Yes, it’s a seventh straight win, but this one won’t taste quite the same for the Philadelphia Flyers.
There was a sizable pall over their hard-fought 4-3 victory against the Montreal Canadiens - shortly after the puck dropped, the team announced defenceman Chris Pronger, who stands six-foot-six but looms far larger as a dressing room presence, will be out for the rest of the season with “severe post-concussion symptoms.”
The news prompted some long post-game faces.
“It’s the reality. It’s not a good one, it’s not a fun one, it’s not a positive point for us, obviously, but we’re going to keep on battling, we’re going to keep on playing, some guys are going to have a little bit more responsibility, we can’t do anything else about it,” said centre Max Talbot, who opened the scoring in the first period.
Most of Philly’s players didn’t learn until reporters told them after the game that the man who qualifies as the team’s emotional centre won’t be back this season.
“It’s hard, I know he’s probably going through a tough time, but Chris is a strong guy, a strong personality, he’s obviously been around the block too. If he was here right now I’m sure he’d be saying something salty,” said defenceman Braydon Coburn. “He still is a strong leadership voice in our dressing room, like (injured forward Ian Laperriere) was last year, he was always around. Especially with the young D corps that we have right now (Pronger)’s going to be sticking his nose in there, giving a lot of advice, pointers and encouragement.”
The good news, of course, is that the Flyers have kept on winning despite the absence of Claude Giroux, the NHL’s leading scorer, and Pronger, their top defenceman.
Indeed, they are 12-4-1 since Pronger went down with what was originally thought to be a virus but was in reality a concussion - the eventual result of taking a shot in the face off the stick of Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski.
But this is the regular season, and Pronger’s absence can only really be calculated in the playoffs, where he is one of the league’s most fearsome and consistent performers.
“We wish we had him in the lineup tonight, but he’s not here and hasn’t been here so we’re moving forward right now,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, lips pursed.
That the Canadiens were able to give the Flyers all they could handle this night - the game had a furious ending after Talbot was whistled for a holding penalty - was cold comfort.
“We’re not a team for moral victories, we expect more of ourselves,” said a dejected Michael Cammalleri.
The Habs had won two straight coming in - and hadn’t lost a game in regulation in more than two weeks - but they couldn’t overcome a one-for-nine showing on the power-play (although their penalty-killing pitched a shutout on six occasions).
There were parallels on Thursday to another meeting between the teams earlier this season when the Flyers came to Montreal on a hot streak and had their lunch handed to them 5-1.
But as Philly winger Jaromir Jagr, who set up the winning goal, remarked: “We learned from that game.”
In an often bizarre night that was marked by iffy refereeing - both teams had legitimate complaints concerning calls by Chris Lee and Fred L’Ecuyer - the Flyers managed to kill of eight of nine Montreal power-plays, including a long five-on-three in the first period.
Philly’s Sergei Bobrovsky shut the door on Tomas Plekanec as he broke in alone early in the game, and the tone was set.
Talbot opened the scoring on a one-timer that squibbed through Carey Price, the goal came against the run of play.
The first flashpoint came after the five-on-three, when Plekanec thought he’d scored, only to have the goal waved off as Erik Cole nudged Bobrovsky with his right skate.
Montreal replied through David Desharnais early in the second period on a dazzling move that saw him round the net and outwait Bobrovsky.
Then Philly went ahead on a play that had the Habs fuming - Zac Rinaldo gave a light shove to Price in the crease, knocking him far enough out of the way for Harry Zolnierczyk to backhand his second of the year into the net.
After some more heroics from Bobrovsky, Habs rookie Louis Leblanc swatted home his first NHL goal - touching off a standing ovation and cries of “Louuuuu” - to make it 2-2.
“It was incredible, that crowd, it gave me goose bumps,” the 20-year-old Montreal native said.
Then Wayne Simmonds gave Philly a 3-2 edge with some nifty handiwork in tight on Price.
But the Habs refused to go away, and Erik Cole tipped a Max Pacioretty pass past Bobrovsky to tie matters with 16 seconds to play in the second - it was his fourth goal in as many games.
The final salvo from Philly came at 8:08 of the third period, when Andrej Meszaros took Jagr’s feed and slapped the puck through Price (although it may have changed direction).
“He has one of the hardest shots I’ve ever seen,” said Jagr, “there were two options, he was going to kill the goalie or score.”