 games this season.
These are the players that take so many of the difficult minutes in a game. These are guys that have to play shorthanded. These are the guys who do a ton of dirty work from blocking shots to supplying some offensive pressure that prevents the opposition from getting back into a game.
That certainly doesn’t take away from what some of the top players have done lately. James van Riemsdyk had one of his best games of the season on Thursday, chipping in with a goal and two assists. Claude Giroux extended his points streak to four games. Sean Couturier scored a timely goal for the second straight game, essentially icing the game with his goal with just over five minutes left in the third.
It is simply something that has been said numerous times before and will be heard many more down the stretch of the season. It is a team game and the Flyers will need contributions from all. They got that and more in Thursday’s game.
It takes depth to be a strong playoff contender. With their win on Thursday, the Flyers created some good separation. They have a four-point lead on Carolina for the final playoff spot, though Carolina will play on Friday.
The win also moved the Flyers into a tie with the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first wildcard. Columbus plays again on Friday night and plays on Sunday as well before having a home-and-home with the Flyers next week.
The Flyers had to feel like they let an opportunity slip away on Tuesday when they completed a three-goal comeback and still didn’t come away with any points in the standings. They had a big chance on Thursday to get back into the race and create some separation behind them. They did just that. Bigger games await in the final 24 on the schedule, and while there is sure to be a lot of shuffling in the standings ahead, solid team play like they got on Thursday will help them maintain their position.