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.

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Nerlens Noel to get one-on-one experience while Sixers on road

Being immersed in the team is important for Nerlens Noel, and so is continuing his rehab. 

While the Sixers are on the road for three days to play the Grizzlies and Pelicans, Noel will remain in Philadelphia to work out at the training complex in Camden, New Jersey. The team is not scheduled to practice in between games, so staying back allows Noel another day to get on the court.

“[I want him to] just start playing more and have a ball in his hands, get hit, physical, feel people, play one-on-one,” head coach Brett Brown said.

Noel has yet to play this season because of elective arthroscopic left knee surgery in October. He rejoined the Sixers after completing the first phase of his rehab in Birmingham, Alabama. There still is no timetable for his return. 

Brown has said there is a “classroom” element to Noel’s return. He has to learn a roster with new players and schemes. 

The on-the-court side of it is a reacclimation to the intensity of the league. Regardless of how many games Noel already has played in the NBA, there is an adjustment period getting back into the grind of the competition. Brown believes the time in the gym this week will help Noel prepare for the level of intensity he will face in his return. 

“It’s such fool’s gold to think somebody’s going to jump back into NBA basketball after you haven’t played for so long. I don’t care how athletic he is,” Brown said. “It’s a man’s world, this league, and there’s a physicality and there’s a real-time reaction you have to have to play in the game. You can’t make that up in practice, you can’t make that up playing one-on-one, but you can better position him instead of just going out to get shots. I want him to feel a body, get hit, hit back, play one-on-one, those types of things.”

Noel had been assigned to the Sixers’ Development League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, to get in practice time when the Sixers had a game. The Sixers may forego another assignment and keep Noel at their facility as the Sevens also have two games in the next three days. 

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

Joel Embiid finally struggles in Sixers' loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

Joel Embiid has been making the NBA look easy. Rookie of the Month honors, five double-doubles in 13 games, seven performances of 20 points or more … all having missed the last two years rehabbing from foot injuries.

Embiid, though, still is a player learning the league. Night’s like Monday’s lackluster showing are going to happen, even if it seemed unexpected against the struggling Denver Nuggets. 

“We’ve been used to seeing Jo have superhuman nights,” Brett Brown said after the Sixers’ 106-98 loss (see Instant Replay). “I thought Joel was down tonight.” 

Embiid tallied a total 16 points (5 for 15 from the field, 1 for 3 from three, 5 for 6 from the line) with four rebounds, one assist, a career-high five blocks, three turnovers and three fouls in 25:32. 

He had a quiet first half with six points (2 for 5 from the field) and one rebound in 9:21. The biggest struggle came in the third quarter. Embiid scored a single point off a free throw and shot 0 for 6 from the floor. By the end of three, he was shooting 18.2 percent. 

The big man said he needed to be better at passing out of the double team. He committed two turnovers in the third. 

“I wasn’t getting to my spot and I wasn’t getting what I’m used to getting,” Embiid said of the first three quarters. “I’m going to go back and watch the tape and see what I did wrong.” 

Embiid bounced back for another Embiid-like offensive effort in the fourth. He dropped nine points off an efficient 3 for 4 shooting in 7:31. Still, it wasn’t enough. 

“I made a couple shots,” Embiid said. “It didn’t help us win, so I don’t think it matters.”

Brown noticed Embiid rushing his game. He also thought Embiid’s balance was off, something the big man has been dealing with all season as he continues to find his legs. 

Embiid will not play in Tuesday's game against the Grizzlies. It is part of his workload management in which he does not play both games of a back-to-back. Expect him to hone in on game film until his next matchup, and get back on the roller coaster that can be a first year in the NBA. 

“It's just part of a young man's growth,” Brown said. “It just happens. I don't think we need to read too deeply into it. I think, in many ways, to expect from time to time not as good of a performance as we have been used to is fair enough.”