PHILADELPHIA — Tinged with sadness, the Hurricanes welcomed their captain back to the lineup.
Jordan Staal helped give them the boost they needed toward a playoff push.
The Flyers had been the hottest team in hockey, winners of six straight overall and riding a 10-0-2 streak for their longest span without a regulation loss since 2003.
They were even 4-0-1 against the Hurricanes in their last five against them at home.
Carolina had an emotional lift in this one to make those numbers trivial
Staal played for the first time since he and his wife said their infant daughter died of a terminal birth defect. Staal had missed three games and he rejoined the team Wednesday.
"He’s a lift, spiritually and physically on the ice," Williams said. "You know he’s going to make the right play. You know he’s going to win a battle. As his linemate, playing tonight, you know he’s going to get the puck to you when it’s a 1-on-1 battle. He’s a very important piece for us, clearly."
Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said Staal means more to the franchise than just his numbers.
"You need your best players to be your best players and we miss him when he’s not here," he said. "It’s good to have him back."
Carolina, which is chasing the eighth spot in the East, made quick work in ending the good times in Philly.
Williams knocked in a loose puck 4:40 into the game and the former Flyer stuck it to his former team one more time.
"There’s a little something there," Williams said. "It’s special. My wife’s family is from here. I have a lot of friends here. This is where I started. It’s always special, absolutely."
The Flyers sizzling offence of late fizzled and even goalie Petr Mrazek had his worst outing since he was acquired two weeks ago. He stopped 28 shots to beat Montreal 1-0 in a shootout in his last start. He was 3-0 with a 1.30 goals-against average and a .947 save percentage in his three starts.
Teuvo Teravainen scored early in the second and Williams scored his 12th goal of the season late in the second for the 3-0 lead.
Staal had his 21st assist on Williams’ second goal.
"I don’t think there’s much to be said about what he’s going through. It’s huge to have him back," Hurricanes defenceman Justin Faulk said.
The Flyers were stymied offensively and took only six shots in the first period. In the second, they were shutout in a period where they had scored 74 goals this season.
Yes, even a 12-game streak that helped take them from last in the Metro Division in early December to a brief stop in first atop the division, the Flyers were soundly booed off the ice at the end of a dreary second period. The Flyers would have moved back into first place with a victory and lost for the first time in regulation since Feb. 1.
Flyers defenceman Andrew MacDonald said the winning had masked some bad habits picked up of late by the team.
"You kind of get into a groove and you’re kind of feeling it and think things are going to go right for you," he said. "That’s not always going to be the case. Tonight was a good example of that."
Travis Konecny gave a brief jolt to their offence with a goal early in the third to make it 3-1.
"It’s tough to do this on home ice. We can’t win them all," Flyers centre Jake Voracek said.
Sebastian Aho sealed it with his 23rd goal.
"We need to impose our will. We need to suffocate teams," Williams said. "We did that today."
NOTES: The Flyers played the Hurricanes for the first of three times over the final 19 games of the season. … The Flyers have a weekend set in Florida. … Ward improved his career record to 12-11-6 vs. the Flyers. … Flyers D Ivan Provorov was down on the ice for a bit after taking a shot his right knee.
Hurricanes: Host New Jersey on Friday.
Flyers: At Tampa Bay on Saturday and at Florida on Sunday.