PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia third-string goaltender Alex Lyon, a Yale University graduate, uses some of his downtime as a seldom-used reserve focusing on the psychology of winning athletes.
This week, he happened upon Super Bowl-week interviews with NFL quarterbacks Tom Brady and Russell Wilson, speaking on the importance of confidence and a regular self-dialogue in games.
The mental preparation paid off for Lyon in winning his first NHL game in nearly two years.
Kevin Hayes and Joel Farabee scored two goals each and Lyon made 28 saves as the Flyers beat the Colorado Avalanche 6-3 on Saturday night.
“He was awesome,” said veteran Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk. “We had some breakdowns, particularly in the first and he stood tall in there and gave us a chance to win.”
Sean Couturier assisted on three of the Flyers goals, including when he capitalized on a sloppy Colorado turnover eight minutes into the third period, stole a pass, and fed Farabee for a goal that would eventually count as the winner, putting the Flyers up 4-2.
But it was the work Lyon did early that helped save the Flyers, who were playing for the second time in as many nights while the Avalanche, fresh off the All-Star break, were playing in their first game in 12 days.
“There was no doubt that the difference in this game was Alex,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We had a hard time defending and had a hard time making plays with the puck in the first period and he kept us in. It just shows the importance of goaltending.”
The win was the first for Lyon in 682 days, when the Flyers beat the Rangers 4-3 on March 22, 2018.
“Extremely gratifying,” Lyon said of the victory.
Pitted against a potent Avalanche team that entered the game second in the Western Conference in points, the 27-year-old Lyon shouldered the load in a sluggish first period for the home team and persevered through a frantic final two periods. Lyon made critical saves throughout, perhaps none bigger than two in a row along the post against Colorado All-Star Nathan McKinnon, who came into the game with 71 goals since the beginning of last season.
“It was 2-0 after one (period) and it could have been 6-2 or 7-2,” Hayes said of the Flyers early 2-0 lead despite their sluggish play. “(Lyon) was lights out early. He was probably the only one ready at the start of the games and kudos to him.”
Lyon, a Baudette, Minnesota, native signed as an undrafted free agent by the Flyers in April of 2016, was playing in his 15th NHL game on Saturday. But 11 of those games came two seasons ago and his opportunities with the Flyers haven’t come as often with the emergence of Carter Hart.
“It’s such a mental battle,” Lyon said. “The physical side of the game is not the challenging part of the game for a goalie coming from the American (Hockey) League to the NHL, it’s the mental side. It’s on each man. If someone doesn’t have confidence, everyone knows it. It’s no secret. So, I try to exude confidence and have belief in myself.”
The little-used Lyon was called on Saturday night because the Flyers were on the back-end of two games in two nights, following an overtime loss in Pittsburgh on Friday. Lyon, the team’s third-string goalie behind Hart and Brian Elliott, was called up from the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in mid-January when Hart went down with an abdominal injury.
Hart could return in the coming week, which would likely send Lyon back to the American Hockey League to wait for another opportunity.
“For me, the hardest part is avoiding the nerves,” Lyon said. “And naturally I get worked up. I try really hard to stay even Steven and that’s definitely the most challenging part … I’m a big football fan, so I like listening to Tom Brady and Russell Wilson. I saw them interviewed at the Super Bowl and they talked about that mental self dialogue, that’s it’s so extremely important. That belief in yourself, I’m going to come out, I’m going to be the best player on the ice. Because the margins here are so thin. Player to player, top to bottom. It’s just about confidence and attitude and playing the game you have the capability to play.”
Matt Niskanen and Scott Laughton also scored for Philadelphia.
Nikita Zadorov, Mikko Tantanen, and Andre Burakovsky scored for Colorado.
The furious scoring in the final two periods kept the Wells Fargo Center fans entertained, but the undrafted Lyon was the pleasant surprise of the night for Philadelphia.
“We gave up some quality (chances) today and he made a lot of really great saves, that was awesome for him,” Niskanen said. “He gave us a really good chance to find out way through what was maybe not our best game … I love that stuff. That guy is given an opportunity to play in the NHL and have some success and the guy works his butt off, he’s had a great attitude since he’s been here. It’s awesome to see a guy like that get a win.”
With 30 games remaining, the Flyers are going to need more performances from unlikely heroes to avoid missing out on the postseason for the second straight season. Although the franchise is in a down period — it has failed to reach the playoffs in four of the previous seven seasons — the Flyers are in danger of finishing outside the playoffs.
The Flyers haven’t missed the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1994, the final of five straight seasons that ended before the postseason.
Philadelphia is currently playing without Hart, a breakout rookie from a year ago who is expected back this month, and also defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (knee surgery, expected back this month) and former No.2 overall pick Nolan Patrick (migraines, return not imminent).
NOTES: The game was the first multi-goal game of Farabee’s career. Farabee, the Flyers’ first-round pick in 2018, has seven goals in 42 games this season. … Hayes’ two goals gave him 16 on the season, putting him ahead of his 2017-18 pace, when he had 13 goals through his first 52 games and finished with a career-high 25 goals. ... Matt Niskanen tied a career high with a plus-4. … Sean Couturier tied a career high with three assists. He also did it on March 19, 2017, vs. Carolina. He led all Flyers forwards in ice time with 20:07.
Flyers: At Detroit Red Wings on Monday for their third game in four days.
Avalanche: At Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday for the second game of a five-game trip.
More AP NHL: www.apnews.com/NHL and www.twitter.com/AP_Sports