Moving Lecavalier up to second line could pay dividends for Flyers; Mason to backup Emery tonight

Moving Lecavalier up to second line could pay dividends for Flyers; Mason to backup Emery tonight

Despite heading home tonight for Game 3 and tied 1-1 in their first-round playoff series with the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers’ offense could use a boost.

Welcome back to the second line, Vinny Lecavalier.

In an effort to create some more offensive punch, Flyers head coach Craig Berube is moving Lecavalier from the fourth line back to the second line with Bradyen Schenn and Wayne Simmonds for Game 3 tonight at Wells Fargo Center.

In a bit of an added twist, Berube is putting Lecavalier at center on the line and moving Schenn to the wing. The trio played together for much of the season but mostly with Schenn at center and Lecavalier at wing.

It’s a shrewd move by Berube that could really pay off for the Flyers.

The Flyers scored five goals in the two games in New York. But take away Simmonds’ empty-netter from this past Sunday, and just one of those goals was scored by one of the Flyers’ top-six forwards. That was Jake Voracek’s first-period goal on Sunday. The other goals were scored by defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Luke Schenn and a third-line rookie in Jason Akeson.

If the Flyers are going to win this series, they are going to need much more production from their top-six forwards and Berube knows it.

Enter Lecavalier.

The recently-turned 34-year-old finished the regular season with 20 goals, most of which came from his unnatural wing position

Say what you want about him, but Lecavalier can still be a dynamic player on the offensive end of the ice with his booming shot and playmaking abilities. And he’s even better at his natural center position. Albeit on the fourth line, Lecavalier has five goals and three assists in 12 games since being moved back to center on March 28.

The younger Schenn has played plenty of wing before so he shouldn’t be too out of place. Schenn is also in a bit of a slump with just two goals in his last 14 games so maybe playing with a guy like Lecavalier can get him going again.

And before we go any further, yes, the first line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Voracek needs to be more productive, too. Some shots on goal from Giroux, who has been held without a shot in both the first two games of the series four of the last six games overall against the Rangers, would be a nice start.

If you followed the Flyers all season, you may know the Lecavalier-Schenn-Simmonds line wasn’t the best line in the world when it came to defense.

Collectively, the group finished the regular season at minus-20 with Lecavalier leading the way at minus-16.

But with the Flyers playing at home for the next two games, Berube gets the last change and can get the trio favorable matchups against some of the Rangers’ weaker defensive players. That way, the line can do what it does best and that’s get the puck deep and go to work in the offensive zone.

Sure, there are going to be times when getting that right matchup for the line won’t be possible. But Berube will be able to get that change that majority of the time. Though there were times Lecavalier moved up, there’s a reason Berube didn’t make the full-time switch at Madison Square Garden.

It also doesn’t hurt that Lecavalier has been a really good playoff performer over his career with 24 goals and 29 assists for 53 points in 65 career playoff games.

If the reformed yet tweaked group of Lecavalier centering Schenn and Simmonds doesn’t work out, the Flyers have the luxury of plenty versatile players that can move up and fit into one of those roles.

But putting them back together with Lecavalier back at center is certainly worth a shot to generate some more offense from the top-six and this is the right time to do it.

Puck drops in just few hours in South Philly. The game will be televised locally on CSN and nationally on CNBC for those of you out of the local viewing area. If you’re going to the game, be loud and see you there.

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Also, in a somewhat unexpected move, the team announced shortly after 5:15 pm that Steve Mason will dress tonight and play the role of Ray Emery's backup. He must have stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

Best of NBA: Rockets overcome Russell Westbrook's 7th straight triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY -- James Harden scored 21 points, and the Houston Rockets overcame Russell Westbrook's seventh consecutive triple-double to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 102-99 on Friday night.

Harden also had 12 assists and nine rebounds to help the Rockets win their fifth straight. Houston withstood Harden's 6-for-23 shooting effort.

Westbrook finished with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. He has the longest triple-double streak since Michael Jordan had seven straight in 1989. The most in a row is nine by Philadelphia's Wilt Chamberlain in March 1968.

