3 Stars: Claude Giroux's filthy snipe pushes Flyers past Blackhawks in OT

3 Stars: Claude Giroux's filthy snipe pushes Flyers past Blackhawks in OT

A look at the Philadelphia Flyers'  3-2 overtime victory over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center from the perspective of three players.

You guys catch your breath yet after that one?

3. Ray Emery

Steve Mason had started eight straight games so Flyers head coach Craig Berube decided to give Ray Emery a start against the visiting Blackhawks.

It was reasonable to think that Emery would be a bit rusty at the start of the game. After all, he hadn’t seen game action since injuring himself on Feb. 27 when the Flyers were blown out the San Jose Sharks and hadn’t started a game since defeating the Calgary Flames on Feb. 8.

A bit rusty was an understatement.

Andrew Shaw’s opening tally just over two minutes into the game wasn’t really Emery’s fault because of the egregious turnover and non-existent defense that preceded it. But Emery would really like to have Duncan Keith’s goal a few minutes afterward back. It was a hard shot by Keith but Emery had a clear view and got a huge chunk of the puck before letting it sneak through and into the net.

But Emery calmed down, eased the tensions of Flyer fans and didn’t allow another goal the rest of the night.  He made 23 saves in all for his eighth victory of the season.

They weren’t easy saves, either. The Blackhawks’ flurry near the end of the third period when Emery lost his goal stick particularly comes to mind. But he had every answer and played a key role in the Flyers’ victory despite the rough start.

2. Scott Hartnell

The Flyers were pretty sluggish to start the game and quickly found themselves down 2-0 after bad turnovers and bad defense.

They needed a spark and Hartnell was there to provide it.

At the 5:48 mark of the first period, Hartnell attempted to center the puck to Claude Giroux but it bounced off the skate of Chicago’s Marcus Kruger, then off Chicago goalie Antti Raanta and into the net to get the Flyers back within one.

Near the end of the opening stanza, Giroux centered to Hartnell, who was uncovered in the slot, and Hartnell blasted the puck over Raanta’s glove to tie the game at two.

The goals were his 17th and 18th of the year, respectively.

Hartnell’s first goal was an ugly one and his second goal was a pretty one. But here’s the thing about goals: they all count the same no matter how ugly or pretty they are.  And more importantly on Tuesday night, they got the Flyers back into the game.

1. Claude Giroux

Seriously? Were you expecting someone else?

Giroux was flying all over the ice all night. He kicked it into that extra gear on every chase for a loose puck and every time he raced back on defense. He brought tenacity to every board battle. He dove after every puck that was barely out of his reach. He led by example and played like he had something to prove.

He sure proved something with 4.2 seconds left in overtime on Tuesday.

With time winding down in overtime and a shootout looming, Giroux took a pass from Mark Streit and raced up ice. The Flyers’ captain cut down the right wing to set up Keith as a screen and then rifled off a wicked wrist shot through the legs of Keith, over Raanta’s shoulder and top-cheese into the corner of the net for the win with just those precious 4.2 seconds left.

Holy moly. That was a shot only the most elite of the elite are capable of. Raanta’s head is still spinning around Wells Fargo Center

It was pure, unadulterated hockey filthiness. Just go back and watch it over and over again on repeat and bask in its infinite glory.

Along with his assist on Hartnell’s second goal, it was a two-point night for Giroux. He has 14 points – five goals, nine assists – in the nine games since the Flyers have come back from the Olympic break.

The dude is a monster.

Sure, the wins against the Penguins over the weekend were nice, but detractors will say the Penguins weren't at full strength with their injuries to key players. The Blackhawks are one if the best teams in the league and came into the game at full strength and as dangerous as ever. If anything was proven Tuesday night, it was the fact that the Flyers can hang with the best of teams when they play at the top of their game. Even Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews is inclined to agree.

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

Provorov, Schenn shine in Flyers' last scrimmage before preseason

VOORHEES, N.J. – Five games.

That’s what the Flyers are facing this coming week, which is why coach Dave Hakstol had his players involved in a full scrimmage Sunday morning at Skate Zone.

“I like it better than practicing,” offered Michael Raffl. “A little more action. A little physical and it gets you in game shape. I enjoyed it.”

The Flyers have two split-squad games on Monday – one in New Jersey against the Devils and other in Brookyln against the Islanders.

The scrimmage was up-tempo. So much so, Raffl and defenseman Will O’Neill were involved in a dangerous collision in the left corner that could have been disastrous with both players getting up slowly, but uninjured, on a puck chase.

“I don’t know, I was coming in hard,” Raffl said. “At first, I thought about playing the body and then I didn’t want to. So I was mixed in-between trying to slow down and there was a lot of contact as I fell into the boards. I felt fine afterwards.”

Raffl hit his neck awkwardly and was lucky to be uninjured. O’Neill took the hit.

“I went into the wall and knew he was coming and tried to be strong on my feet,” said O’Neill, a free agent signed over the summer. “Contact play in a bad area. Tough part of the ice.”

