Call It a Comeback: Flyers Win Three in a Row for the First Time This Season

Call It a Comeback: Flyers Win Three in a Row for the First Time This Season

As Bill Clement likes to say, “Pick the part about hockey
you like the most, and you’ll find it in this one.” That certainly was the case
at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night where the Flyers launched their
second third-period comeback in as many games to defeat the Montreal Canadiens
5-3. Best of all, the victory puts the Orange & Black on their first
three-game winning streak of the season.

The Flyers were trailing deep into the third period, but were
skating as if all the momentum in the world was on their side. The action was
constantly forcing the issue at Montreal’s end, causing Philadelphia to rack up a 14-2 shot
advantage over the final 20 minutes. They were winning the battles, and some of
the puck movement while on the attack was breathtaking

Take the go-ahead goal for instance. The score itself wasn’t
pretty, Erik Gustafsson’s pass intended for Matt Read in front banking into the
net off of Canadiens defenseman Francis Bouillion as it turned out. The setup itself
was a thing of beauty though.

Jakub Voracek emerged from the corner with possession, then slipped
a cross-ice pass between Alex Galchenyuk’s legs. Claude Giroux bluffed the shot
as he was accepting the transfer, creating the extra millisecond that was necessary
to shuffle the puck softly behind his back. Gustafsson collected it off of his
skate, maneuvered past the outstretched body of David Drewiske, and fed the
disc in to Read.

Call it friendly fire, or call it “lucky” as Montreal netminder
Carey Price explained to reporters after the game. Either way, Gustafsson’s
second career NHL goal results in two huge points in the standings for the
Flyers.

Among other plays the Canadiens probably considered unlucky:
Sean Couturier snapping his lengthy goal-scoring drought with another deflection off
of one of Price’s teammates; Oliver Lauridsen’s blast from the point bouncing
off the boards and right to Simon Gagne to give the rookie defenseman his first
NHL point; and Bruno Gervais whipping a shot off the skate of a bloodied Wayne
Simmonds to tie the game. The decisive tally would occur just 90 seconds after Simmer’s 12th
of the season.

Conveniently, only Jakub Voracek’s empty-netter could not be
traced to some element of luck.

Of course we kid Mr. Price, as Ilya Bryzgalov has had a
little of that going on himself this season. Speak of the devil, Bryz didn’t
seem rattled by the impending arrival of Steve Mason, though he was only called
upon to face 17 shots, stopping 14. That said his performance was better than
the numbers might indicate – even despite one humorous reaction.

There were also plenty of fisticuffs in addition to the
scheduled hockey game. Brayden Schenn and P.K. Subban got a little mixed up as
the first period was coming to a close, which would set the tone for
back-to-back fights by Simmonds and Zac Rinaldo later, neither of which was
anything to write home about.

Giroux’s scuffle with Lars Eller early in the third period
was very noteworthy however. As you can see from the photo below, the
gloves were off and punches were thrown, yet the officials chalked this one up
to “boys will be boys” and left them both off with roughing minors. The energy
may very well have been in Philly’s favor already, but who doesn’t get fired up
when their captain decides to get his hands dirty?


Don’t look now, but that’s seven points out of the last
eight possible now for the Flyers, their lone loss during that span coming in a
shootout with the Islanders – another tilt in which they came back from a
third-period deficit. That puts them four points back of a playoff berth with
12 to go, and with this newfound resilience, clearly these guys aren't ready to be put away. It’s still an uphill battle to make the postseason, but the Bullies have
finally come to fight.

At least they're making things interesting anyway.

>> BOX SCORE [Flyers.com]

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NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

Phillies push win streak to 5 behind continued growth from Maikel Franco, Vince Velasquez

 

BOX SCORE

This is what the Phillies could look like some day, maybe in a year or two, when the rebuild has moved further down the road and the club is approaching contender's status.

Maikel Franco clubbed three hits, including a grand slam, and Vince Velasquez pitched his best game of the young season to lead the Phillies to a 7-4 victory over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

The win was the Phillies' fifth straight as they inched over the .500 mark at 10-9 and it offered a glimpse of the tantalizing tools of two of the team's most enigmatic young players — Franco and Velasquez. Both players are 24 years old. Both have had individual highs and lows in a Phillies uniform. Both have the ability to be cornerstone talents for the franchise — if they can put together more nights like this one.

"It's a long season and it doesn't happen overnight," said manager Pete Mackanin, acknowledging the ups and downs that each player has had in the early part of this season and before.

It was just last week that Franco was riding a career-worst 0-for-22 slump that dragged his batting average to .145.

On Wednesday night, he stroked three hits — he had two hard-hit singles to go with his grand slam — to push his average to .203, not good but moving in the right direction.

Even as he struggled, Franco continued to hit balls hard and produce runs. He now has 20 RBIs, which is just one shy of the NL leaders. He also has four homers, including two grand slams.

It's no secret that new hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to get Franco to stop pulling off the ball. From Day 1 of spring training, Stairs has had Franco working on driving the ball to the middle of the field. That's just what Franco did three times Wednesday night. His first hit, a single to center in the second inning, set the tone for his night. His grand slam came on a 2-2 fastball from lefty Wei-Yin Chen in the third inning.

"That was Matt Stairs' big rallying cry for Maikel — try to use the big part of the field and not pull everything," Mackanin said. "He still has it in him where he'll pull his head off the ball, but I think with his type of power, he can hit a ball to center field or right field out of the ballpark. Once that sinks in, he's really going to take off. He's starting to look a lot better." 

Two pitches before Franco lined the grand slam over the wall in left center, he lost his helmet while hacking at a slow breaking ball. It was the type of out-of-control swing that Stairs is trying to eliminate. Two pitches later, Franco gathered himself and hit the grand slam with a smooth swing.

That was progress.

And so is this: He's only lost his helmet on a swing one time this season.

"At the time, I just told myself, 'Calm down, relax, don't try to do too much. Just see the ball and put good contact on it,'" Franco said.

"I think last year I lost my helmet like 20 or 25 times," he added with a chuckle. "I'm working on it."

Velasquez is also working on things. He is trying to harness his power stuff and improve his economy of pitches so he can stay in games longer. He'd lasted just four, five and six innings, respectively, while running high pitch counts in his first three starts. He made some improvements in his last outing at New York last week and took another step forward in this one. He pitched 6 1/3 innings, scattered six hits and three runs, walked two and struck out three. The strikeout total was way down from the 10 he struck out in four innings in his first start of the season. But Mackanin was pleased with the results and the improved efficiency. Velasquez threw 97 pitches, 68 of which were strikes. He threw first-pitch strikes to 19 of 26 batters and that was important to his success.

"Even though he's not striking people out like we know he can and will, he's using all of his pitches and he got us into that seventh inning, which was huge," Mackanin said. "I think he's trying to pitch to more contact and not trying to make perfect pitches and strike everybody out with perfect pitches.

"I think once he puts that all together, he'll have that total ensemble working for him and know when to pitch soft and when to throw hard. He's making good improvements."

And so are the Phillies as a group. They hit three home runs in the game and the bullpen did an excellent job, especially Joely Rodriguez and Joaquin Benoit, who combined on five outs (see story)

Five straight wins is nothing to sneeze at. The Phillies have suddenly become fun. They go for a sixth straight win Thursday.