The Read-Couturier-Downie line has been pretty good for the Flyers, who play the crummy Panthers tonight

The Read-Couturier-Downie line has been pretty good for the Flyers, who play the crummy Panthers tonight

As you may have heard, the Flyers are 6-0-1 in their last seven games, have earned 13 of a possible 14 points during the successful stretch and have clawed their way out of the Metropolitan Division basement to currently sit just two points behind the New York Rangers for the division’s last playoff spot.

That’s quite an accomplishment considering the way the Orange and Black didn’t exactly start off on the right foot. You know what I’m talking about. No need to rehash the horror scenes and kill the good vibes we’ve got going here.

How have they turned things around?

There are plenty of reasons, but a particularly vital cog in the Flyers’ resurgence has been the “third” line of Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Steve Downie.

Since head coach Craig Berube put the trio together on Nov. 12 when Downie returned to action from a facial injury, they have been running roughshod over opponents.

In that six-game stretch, the line has produced six goals and 12 assists. Five of those goals belong to Read, who has scored two goals in each of his last two games and is tied with Vinny Lecavalier for the team led in goals with eight. The other goal belongs to Couturier, who finally broke his 25-game goal-less drought when he scored last week against visiting Ottawa.

While Downie hasn’t scored, he’s contributed six assists to the cause. The Flyers are 6-1-1 with Downie in the lineup since he was acquired on Halloween for Max Talbot.

Part of the success is due to the line often seeing favorable matchups and taking advantage of them with their skill.

They are so good defensively that the trio usually plays against opponent’s most-skilled line. For example, they’ll see Alexander Ovechkin’s line when they play the Capitals or they’ll see John Tavares’ line when they play the Islanders.

Sometimes, those highly-skilled lines don’t feature the most defensive-minded players.  Read, Couturier and Downie take advantage of those defensive deficiencies and put points on the board.

The trio scores timely goals too.

Take for example last Thursday’s win over the Sabres. The Flyers had a lackluster first 30 minutes against a terrible team. That was until the “third” line got out there, went to work on the forecheck, forced a few turnovers, netted two goals courtesy of Read and lit a fire under both the team and the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

They did it again in Saturday’s 5-2 win over the visiting Islanders. The Flyers were sloppy in the first period but the “third” line ignited a three-goal second period when Read scored 46 ticks into the frame.

They are almost reminiscent of the Scott Hartnell-Danny Briere-Ville Leino line that was put together during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the way they gel despite different styles.

Read is the speedy scorer. Couturier is the defense-first center who is slowly starting to get his scoring talent on track. And Downie is the gritty winger who isn’t afraid to get physical and get into the dirty areas to make a play.

Call them a “third” line if you want, but they’ve been the Flyers’ top line during the team’s recent hot streak.

The softer schedule as of late certainly hasn't hurt either.

During the team’s seven-game point streak, the opponents the Flyers have faced have a combined 54-78-14 record. The only team of any relevance and that currently holds a playoff spot that the Flyers have played in this stretch was those filthy Penguins.

That trend continues tonight when the Flyers visit the Panthers to begin a quick two-game jaunt through Florida.

The Panthers are not a very good team.

With a 6-13-5 record and spared only by the mess with that is the Sabres, they currently sit in second-to-last place in both the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

They feature solid, young talents in this past draft’s second-overall pick Aleksander Barkov and last year’s rookie-of-the-year Jonathan Huberdeau, but that’s about all there is to write home about them.

But, hey, insane politico goaltender Tim Thomas is the Panthers’ goalie, so there’s that, I guess.

Steve Mason will get the call between the pipes for the Flyers.

The Flyers beat the Panthers, 2-1 during the teams’ first meeting back in October and that was when the Flyers were in full tailspin mode coming out of the gate. In fact, that win was the Orange and Black’s only win in their first seven games.

The Flyers are 4-3-2 away from home this season and have a glorious chance to improve that record and grab two more points that are ripe for the picking.

It’s not 25 freakin’ degrees in South Florida right now like it is here so they won’t have that for an excuse.

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

TORONTO -- Brad Marchand scored a short-handed goal with 43.1 seconds left and Canada beat Team Europe 2-1 on Thursday night to win the World Cup of Hockey.

The Canadians won the best-of-three finals 2-0.

Patrice Bergeron tied it with a power-play goal with 2:53 left in the third, and Marchand won it with a shot from the slot.

Canada has won 16 straight games, including two Olympic gold medals, since losing to the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics.

Carey Price made 32 saves for the Canadians, who started slow before ending the tournament with a furious rally that fired up a once-quiet crowd.

