3 Stars: Flyers crush Rangers to knot series and force decisive Game 7 on Wednesday in New York

3 Stars: Flyers crush Rangers to knot series and force decisive Game 7 on Wednesday in New York

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers’ 5-2, series-tying victory over the New York Rangers in Game 6 of the teams’ Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center through the perspective of an exceptional special teams unit and two dominant Flyers.

The Flyers have played their best hockey this season when their backs have been against the wall. Game 6 on Tuesday night was the most effective and important example of that yet.

Philadelphia ran wild over New York in the second period with three goals and chased Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist to an early exit.

The Flyers flat-out dominated in impressive fashion after the first period and set up Game 7 tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden at 7 p.m.

It was such an impressive performance that I’m naming two first stars. I don’t care.

[Related: The 7 best photos of Wayne Simmonds forcing Game 7 with his first playoff hat trick | Wayne Simmonds get the Daily News' puny cover treatment]

 

3. The Flyers’ penalty kill

One can’t write enough glowing things about to the Flyers’ penalty kill to praise just how great it has been this series.

After shutting down five more Rangers’ power plays on Tuesday, the Flyers’ penalty killers have now killed off 20-straight Rangers’ man advantages. And one of those kills on Tuesday night led directly to a huge Flyers’ goal that basically iced the game.

As the successful kill wound down midway through the second period, Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn swatted a loose puck down the ice and hit a streaking Erik Gustafsson, who had just left the box after taking a high-sticking penalty, to send him on a breakaway. Gustafsson wristed a rocket through the five-hole of Lundqvist to give the Flyers a 3-0 and they never looked back.

A lot of credit for the penalty kill will go to forwards Sean Couturier and Matt Read for the way they pressure the puck and make smart reads, and rightfully so. But every Flyer that contributes on the penalty kill deserves credit, too, for keeping a dangerous Rangers’ power play that finished in the top-half of the league during the regular season in check.

The Flyers’ penalty kill will no doubt continue be huge key in Game 7.

 

1. Steve Mason

Let’s be honest here. Despite scoring the opening tally and taking a lead into first intermission for the first time in the series, the Flyers did not play well at all to start the first period.

The Rangers dominated puck possession and the Flyers could barely get the puck out of their zone while struggling with turnovers, just as we had seen all series long.

The difference this time was that Mason had every answer, made 13 crucial saves and helped settle his team down so they could find their game. And then he continued to be spectacular for the rest of the contest.

All told, Mason made 34 saves to help propel the Flyers to Game 7. And most of those 34 saves were not of the easy variety.

He robbed the Rangers on multiple occasions with his glove hand. The glove save he made on forward Benoit Puliot on a break during a Rangers’ power play in the second period was just remarkable, even more so because that would have cut the lead in half and got the Rangers right back into the game at 2-1.

Forget about those two goals the Rangers scored in garbage time. Mason just kept making big save after big save.

There was a reason the crowd chanted, “Mason! Mason!” as the seconds ticked down. He was the backbone of his team’s victory.

A locked-in Mason is just what the Rangers didn’t want heading into Wednesday’s decisive game, but that’s what they’re getting.

1. Wayne Simmonds

The day before Game 6, Simmonds told reporters, “We’ve got to be more aggressive. Be better. We can’t be scared out there. We have to go out there to win.

Did he ever go out and back those statements up on Tuesday night.

Simmonds recorded his first career playoff hat trick in the victory.

He got the scoring started in the first when he kept pounding away at a rebound and finally pushed the puck past Lundqvist for the all-important first goal of the game.

He added to the Flyers’ lead early in the second after Brayden Schenn fanned on a shot but the puck went right to Simmonds, who slammed it home for a 2-0 lead.

Later on in that second period, Simmonds deflected a Jake Voracek shot past Lundqvist to cap the hat trick with a power-play goal that gave the Flyers a 4-0 lead and was the cherry on top of a stellar performance.

The beautiful thing about all three of Simmonds’ goals is that they all were scored from within about five feet of the crease. And that’s just what the Flyers need him to do.

Flyers fans know that bad things happen when Mr. Simmonds is in his office. Lundqvist and the Rangers found that out the hard way in Game 6. After containing Simmonds to just an empty-net goal in the series before Game 6, the Rangers now have to deal with a Wayne Train that’s moving full-speed ahead into Game 7.

 

Forget anything that’s happened in this series so far. Forget any of those historic Game 7 stats you’ll hear about until puck drop on Wednesday night. None of those things matter because Game 7 is a total crapshoot.

But the Flyers have the one thing that will matter: momentum. That’s especially true considering the way they handily won on Tuesday and the fact that Game 7 is less than 24 hours away.

It’s on at the Garden tonight.

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career – at least his Villanova career – with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryll Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best on Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points – 9 ½ below his average.

“He’s getting better, that’s the biggest thing,” teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. “He’s down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he’s down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he’s battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That’s more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

“We know he’s talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he’s battling and the way he’s not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that’s the best part.”

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5 ½ rebounds per game. The others were D’Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that’s where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

“Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows,” coach Jay Wright said. “We know. When he’s in the game, we are executing at a high level. We’re just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you’ve got to be able to (play defense) first and he’s been doing that all year.

“(He’s) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you’ll probably see next year, but you’ve got to get the basics down first, which he’s done an incredible job of this year. It’s like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they’re not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is, because they don’t get to see it all the time.”

It’s not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

“It was a process,” Paschall said. “The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that’s defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

“The guys welcomed me with open arms. It’s a brotherhood here and we’re all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It’s just a matter of focusing on my job.”

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he’s 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

“Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he’s come and in done what’s expected,” Jalen Brunson said.

“He’s done a great job for us and we’re extremely confident in him. It’s hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he’s done a good job.”

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

“Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game,” he said. “They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

As thin as Villanova is – Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt – Paschall has been a life-saver.

It’s hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

“We see him getting better every day with his decision making,” Hart said of Paschall. “Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

“One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he’s doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he’s going to do in the future.”

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta has long-awaited meeting with Roy Halladay

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Phillies pitching prospect Nick Pivetta had one of those pinch-me moments Saturday.

He met his boyhood idol, Roy Halladay, at a charity event.

Someone had filled in Halladay that Pivetta had grown up in Canada and had regularly watched Toronto Blue Jays games on television. Pivetta loved watching Halladay pitch, as he talked about a few weeks ago here.

“I got to briefly shake his hand,” Pivetta said Sunday morning. “He knew I was like a stalker. He said, ‘Oh, right, you’re the guy from British Columbia.’ “

Halladay, who pitched for the Phils from 2010 to 2013, lives in the Clearwater area. Pivetta said he expected to speak more with Halladay in the coming days.

Halladay was honored at the 44th annual Clearwater For Youth banquet and Pivetta attended with a number of his teammates and Phillies officials. Phillies chairman David Montgomery and his wife Lyn were also honored for their charitable works.

Pivetta will pitch for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic in March.