No, the Flyers didn’t want to make Danny Briere feel at home when he and his new team, the Montreal Canadiens, came to town last night. Besides, after a brutal six-game trek that took them as far North as Ottawa and as far South as Dallas, before finishing up with a five-goal blowout loss at the hands of the reigning Cup champion Blackhawks, they were just happy to be back on familiar ground.
Goals by rookie Michael Raffl and his new linemate Claude Giroux held up Thursday night when Steve Mason, who struggled the better part of the trip, returned to form in a 2-1 Philly win over Montreal.
``It’s a big comeback game for us,’’ said Mason, who turned aside 20 shots, shaking off consecutive games in Dallas and Ottawa where he allowed a season-high four goals. ``We got in real last night after a long trip together.
``To come out with that kind of performance, an all-around game, really not giving them much the entire 60 minutes, that’s a character game.’’
Craig Berube was equally pleased, as the Flyers shook off the effects of surrendering five second-period goals in Wednesday’s 7-2 loss in Chicago by taking it to the Canadiens from the start. In the process they improved to 14-15-3, just a point behind Carolina for the final playoff spot in the East.
“I was happy with the way we skated tonight,’’ said Berube, who moved Raffl into Scott Hartnell’s spot alongside Giroux and Jake Voracek and got immediate results. ``You never know when you come back off a long road trip how you’re going to come out.
``But they were competitive right away. They certainly were not happy about that loss in Chicago. because they wanted to show that they could compete with that team. It didn’t work out the way they wanted it to, but they showed up tonight and played a good team game.”
The Flyers came within 56 seconds of a shutout, before Alex Galchenyuk scored after Montreal pulled goalie Cary Price for a sixth attacker. But the Flyers held on, putting a damper on Briere’s otherwise happy homecoming.
“It was a little weird to be honest,’’ said Briere, who received an ovation when a video tribute of his highlights as a Flyer was shown during a first period break. ``It’s just too bad we weren’t able to tie it up late. But it was a cool feeling, just seeing old friends and families. It was a special night, just too bad it didn’t end up with a ‘W.’”
Memorable as it was, Briere’s Philadelphia homecoming wasn’t the most touching of the night. That belonged to Private First Class Matt Windish, who was secretly flown home a week ago from Korea by the team without his parent’s knowledge. During the Flyers regular “Home Town Hero’’ salute, Windish surprised them when he stepped out of a ``G.I. Joe’’ box, especially wrapped for Christmas.
The Flyers then made sure the Windish family and the rest of their fans had something else to celebrate, winning their sixth straight home game.
``I think our guys were pretty excited to play at home again;’’ said Giroux, who now has six goals and 17 assists after a terrible start. ``It’s been way too long. You’re going to have games like last night, but it’s good to rebound, especially the next day. I think for us to play the next day was good. We didn’t have to think about Chicago and could just go right back at it.’’
Next comes a pair of home-and-home series, starting off with NHL leading goal scorer Alex Ovechkin (26) and the Capitals, followed by Columbus, where Mason once won the 2009 Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year.
Somewhere, along the way the Flyers need to establish the kind of consistency they’ve lacked most of the season, especially with another grueling six-game trip out West looming during the holidays. They can only hope coming off one of their worst performances of the season, this was the start.