COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Philadelpia Flyers knew a playoff-like atmosphere awaited them at Nationwide Arena on Thursday night.
The team’s 4-3 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets was exactly as expected — a physical, competitive matchup between two teams growing tired of one another, with a playoff spot hanging in the balance.
Going into the second part of a home-and-home with the Blue Jackets, the Flyers earned two points when center Kevin Hayes beat goaltender Elvis Merzlikins for the game-winning goal in the extra period.
These games “are huge,” Hayes said of the intense matchup. “Two or three weeks ago, we were battling just to get in the wild card. Now we’re battling for home ice. ... When we play division teams, it’s four-point games, when it’s back-to-back, it’s eight-point games, and I thought we did a good job.”
The game was full of physical play, including a fight between 6-foot-4 Travis Sanheim and 5-foot-4 Nathan Gerbe. Both teams traded quality scoring opportunities in a tight, competitive third period that started with a 3-3 tie.
“We’ve been talking for months now about the playoff push,” Flyers winger Nicolas Aube-Kubel said. “I haven’t played a playoff game in the NHL, but I think (tonight) looks like a playoff game. Lately, our games are really intense and physical, and I really like that.”
The Flyers now have a two-point advantage over the Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division standings.
In the Flyers’ Tuesday win over the Jackets at the Wells Fargo Center, they were the team capitalizing on “puck luck,” with a few scores coming off unorthodox chances.
On Thursday, the luck was on the other side, with the Blue Jackets striking first on a wrist shot from Oliver Bjorkstrand less than one minute into the game. The puck got lodged in the net and disappeared without any call from the referees.
After a review, it was ruled a goal, giving the Jackets an early advantage.
But it wasn’t all luck.
Columbus had a two-goal lead after Nick Folingo scored on a breakaway opportunity. His shot went between his legs and Brian Elliott’s midway through the first period. The Flyers got one back quickly, though, scoring 23 seconds later after Travis Konecny deflected a Sanheim wrist shot.
Elliott, who hadn’t played since Feb. 11 against the New York Islanders, settled in as the game went on. He finished with 28 saves, including a handful of clutch stops down the stretch.
“He gave up two quick ones, and they were both pretty good goals,” Hayes said. “He was our best player the rest of the night. He made some big saves at the right moments, and we got two points, and a lot of it had to do with him.”
The Flyers survived a 5-on-3 penalty kill at the end of the second period and start of the third to keep the game tied.
“Brian had to make a couple big saves there,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “Fortunately for us, we were able to get the job done and find a way to win in overtime.”
The Flyers were without veteran defenseman Justin Braun, who was dealing with flu-like symptoms and didn’t make the trip. The team promoted Mark Friedman from the Phantoms for the game.
In the second period, the Jackets took advantage of Friedman’s inexperience, as Columbus winger Stefan Matteau scored his first goal of the season by establishing good position in the front of the net against Friedman and scoring on a deflection. Matteau, 25, gave the Blue Jackets a 3-1 advantage about three minutes into the second stanza.
Aube-Kubel made it a one-score game with 5:34 left in the second period, and Claude Giroux blasted a one-timer past Merzlikins to tie things up headed into the third period.
Flyers defenseman Phil Myers left for the locker room after blocking a shot with his ankle in the first period but returned a few minutes later and assisted on Hayes’ game-winner.