Zdeno Chara scored early for Europe, and Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves for the eight-nation team.

Sidney Crosby was named MVP of the tournament with three goals and a World Cup-high 10 points.

After getting that award, he was presented with a silver World Cup of Hockey trophy and he skated with it around the ice just months after hosting the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career.

He set up the tying goal, passing the puck off the boards to Brent Burns, whose shot just inside the blue line was redirected by Bergeron's raised stick.

Crosby was stewing after each of the first two periods.

When the game was over, he was sporting an ear-to-ear smile.

The Canadians closed the game in impressive fashion after a lackluster start.

In front of an unenthusiastic crowd and a lot of empty seats in the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadians started flat and the Europeans made them pay for their apparent apathy.

Unlike the last two times Canada trailed briefly to the U.S. and Russia, it could not come back against Europe quickly.

It looked as if it wasn't going to be Canada's night when John Tavares had a wide-open net to shoot into, but hit the right post from the bottom of the right circle. Earlier in the same shift, the New York Islanders forward missed the net on a one-timer opportunity.

Canada averaged 4.4 goals over the first five games of the tournament, giving Price plenty of support. It didn't score as much in the final game of the tournament, but two goals were enough to win thanks to Price.

Chara, a Slovakian and Boston Bruins defenseman, scored from the left circle with a wrist shot through traffic two teammates created in front of the net off a short, soft pass from Andrej Sekera in the slot.

Crosby was part of a scrum at the end of the first period in which his helmet was knocked off near Europe's net at the end of the first period. After the horn sounded to end the second, Crosby lingered on the ice to shot at Swiss defenseman Roman Josi.

Crosby was clearly frustrated, playing with a pair of Boston Bruins, Marchand and Bergeron, who had combined for 22 points through the first five games.

Europe outshot the Canadians 12-8 after the first period and 27-21 after the second.

The Canadians had three power plays over the first two periods and failed to take advantage, falling to 2 for 17 with an extra skater. On one of their power plays, they needed Price to make stops on breakaways.

Canada had a man advantage again early in the third period, but only got one shot on Halak, a Slovak and Islanders standout, on the possibly pivotal power play.

Crosby had a chance to score with 7-plus minutes left, but Halak kicked the shot away with his right skate.

Europe seemed as if it had a chance to score late when Drew Doughty was called for high-sticking with just under 2 minutes left, but Canada was the team that took advantage when Marchand got the puck into open space and beat Halak with a shot to win the first World Cup since 2004.

Instant Replay: Braves 5, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Braves 5, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson’s final start of the season — and possibly his final one with the Phillies — was cut short by a sprained right knee Thursday night (see story).

Hellickson left the game against the Atlanta Braves after 3 1/3 innings.

The Phillies ended up losing, 5-2, in their final game at Turner Field. The Braves swept the three-game series. The Phillies have lost six of their last seven and are 70-89.

The Phillies went 82-91 over 20 years of visiting Turner Field. The Braves will move into a new stadium next season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson gave up just one hit and no runs in his 3 1/3 innings. He walked none.

The right-hander finished the season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Hellickson is eligible for free agency this winter. The Phillies would like to get draft-pick compensation if Hellickson signs elsewhere, but they must extend him a $17 million qualifying offer for 2017 and he must reject the offer in order for the club to get that pick.

Atlanta’s Josh Collmenter pitched seven innings and held the Phillies to one run. He gave up six hits, walked none and struck out four.

Bullpen report
Struggling Jeanmar Gomez entered a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning. He gave up a walk and a tie-breaking double as the Braves took the lead. The Braves scored three more times against Gomez in the frame to put the game away.

At the plate
Odubel Herrera’s RBI single in the third inning gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead. It was the Phillies’ 600th run of the season. They were the last team in the majors to get there.

Aaron Altherr cut the Braves' lead to three with a two-out RBI single in the ninth.

Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer against Colton Murray in the sixth.

Swanson walked and scored the go-ahead run on Matt Kemp’s double against Gomez in the bottom of the eighth.

Up next
The Phillies return home Friday night for the final three-game series of the season. They will play the New York Mets, who are battling for the National League wild card. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday night — RHP Alec Asher (2-0, 1.66) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (3-2, 2.56)

Saturday afternoon — RHP Phil Klein (0-0, 12.15) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (14-8, 3.42)

Sunday afternoon — RHP Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60)

Sunday afternoon’s season finale starts at 3:05 p.m. The team will make a special on-field presentation to Ryan Howard at 2:30.

Howard did not play Thursday night. He is expected to start all three games against the Mets. The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017 and he will become a free agent.

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