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Carchidi Column: Resilient Flyers Can Take Positives from OT Loss

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Philadelphia Flyers Sam Ersson
Sam Ersson, the Flyers' new No. 1 goalie, will try to help steer his team to a playoff spot. He has had a very good rookie season. Photo: AP.

The Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday started a difficult 10-game stretch that leads to the March 8 trade deadline.

After those 10 games — Chicago and Ottawa are the only opponents in that span that should be pushovers — we will know much more about the Flyers’ playoff hopes and, theoretically, whether general manager Danny Briere will be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline.

Briere has dropped hints that he will be a seller, regardless of the team’s position. From here, that’s the way to go. That said, Briere will have to fight temptation if the Flyers improve their playoff chances after this tough 10-game stretch.

It started with the Flyers losing but, in a way, winning, on Thursday in Toronto. The Maple Leafs, propelled by Auston Matthews’ natural hat trick in the second period, outlasted the Flyers in overtime, 4-3, and ended their four-game winning streak.

Still, it was a valuable point for the resilient Flyers, who scored goals 61 seconds apart in the final 5:46 of regulation to forge a 3-3 tie.

“Proud of the group. We stuck with it,” said  defenseman Travis Sanheim, who scored an artistic goal, the Flyers’ league-leading 13th shorthanded tally, to start the scoring in the first period.

“We’ve proven we’re never giving up in a game,” right winger Travis Konecny said. “We take a lot of positives from that game.”

Power play finally connects

Importantly, the Flyers’ late game-tying goal — Konecny’s 26th score of the season — was on the sad-sack power play, which had been 0 for 15 in the last four games.

Maybe it gets the power play, which is 31st out of 32 teams, untracked. The Flyers (29-19-7) have overachieved in most areas this season. The power play isn’t one of them. If the power play was just mediocre, Philly would be on the heels of the first-place New York Rangers instead of eight points behind the Blueshirts.

Torts on Flyers’ Trade Talk: ‘It is What it is’

After the game, the Flyers pointed to Nick Deslauriers winning a fight against Simon Benoit — after the Leafs’ defenseman leveled Cam York and sent him to the locker room — as a turning point. The fight occurred with 15:36 left and the Flyers facing a 3-1 deficit.

“It certainty helped,” coach John Tortorella said.

“It was big,” Konecny added.

Team’s MVP

The kinetic play of Konecny, the Philadelphia Flyers’ lone All-Star this season, has driven the team this season. He is heavily favored to win the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s MVP.

But don’t sleep on rookie goaltender Sam Ersson.

“He’s the backbone,” right winger Garnet Hathaway told The Inquirer.

At the moment, Ersson (15-9-3) would be my No. 2 choice as the Flyers’ MVP. And with Carter Hart out of the picture, the 24-yer-old goalie will have the opportunity to close the gap between himself and Konecny (26 goals, 51 points).

Ersson went into Thursday’s game against high-scoring Toronto ranked No. 8 in the NHL with a 2.49 goals-against average. Hart,  who was named the Flyers’ MVP last year, had a 2.80 GAA this season before leaving the team in late January and later being charged with sexual assault stemming from an alleged 2018 incident involving Team Canada.

Don’t blame Ersson for Thursday’s loss. Three of the four goals were virtually unstoppable, and a defensive breakdown led to William Nylander’s goal 54 seconds into overtime.

Adventurous season

Ersson. has stood tall for most of the season, one that has been adventurous for the 24-year-old goaltender. He wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot in training camp. But he won the No. 2 spot and has been extremely consistent.

Oh, there was a rocky four-game stretch just before the All-Star break, during which Ersson looked like he might not be able to handle the increased workload. Not having Hart as a fallback seemed like it could be weighing on Ersson.

He came back from the All-Star break refreshed, however, and has been very steady since returning.

That will have to continue if the Philadelphia Flyers are to complete  their highly improbable playoff run. The next stop is Saturday night’s outdoor game in New Jersey, a team that is chasing the Flyers and desperately needs a victory.

The Flyers, who rarely get outworked, will be ready. They have a star-less roster of blue-collar players who play hard for 60 minutes, sometimes longer. Just ask the Maple Leafs, a team of high-priced, big-name players who were pushed to the limit.

“You throw away seven or eight minutes of that game,” Tortorella said, “and I have no bitching at all.”

Sam Carchidi writes a weekly column for Philly Hockey Now. He and Jeff Hare are working on a TV series on the Flyers’ glory days, tentatively called “Bullies.” Carchidi can be reached at samcarchidi55@gmail.com.

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