Story contributed by Andrew Knoll (@AndrewKnollNHL)
In a spectacle that combined man-made pageantry with natural adversity and a tender farewell, on Saturday, Feb 23, the Philadelphia Flyers finally won an outdoor game ,on their fourth opportunity.
Their 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins was capped by captain Claude Giroux’s overtime goal. With less than five minutes remaining in regulation time, Flyers wingers James van Riemsdyk and Jake Voracek had each scored with their goalie pulled, to force overtime.
Philadelphia Center Sean Couturier, as well as the Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Justin Schultz scored earlier in regulation. Nearly 70,000 fans packed Lincoln Financial Field despite rain that plagued the ice surface.
“With the conditions and being down 3-1, I think everybody did a good job to keep on pressuring,” said Giroux, whose team outshot the Penguins by 18-10 in the third period of his 800th career game. “It was great. I’ve got goosebumps right now. I’ve been in this building a few times to watch the Eagles, and to get a chance to play here is unbelievable.”
The enthusiasm of the crowd was not diminished by the weather, with many fans showing up in the morning to pre-game for the 8 PM start. A fan festival with interactive games, appearances by NHL alumni and a mobile exhibit on the history of black hockey players entertained those on hand throughout the afternoon.
The game appeared all but decided as Pittsburgh carried a 3-1 lead late into the third period. A bad hop and a miscue by Flyers goalie Brian Elliott had seemed to give Malkin and the Penguins an insurance goal, but it was not to be.
The Penguins had played most of the game without their top defense pairing after Brian Dumoulin was injured by a Wayne Simmonds shoulder check and then his partner Kris Letang also sustained an injury in the ensuing first period melee. Their lack of depth on defense was compounded by three soft goals allowed by goalie Matt Murray.
“I feel like (expletive),” Murray bluntly stated after the game.
For Simmonds, the fanfare was especially apropos, as this was his final game in a Flyers uniform, despite team leadership having made an appeal to team management, to retain Simmonds. The winger, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was traded to the Nashville Predators on Monday, in exchange for forward Ryan Hartman and a conditional draft pick in 2020.
In the wake of the epic outdoor contest, Simmonds seemed resigned to his fate, as he showed emotion, but no regret. Said the 11-year NHL veteran, “I can truly say that I’ve given everything I’ve had to Philadelphia for the last eight years.”