PHILADELPHIA – One Flyers fan in a lively tailgate scene shouted what a demoralized Philadelphia fan base was feeling.
“Come on Flyers, you’re our only hope!”
When it comes to championships in a city defined this month by heartbreak, he might be right.
Claude Giroux, Chris Pronger and the rest of the Flyers gave their fans a needed morale boost, remaining undefeated with a 5-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night.
Andrej Meszaros scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, and James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek also scored for the Flyers in their home opener. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov won his third straight start and 10 players had a point against the defending Western Conference champions.
The Flyers have already beat both teams in last year’s Stanley Cup finals and the early returns on a major off-season overhaul are promising.
“The guys seem to fit into what we want to play right away and that’s huge,” van Riemsdyk said.
The Flyers have been a needed bright spot in a city suffering through a major sports hangover because of the Phillies’ unexpected elimination in the NL division series and the Eagles’ miserable 1-4 start that has coach Andy Reid under fire.
“It kind of disappoints me to see the Eagles getting written off. There’s still a lot of season left to play,” van Riemsdyk said. “But it’s nice to have a full building and have the passion of the fans come out even more. But at the same time, those teams still mean a lot to the city.”
The Flyers delivered in front of nearly 20,000 fans badly needing a reason to cheer. All the new faces shone in their first real game. Voracek, Jaromir Jagr and first-round draft pick Sean Couturier all had points.
The most valuable off-season acquisition was Bryzgalov, who gives the Flyers their first star No. 1 goalie in ages. Bryzgalov stopped all 20 shots Saturday in a 3-0 win over New Jersey for Philadelphia’s first shutout since April 6, 2010. He was shaky against Vancouver, as 3-1 and 4-2 leads were sliced to one before he allowed Daniel Sedin to beat him for the tying goal early in the third.
Meszaros wasted no time putting the Flyers back in front, this time for good, rushing the ice and snapping a wrister past Roberto Luongo 59 seconds later for the winner.
Bryzgalov held off the Canucks and stopped 36 shots.
Mikael Samuelsson, Henrik Sedin and Chris Higgins scored goals for Vancouver.
“We want to be playing our best game right now, we’re not happy with the way things are going,” Canucks defenceman Kevin Bieksa said. “We are good enough to play a full 60 minutes. We are not doing that. When we do play, you see what happens out there.”
The fans were ready to go wild and saved their loudest cheers for Pronger, in his first home game as captain, and forward Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds was involved in two pre-season dust-ups—a man threw a banana at him and he had an altercation with Sean Avery—and the fans showed their appreciation for one of the newest Flyers with a huge ovation.
Simmonds and Voracek were involved in two of the biggest trades in recent Flyers history. Voracek was acquired from Columbus in the deal that shipped out perennial 30-goal scorer Jeff Carter and Simmonds was part of the trade that sent former captain Mike Richards to Los Angeles.
Richards, furious with the deal at the time, makes a quick return to Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Simmonds set a textbook screen in the first period that allowed Pronger to get his first goal of the season. He followed Giroux with a second straight power-play goal and a 2-0 lead.
Voracek made it 4-2 in the second when he was set up by the 18-year-old Couturier. The six-foot-four, 197-pound Couturier impressed during training camp and made the roster. He’s expected to last the season in Philadelphia.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren felt he had the luxury of trading Richards and Carter because Giroux and van Riemsdyk were ready for increased responsibilities and could carry a team looking for their first Stanley Cup since 1975.
Luongo, who had 22 saves, failed to cover a rebound late in the first and was sprawled on his chest when van Riemsdyk popped in the puck for a 3-1 lead. Henrik Sedin knocked in a rebound and Higgins scored in the second to cut Philadelphia’s lead to 4-3.
It wasn’t enough and the Flyers improved to 3-0 for the 11th time in team history.
“We just need to continue to work on that consistency and make sure night in and night out it’s wave after wave,” Pronger said. “We want to pound teams and get on the forecheck and skate.”
Fans were antsy for this game to get going.
The Flyers know all eyes are on them with the Phillies and Eagles faltering and the start of the 76ers season uncertain because of the NBA lockout. When an usher was told rain was in the forecast, he said, “the clouds are staying over there this year,” a reference to both the Phillies and Eagles stadiums across the street.
Notes: The Flyers traded F Stefan Lagein and a sixth-round draft pick in 2012 to the Los Angeles Kings for future considerations. Lagein was placed on waivers and reported to the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms before the start of the regular season. … The Flyers are 26-12-6 in home openers. … The Flyers held a moment of silence for former defenceman Brad McCrimmon, who died in the crash of a chartered Yak-42 jet in western Russia that took the lives of 28 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl players.