PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – The label has a nice ring to it around Philly: The first-place Flyers.
It's a tie, for now, in the Metropolitan Division and it's still March, but for a franchise that 15 months ago was nestled at the bottom of the standings and fired their coach, their GM, and ran through goalies like dirty laundry, the Flyers will enjoy their moment in the top spot.
"It's quite normal for everybody to be excited," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Players, coaches, fans, Flyers fans, hockey fans. I mean, this is great hockey. The competition is unreal and we're play well, right now. Everybody should be excited."
Carter Hart stopped 28 shots and four players scored to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to their eighth straight win, 4-1 over the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night.
Ivan Provorov, Michael Raffl, Nicolas Aube-Kubel and Sean Couturier scored for the Flyers, who continued their scorching turnaround from last season and won their 24th home game (24-5-4). They won on consecutive nights after beating the Washington Capitals 5-2 and have positioned themselves as a serious threat to make run in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Flyers moved into a tie for first place in the Metropolitan with the Capitals, who lost 6-5 in overtime to the New York Rangers.
The Flyers, who tied a franchise record with 10 wins in February, have been one of the best teams in the league the last three months and have fans in Philly excited about hockey again. They have scored at least four goals in each game of their winning streak.
"They play right. That's how you win," Hurricanes coach Rod Brind'Amour said.
They suffered a bit of a blow with forward James van Riemsdyk expected to miss four to six weeks with a broken right hand, suffered blocking a shot Wednesday night. He could be back in time for the playoffs. Van Riemsdyk has 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points in 65 games this season. He has been on the Flyers' third line during their winning streak to vault them up the standings.
"Credit goes to the players, them understanding what it takes to go on the ice and play the winning way and going out there and executing and doing it," Vigneault said. "I believe that a lot of these guys want to prove that they can be successful, they can win. And that's what we're all trying to do right now. Every one of us is pushing in the same direction."
A night after veteran Brian Elliott stopped 25 shots, the 21-year-old Hart was sensational again and earned his 23rd win of the season. Hart has been healthy and stabilized the position a season after the Flyers started eight goalies and missed the playoffs.
"We've used both our goaltenders in big, hard stretches and they've both performed well for us," Vigneault said. "In Carter's case, he's progressed as any young player should. In Brian, we've got a veteran player that's been through a lot that is good for our group. He's good for Carter but he's good for our group."
Provorov made it 1-0 in the first when he shot a slapper from the circle into Alex Nedeljkovic's stomach and swooped down glove side to knock in the rebound. Raffl scored his eighth goal of the season in the second period off a nice give-and-go with Tyler Pitlick.
The Hurricanes sliced it to 2-1 on Justin Williams' fourth goal of the season early in the third. No worries these days for the Flyers; Aube-Kubel and Couturier scored only 26 seconds apart to blow the game open and the Flyers improved to 38-0-3 when ahead or tied after two periods.
"That's huge to retaliate like that and respond," Hart said. "It just shows how dialed in everyone is right now. Everybody is chipping in. We have all four lines rolling and all three D pairs playing really good hockey right now."
NOTES: F Joel Farabee was recalled from the minors to replace van Riemsdyk. ... Hurricanes D Brett Pesce is recovering from right shoulder surgery that is expected to keep him out the rest of the season. ... The Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, founded in 2005 by late Flyers founder Ed Snider, is set to honor 300 academic All-Stars from the program on Saturday. Snider Hockey promotes life skills and hockey through after-school, recreational and other educational activities. ... The Flyers did not commit a penalty in the game for just the seventh time in franchise history.
Carolina plays Saturday at the New York Islanders.
The Flyers host Buffalo on Saturday.
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