It was only fitting that on the day Olympics competition got underway a few thousand miles away in Sochi—even though official Opening Ceremonies aren’t until today—the keys to the Flyers 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche were the majority of their contingent that will soon be headed to Russia.
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Mark Streit (Switzerland) and Michael Raffl (Austria) scored goals. Kimmo Timonen (Finland) returned to the lineup after missing two games with a foot injury, anchoring the defense while Andrej Meszaros (Slovakia) went to the bench. Jake Voracek had a couple of good chances, only to be turned away by Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov, who may well be in goal next week for the host country.
And then there was captain Claude Giroux, who iced it with an open net goal in the final minute, after learning earlier in the day he’s still won’t be playing for Team Canada. Instead, Martin St. Louis will take injured Steven Stamkos’ place, which wasn’t a shock since St. Louis’ boss, Steve Yzerman just happens to be Team Canada’s GM.
That didn’t stop Flyers owner Ed Snider from going off on the whole Olympic deal, calling Giroux’ exclusion “ a farce’’ and saying it’s “ridiculous’’ that the NHL is stopping in its tracks for three weeks.
"As an owner I don’t like it,’’ said Snider, on a night Steve Mason was spectacular, making at least a half dozen brilliant saves among his 38 stops, then revealing later he nearly had to leave after suffering leg cramps in the second period. "It’s not good for our fans. Not good for the League.It screws up everything. It changes momentum. But the players wanted to do it.’’
Only when reminded the Flyers went to the Cup Finals the last time the NHL sent players to Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics did Snider backtrack a bit. “Maybe I like it,’’ he said, tongue in cheek.
For the five players going to Sochi it will be an exciting time. Yet Streit says his priority will remain the orange and black, even though there’s a possibility he could soon be checking a Philadelphia teammate when he puts on his Swiss jersey.
"Obviously playing in the Olympics is a great experience and I’m excited,’’ said Streit, who scored on the power play at 6:21 of the second, the eighth straight game they’ve scored with the man advantage.But I’ve done it three times already and I don’t want to get ahead of things. For us these two games (last night and tomorrow vs. Calgary) are important to stay focused.As soon as Saturday’s done I switch gears.’’
As soon as Saturday’s done Mason—or perhaps before should Craig Berube choose to go with Ray Emery against the Flames—will get some needed rest. He’s now started 42 of their 58 games, yet this was surely among his finest.
"He's been unbelievable this year for us,’’ gushed Giroux, who said he never allowed himself to get his hopes up Yzerman would select him at the last minute. "The saves he makes are pretty impressive, .especially when there were two minutes left and he slid across to make that save (on Pa Parenteau’s point blank shot just moments after Nathan MacKinnon got the Avs on the board with Varlamov pulled.I'm just happy he's on our side."
While Mason downplayed it, said he was just doing and wouldn’t use the cramps as an excuse his teammates were far more appreciative.
"He’s been great for us,’’ said Streit, as the Flyers nearly squandered this one when they sat back in the third period, while Colorado launched 17 shots on goal. "He made a lot of key saves for us.But we can’t leave him hung out to dry like that."
After getting buried behind Sergei Bobrovsky last year in Columbus, leading to his trade here, the former Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) doesn’t mind keeping busy.
"I feel comfortable,’’ said Mason, as the Flyers moved over Ottawa into 8th in the East with 64 points, but just five points behind No. 3 Tampa Bay. "Your job as starting goalie every night is to make sure that you provide the stability back there.You work hard and get rewarded sometimes.”
For all but five of the Flyers the reward will come with plenty of rest after tomorrow. For the Philly Five heading to Sochi—but not Claude Giroux-- it will be the thrill of Olympic competition.
"Some guys are gonna be a little rusty,’’ said Mark Streit. "Others will be tired.But we’re a veteran team, so we should be able to handle it.’’
Three weeks from now they’ll begin to find out.