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.

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

Vince Velasquez is subject of serious trade talks between Phillies, Rangers

ATLANTA — Seven months after he was acquired from the Houston Astros and anointed a key piece in the Phillies’ rebuild, pitcher Vince Velasquez could be on the move again.

The Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez, a major league source told CSNPhilly.com on Friday night (see story).

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported by Jon Morosi of MLB Network earlier in the week and essentially confirmed when three Rangers scouts, including Scott Littlefield, one of that club’s top talent evaluators, showed up at Turner Field for Velasquez’s start against the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

Velasquez delivered a solid but unspectacular performance in a 2-1 loss to the Braves, but he still has the qualities that attracted the Phillies to him last winter. He’s just 24 years old and has a power arm that has produced a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has the upside to pitch at or near the top of a rotation if his development goes in the right direction and he stays healthy. That is a legitimate concern because he had Tommy John surgery as a young minor leaguer and spent time on the disabled list earlier this season with a biceps strain.

The question now is: where will Velasquez continue his development? Philadelphia? Texas? Somewhere else?

Clearly, the Phillies’ big wintertime acquisition is in play as Monday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline approaches.

Manager Pete Mackanin said he knows nothing of the front office’s trade plans, but he offered his opinion on trading a young pitcher like Velasquez.

“Our whole goal was to get young pitchers because they’re the most expensive commodity and if you can develop young pitchers like him and have four or five of those guys, then you’re ahead of the game,” Mackanin said. “But at the same time, at least as far as I’m concerned, I’ll listen to any offers. If you get three guys that are really good looking prospects because pitching is such a commodity, I’m sure you have to consider it.”

With the Rangers' scouts looking on, Velasquez pitched six innings and gave up seven hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out five. His fastball reached 96 mph, proving that his stuff is good. Mackanin, however, said he thought Velasquez relied too much on his off-speed stuff instead of his power fastball.

“It was unusual to me the way he pitched,” Mackanin said. “It was almost like a finesse pitcher instead of a power pitcher. I’m not arguing with it because he did a good job, but he made me a little nervous here and there. I like the 16 strikeouts.”

That, of course, was a reference to Velasquez’s 16-strikeout complete game win over the Padres on April 14. Could anyone have imagined that he'd be the subject of trade talks 3½ months later?

Velasquez said he was aware of the trade buzz surrounding him and unbothered by it. He’s been down this road before. He said he would not be disappointed if he were traded because he understands baseball is a business.

“At first when I got traded from the Astros it was kind of tough for me, but you have to move on and make the best of what you've got,” Velasquez said. “If things happen, just let it happen. If I go to another team, then I've got to make the best of what I've got there. There's a lot of things that are in the future. I don't know what to expect is what I'm saying. Again, all I can do is live in the present and live another day tomorrow. If something happens, something happens. I've got to make the best of what you've got today.

“It's just one of those things I can't control. I had to fight, had to battle for a spot here in Philadelphia and I'm very thankful for the opportunity and everything. Again, I've still got to keep working hard and make the best of what I've got.”

Any team looking to acquire Velasquez would have to pay a steep price. In addition to having talent and upside, he won’t be eligible for salary arbitration until after the 2018 season and free agency until after the 2021 season.

The Phillies have a good knowledge of Texas’ deep farm system having scouted it extensively — and plucked from it — in making the deal for Cole Hamels a year ago. Are the Phillies about to fuel their rebuild with more talent from the Texas system? Stay tuned.

Velasquez isn’t the only Phillies starter who could move. Several teams remain interested in Jeremy Hellickson (see story), who is scheduled to pitch against Atlanta on Saturday night. The Rangers, in fact, have some interest in Hellickson as a fallback option if they don’t get a pitcher elsewhere. Velasquez is not the only pitcher the Rangers have on their radar, but from a Phillies’ perspective, he is certainly the most interesting.

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

Best of MLB: Rougned Odor homers twice for Rangers in 8-3 win over Royals

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Rougned Odor homered twice, A.J. Griffin pitched into the sixth inning and the Texas Rangers beat the Kansas City Royals 8-3 on Friday night.

Jurickson Profar also went deep for the Rangers, and scored three runs.