It was Westbrook's 12th triple-double this season and the 49th of his career. He is the NBA's active leader in the category and ranks sixth all-time.

The Thunder had won the previous six games during Westbrook's triple-double binge (see full story).

James moves into 9th on scoring list as Cavs top Heat
CLEVELAND -- LeBron James scored 27 points to move into ninth place on the NBA scoring list, and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Miami Heat 114-84 on Friday night.

James passed Elvin Hayes on a driving layup with 6:58 remaining and has 27,315 career points. The four-time MVP was removed about a minute later and received a loud ovation from the Cleveland crowd.

Kevin Love, a game-time decision because of back spasms, scored a team-high 28 points and had 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers. He missed the morning shootaround but was in the lineup after warming up on the court about an hour before tip-off.

Kyrie Irving added 23 points for the Cavs, who have won three straight after losing three in a row.

Derrick Williams scored 17 points to lead the short-handed Heat, who have lost four straight (see full story). 

Schroder has career-high 33, Hawks rally past Bucks
MILWAUKEE -- Dennis Schroder scored a career-high 33 points and the Atlanta Hawks rallied from 20 down in the second half to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks 114-110 on Friday night.

Paul Millsap had 23 points and 14 rebounds for Atlanta. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 18.

The Hawks, who ended a seven-game losing streak Wednesday with a win over Miami, trailed by 20 at halftime. A 40-point third quarter put them back in the game.

Jabari Parker scored 27 for Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo, in foul trouble throughout the game, had 14.

Atlanta pulled ahead 105-103 on Kyle Korver's jumper with 3:15 remaining, giving the Hawks their first lead since early in the game (see full story). 

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

Best of NHL: Blue Jackets top Red Wings to notch 5th straight win

DETROIT -- Brandon Dubinsky scored a tiebreaking goal in the second period and the surging Columbus Blue Jackets won their fifth straight game, 4-1 over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night.

Lukas Sedlak got his first NHL goal for the Blue Jackets, who have earned at least a point in 12 of their last 13 games. Cam Atkinson contributed a short-handed goal in the first period for Columbus.

Dylan Larkin's power-play goal in the second was the only scoring of the night for the Red Wings. Sergei Bobrovsky had 32 saves for the Blue Jackets.

Sam Gagner scored into an empty net with 13.9 seconds remaining (see full story). 

Staal scores in 6th round of SO to lift Wild over Oilers
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.

Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average.

Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.

Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round (see full story). 

Raanta, Rangers beat Blackhawks, 1-0, in overtime
CHICAGO -- Nick Holden scored 55 seconds into overtime, Antti Raanta made 26 saves against his former team and the New York Rangers beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Friday night.

Derek Stepan passed from the boards to a streaking Holden in the middle of the ice, and he beat Scott Darling on the stick side for his fourth goal of the season.

Darling was going for his second straight shutout while subbing for injured starter Corey Crawford but had to settle for another solid performance.

Raanta, who made his NHL debut with Chicago in 2013 and played for the Blackhawks for two seasons before he was traded to New York, improved to 15-0-3 in 20 career appearances at the United Center.

The 27-year-old Raanta had 17 saves in Thursday's 2-1 victory at Winnipeg, and coach Alain Vigneault opted to give him a second straight start over Henrik Lundqvist because of his recent play and his success in Chicago (see full story).

Oshie, Johansson, Grubauer lift Caps over Sabres
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson each scored a goal, Philipp Grubauer made 27 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 on Friday night for their third straight win.

Jakub Vrana and John Carlson also scored, helping Washington beat Buffalo for the third time in 15 days.

Kyle Okposo scored and Robin Lehner made 25 saves for Buffalo. The Sabres have lost three of their last four.

Oshie gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead 6:43 into the second period when he lifted a shot from the right edge of the crease past Lehner. Jay Beagle drew two defenders into the corner and sent the puck back to a wide open Oshie for his ninth goal of the season (see full story).