By: Adam Gretz
PHILADELPHIA -- You can't blame Flyers coach Peter Laviolette for starting Sergei Bobrovsky in net for the 2012 Winter Classic.
The team's regular starter -- and highest paid player -- Ilya Bryzgalov is currently fighting through a brutal slump and sits near the bottom of the NHL in most goaltending categories, while Bobrovsky has played extremely well in recent games, including the Flyers' past two wins on the road in Dallas and Pittsburgh. Laviolette was basically playing the hot hand, and at the moment, his best goalie.
Still, the decision was one of the biggest talking points heading into Monday afternoon's game, and for the first two periods it was looking as if his decision was a wise one. Not only because Bobrovsky was once again playing well, but also because it didn't really matter which goalie the Flyers had in net as the Rangers struggled to generate any sustained offensive zone pressure or scoring chances.
Through 40 minutes of play many of the Rangers' shots were simply weak wrist shots from out near the blue line that were easily turned aside or gloved out of the air. Even the Rangers' first goal, the first one of the day that went to forward Mike Rupp, wasn't entirely Bobrovsky's fault as the puck was deflected between the circles off the stick of Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros.
And then early in the third period everything started to shift in the Rangers' direction, and it all began with Rupp's second goal, a bad angle shot that somehow found a way to sneak in behind Bobrovsky. It was a bad goal, and in the end, it proved to be a costly one.
"It was tough," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "I thought he played a strong game, and certainly he'd probably like to have another crack at that one. He seems to be confident in there. I think it did set us back for a little bit there, and the third one to go ahead on the backdoor rebound. It was tough for our team for a five-minute stretch there, and then we seemed to get back going there at the end of the game but it was hard to get through, with the ice the way it was and they were just dumping it behind us and playing defense in front of us, and it was tough to get back through the neutral zone and get back to generating the offense we did in the first two periods."
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Along with jumping out to a 2-0 lead midway through the second period, thanks to goals from Brayden Schenn and Claude Giroux, a breakthrough on the scoreboard that seemed to validate their early dominatino of the puck possession game, the Flyers held a commanding 26-16 edge in the shots department heading into the third period. But that advantage was quickly erased over the final 20 minutes as the Rangers started to pour it on offensively while also preventing the Flyers from entering their zone and creating the type of chances they were getting with regularity over the first two periods.
"It seemed after they got up a goal, maybe five, six, seven minutes into the third period they got pucks redirected down into our end and we found ourselves breaking out a lot and I thought maybe we got a little bit spread out and couldn't generate anything. It didn't seem like we could get the puck in, I don't know about the forecheck but it seemed like we had trouble getting through the neutral zone based on the way they were putting the puck behind us."
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