By Kevin Durso, Sports Talk Philly editor
After making his Flyers debut, Nate Thompson stood with the media gathered around him. The word playoffs was mentioned. The 35-year-old veteran center grinned from ear to ear at the mention.
“It’s exciting for me,” Thompson said. “Especially at my age, playing some meaningful games and knowing we’re making a push, it’s a lot of fun for me.”
For players like Thompson and Derek Grant, who were literally dropped into a playoff race at the trade deadline, there should be some added motivation. They both had a front row seat as their next team continued to make that playoff push. The Flyers started the final 20 games of the regular season by extending their winning streak to four games in a 4-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.
“It’s great. Playing important games this time of the year is what we all want to be doing,” Grant said. “To jump in with a good group and get a win in the first one is big.”
The two new additions to the lineup didn’t have an impact on the scoresheet, but certainly didn’t look out of place within the system. On the scoresheet, they didn’t need to be the story.
It was a game where the Flyers got off to a quick start before playing more of a customary first period for them. They took the first six shots of the game. They finished the period allowing 15 of the final 17 shots between the two teams, including 13 in a row.
But as they have done many times before, the Flyers regrouped after the first period, and though this game was another that was far from their best, the opportunistic Flyers picked up two second-period goals and never looked back.
In particular, the line of Kevin Hayes, Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton were the shining stars, picking up a combined eight points. Hayes had two goals and an assist, bringing his goal total to 21 on the season. Konecny’s three-point game, his third in the last four games, moved him back into the team lead in points with 57 on the season.
“I think all three of our games complement one another,” Hayes said. “TK, he is an electric player. He’s easy to play with. Laughts brings a lot of grit, hard-work to that line. Caused a lot of commotion. I try to look for those two guys.”
While slow starts and surviving first periods are not a great formula for success, the Flyers have certainly made it work this season. The win on Tuesday was already their 22nd at home this season, 21st at Wells Fargo Center, and they maintained their place in third in the Metro, now just one point behind the Penguins for second.
“I think we are understanding the right way to play and how to manage the game and understand the game that is in front of you,” Alain Vigneault said. “That usually leads to improvement in a team, which I think we have done. I think we have improved as a group all year long. As a team, I think we have definitely taken steps. We are going to have some good games to see how good we are.”
The Flyers placement in the standings shows it already in a sense. When the Flyers had a modest 12-7-5 record through 24 games and were barely hanging in the playoff race as Thanksgiving approached, there was a sense that this could trend in the right direction, but there was always a shadow of doubt.
So many times this season, the Flyers have lost a game or series of games that made you think it was the knockout punch it was in years past.
A six-game road trip where they earned three points could have set the tone for a miserable second half. The Flyers have only gotten better and have won with more consistency.
An embarrassing 5-0 loss to the Devils, on home ice no less, could have been a showing of the team’s true colors. Instead, it was an anomaly.
A three-goal rally to erase a 3-0 deficit only to allow a late regulation goal could have been crushing. It became just an isolated loss.
The things that would have hindered the Flyers push in the past have made them stronger now.
With some new faces in place, the Flyers kept the momentum going in their favor. There are 19 games remaining, and certainly some big ones still on the schedule. But this team seems poised for a special run. There is just that vibe in the locker room. The two newest members certainly couldn’t hide it after their first win with their new team.