Hakstol held his breath there.

“It could have turned out differently,” he said. “It was kinda awkward play. You’re always happy to see him pop up and come out for another shift right after that.”

Raffl’s gray team won the scrimmage, 2-1, with rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov setting up a play that resulted in Brayden Schenn’s game-winning goal from Wayne Simmonds.

“Good tempo, competitiveness … kind like the first few days where tempo and work levels were good,” Hakstol said of the scrimmage. “It tends to be a little scrambly in those first scrimmages.”

Jordan Weal centered the top line with Schenn on the left. Hakstol has Schenn on the left right now to get him used to playing there again. Once Claude Giroux returns from the World Cup of Hockey, the top line of Schenn-Giroux-Simmonds will be reunited.

“I made the play up there to Simmer and a nice pass by Provy to me and then Simmer back door to Schenn,” Weal said of the game-winning goal. “It felt good ... I’ve played just one game in nine months.

“I’m just trying to get a feel for being on the right side of pucks. It’s not going to come in the first game.”

Weal was impressed with Provorov.

“He’s a really good player,” he said. “You can see it in his skating, his passing. He’s got a lot of confidence. He tore up the WHL and that’s a great league. It’s going to be exciting to see him moving forward.”

Hakstol rated Provorov as “solid and efficient” in the scrimmage.

Loose pucks
Steve Mason worked with Carter Hart in goal … Alex Lyon and Anthony Stolarz worked for the black team. Mason didn’t give up a goal. “We have eight exhibitions on the schedule and I will get into three or four of those,” he said. “By the time those wrap up, I’ll be where I want to be. Right now, I am feeling great which is a good start.” … Hakstol said Mason won’t play on Monday … Rookie forward Travis Konecny sat the scrimmage out (maintenance day). He said he was given a day off, but Konecny was receiving treatment by the medical staff on Saturday. “I see the trainer every day, I’m fine,” he said. Konecny should play in one of the split-squad games on Monday … Greg Carey had the other goal for the gray squad; Nicolas Aube-Kubel had the lone goal for the black squad … The defense rotated for both teams. Provorov was with Philippe Myers much of the game … Jakub Voracek practiced on his own. He won’t see action in the first three games and neither will Shayne Gostisbehere because of the World Cup, Hakstol said ... The scrimmage consisted of  two, 25-minute periods with a running clock. Sounds like the Public League, no?

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

Alec Asher's two-seamer shines in another effective outing

NEW YORK -- Alec Asher’s two-seamer was nearly perfect against the Mets on Saturday night — even if the pitching line was attached to his name was decidedly less so.

The rookie exited after five innings with four unearned runs attached to his name — two Phillies’ throwing errors on playable ground balls will do that — but lowered his ERA to 1.66 in a 10-8 victory that was far, far closer than it needed to be.

Lost in the shuffle of the Phillies bullpen’s attempt at self-immolation was just how effective Asher’s newly-developed two-seam fastball was in the early innings against the Mets’ full lineup. The relatively slow pitch — it was sitting around 90 MPH Saturday — generated six popouts during his perfect first trip through the batting order.

“Being able to throw a pitch that’s not straight works wonders,” Asher said. “Last year, I didn’t really have success throwing the four-seam, so just adding that little bit of movement misses barrels, [generates] mishits and gave me a lot of ground balls and weak contact, which is all I can ask for.”

Opponents are batting just .182 off Asher’s two-seamer in his four starts this year, according to data from Fangraphs.com, a complete 180 from his disastrous September call-up in 2015.

In his first major league starts, Asher struggled to establish a mound presence with a four-seamer that nearly touched 95 MPH. Opponents batted .250 and got seven extra-base hits off the four seamer as Asher finished 2015 with an ugly 9.31 ERA.

The Phillies challenged Asher to generative more movement on the pitch and he returned in Spring Training with an entirely new repertoire.

So far, the effort has paid off.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a real good pitch for him and his changeup,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Asher’s two-seamer. “He didn’t have either pitch last year, and for him to come up with it over the course of the winter and throw those pitches so effectively is huge.”

Asher relied on the changeup to escape the fifth inning — the only high-stress situation he faced all evening.

With four runs already in, a fifth runner poised on third base and a Citi Field crowd beside itself in hopes of a miracle comeback, Asher got pinch-hitter James Loney to top a low changeup out of the zone down the first base line that Tommy Joseph stopped with a dive.

“[I wanted] just to slow the game down and take it pitch by pitch,” Asher said.

Even if Saturday wound up being perhaps a bit more frantic than he would have liked to be, Asher has developed a formula for future success as he prepares for his final start of the season next Friday — also against the Mets — and 2017.

“Just establishing the fastball, commanding both sides of the plate and changing speeds,” he said.

His two-run single in the first inning on Saturday night — his first two career RBIs and, ultimately, the winning margin — was a bonus.

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