PHILADELPHIA – Jakub Voracek never saw the hit coming. His head down along the boards, Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall stepped in and blasted Voracek with an elbow-to-face shot that knocked the Flyers forward to the ice.
Dazed, Voracek reached all fours and staggered to the locker room.
Flyers and Red Wings briefly exchanged some words, but no punches were thrown. Instead, the Flyers rallied around their fallen teammate and stretched their winning streak to three games.
Voracek scored before he was hurt, and Claude Giroux and Max Talbot also had goals to lead the Philadelphia Flyers to a 3-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.
Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 37 shots and has turned into the top-tier goalie the Flyers expected when they acquired him last summer. He allowed a goal to Henrik Zetterberg on Detroit’s first shot of the game. Johan Franzen made it 3-2 in the third.
Giroux said how his teammates responded to the hit and Bryzgalov’s stout play in net helped the Flyers win for the fourth time in five games. Bryzgalov has a .948 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average in the three-game win streak.
“Guys take it as a challenge,” Giroux said. “We saw Bryz shut the door tonight when we had the lead, and he has been great for us the last month.”
The Flyers won on the night they retired former defenceman Mark Howe’s No. 2 and raised the number to the rafters.
Detroit was short-handed as it continued to chase the top spot in the Western Conference standings. Leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk (59 points), captain Nicklas Lindrstom, forward Todd Bertuzzi and goalie Jimmy Howard all sat out with injuries.
The Flyers lost forward Jaromir Jagr in the second period to hip injury. Jagr, who missed games this season with a nagging groin injury, will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
Voracek, who needed stitches in his upper and lower mouth, was later lost to a hit to the face from Detroit defenceman Niklas Kronwall. Kronwall did not leave his feet, Voracek’s head was down, and the refs ruled it a clean check.
“It was a tough hit, he took it right in the head,” Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. “It’s frustrating. He’s having a terrific year and is a terrific player for us. It’s substantial when you’re battling through a lot of injuries and you take a hit like that.”
The Wells Fargo Center was buzzing following the nearly 30-minute ceremony to honour Howe. Howe, who played for the Flyers from 1982-92, is their career leader in goals, assists and points for a defenceman. He was a three-time Norris Trophy finalist and the fifth Flyer to have his number retired.
Howe is a pro scout for the Red Wings and players for both teams stayed on the bench to watch the ceremony.
“When I first came to Philadelphia back in 1982, it was as if I was born to be a Flyer,” Howe said. “The orange and black began to flow through my veins and instantly consumed my heart. The memories of playing for the Flyers will be a part of me forever.”
Turned out, it was the Red Wings who got the jump off the emotional tribute.
Zetterberg scored his 16th goal on a backhander from the right circle over Bryzgalov’s glove 4 minutes into the game.
The quick goal continued a troubling trend for the Flyers. The have allowed the first goal 10 times in the last 11 games.
Detroit’s lead wouldn’t stand for long. Voracek snagged the puck from along the boards behind the net and converted the nice wraparound past Joey MacDonald for his 12th goal.
Giroux followed late in the first with his 24th goal off a breakaway. Like Voracek, Braydon Coburn had the puck behind the net, flicked it along the boards and Giroux pounced. He was all alone in the open ice and fired the backhander for the 2-1 lead.
The highlight-reel hit came in the second period when the 6-foot, 190-pound Kronwall used his shoulder and blasted Voracek, 6-2, 214, to the ice. Voracek had his helmet nearly knocked off, stayed down on all fours for a bit, and headed straight to the locker room. He did not return.
“That’s just the way things happen. It was natural,” Kronwall said.
The Flyers gained a 3-1 cushion on a short-handed attempt shortly after when Giroux’s shot ricochet off MacDonald’s left pad and was pounded in by Talbot for his 18th.
Franzen gave the Flyers a scare when he beat Bryzgalov to make it 3-2 midway through the third. But Bryzgalov, who has improved over recent games, remained a force in the net and smothered a flurry of late Detroit chances to give the Flyers a winning record at home (16-10-5).
“We gave ourselves every opportunity and really pushed it,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We had a glorious opportunity right at the end and Bryz was up to the challenge tonight.”
Notes: Howe is the fifth Flyer to have his number retired, joining Bernie Parent, Barry Ashbee, Bill Barber and Bobby Clarke. Howe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last November. Howe’s father, Gordie, one of the all-time NHL greats, received a standing ovation from Flyers fans when he was introduced. … The Flyers and Red Wings split the two-game season series.