Odor hit a solo homer in the first that put AL West-leading Texas up 3-0 against Edinson Volquez (8-9). That 443-foot drive into the second deck of seats in right field came a night after Odor's 465-footer that is the longest in his career. He had another solo shot in the seventh, his 21st of the season barely clearing the 8-foot wall in right.

Eric Hosmer homered for the defending World Series champion Royals, who dropped to 10 games behind Cleveland in the AL Central.

Griffin (4-1) had his longest outing in seven starts in just over a month since coming off the disabled list because of right shoulder stiffness. The right-hander struck out one and walked two while throwing 66 of 98 pitches for strikes in 5 2-3 innings (see full recap)

Chatwood, Gonzalez lead Rockies over Mets for 4th win in row
NEW YORK -- Tyler Chatwood kept winning on the road, Carlos Gonzalez homered and drove in four runs and the Colorado Rockies defeated the New York Mets 6-1 Friday night for their fourth straight victory.

Mark Reynolds also homered for the surging Rockies, who are 11-4 since the All-Star break and have moved within four games of Miami for the second NL wild-card spot.

Chatwood (10-6) improved to 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA away from Coors Field this season. The 26-year-old is 4-6 with a 5.69 ERA at home.

Gonzalez matched a season-high hitting streak of 11 games with an RBI double in the first. He hit a 448-foot, three-run drive in the ninth for his 21st homer.

Steven Matz (8-7) gave up two runs and 10 hits in six innings (see full recap)

Lester recovers from rut of bad starts, Cubs rout Mariners
CHICAGO -- Jon Lester recovered from a rut of bad starts, pitching six shutout innings that led the Chicago Cubs over the Seattle Mariners 12-1 Friday for their third straight win.

Jason Heyward and David Ross homered as the NL Central leaders improved to 9-5 since the All-Star break following a 1-9 slump. Seattle lost in its first trip to Wrigley Field since 2007.

Lester (11-4) had lasted just 16 innings over his previous four starts, going 1-1 with a 10.13 ERA. That skid came after he had gone 9-3 with a 2.03 ERA in his first 16 starts.

Lester gave up four hits, struck out seven and walked two. He was already done when there was a 74-minute rain delay in the seventh.

Mike Montgomery, traded last week from Seattle to the Cubs, pitched the final two innings. He gave up a single to Shawn O'Malley in the ninth for the Mariners' run.

Hisashi Iwakuma (11-7) had won his last five starts, but gave up five runs and eight hits in three innings (see full recap).

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

Source: Phillies, Rangers in 'pretty deep' trade talks about Vince Velasquez

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies lost, 2-1, to the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The big news from this game, however, was that Vince Velasquez might have made his last start with the Phillies. A major league source told CSNPhilly.com that the Phillies and Texas Rangers are “pretty deep” in trade discussions involving Velasquez. The Rangers, the source said, also have some interest in Jeremy Hellickson, who pitches for the Phillies on Saturday night, but he appears to be a secondary target (see story).

It would take top talent to get Velasquez, a 24-year-old right-hander with a power arm. The Phillies acquired him over the winter from Houston as the centerpiece in the deal that sent Ken Giles to the Astros.

The Rangers had several scouts at the game, including Scott Littlefield, one of their top talent evaluators.

The Rangers’ interest in Velasquez was reported earlier in the week by Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

Apparently there’s more than just interest (see story). Stay tuned as Monday’s trade deadline approaches.

Starting pitching report
Velasquez scattered seven hits and two runs over six innings. He walked two and struck out five. Velasquez battled some command issues and needed 91 pitches to complete the six innings.

He is 8-3 with a 3.32 ERA in 18 starts. He has a 2.75 ERA in six starts since a brief stint on the disabled list with a right biceps strain.

Braves right-hander Tyrell Jenkins gave up just one unearned run over six innings.

Bullpen report
Both bullpens pitched scoreless ball.

At the plate
Phillies leadoff man Cesar Hernandez reached base in his first three at-bats and scored the Phillies’ only run on an error in the third inning. 

The Braves scored two runs in the third inning on three singles, a sacrifice bunt and a walk against Velasquez. Gordon Beckham and Nick Markakis drove in the runs with base hits.

Up next
Hellickson (7-7, 3.65) makes perhaps his final start with the Phillies on Saturday night. He will face Braves right-hander Julio Teheran (3-8, 2.71).