After slow start, Flyers playing with swagger again

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After slow start, Flyers playing with swagger again

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- A lot has happened during the month of November for Craig Berube.
 
His Flyers are 4-2-1 and have crept to within three points of a playoff spot.
 
Yeah, it’s way early to think playoffs, but keep in mind, since 1993 about 75 percent of the teams nestled from first through eighth place on Thanksgiving Day qualify for the playoffs.
 
At various points in October, the Flyers looked like a team without any kind of playoff shot, behind by seven points at late as Nov. 7.
 
And then … this club got angry after being annihilated 7-0 by Washington, had a team meeting after losing to New Jersey at home, the owner called the club “pathetic” and voila! Three straight wins to get back into the hunt, just three points behind the eighth-seeded Rangers.
 
“For me, it’s about one game at a time,” Berube said as the Flyers pulled into The Peg on Thursday afternoon, after their everything-on-the-ice 2-1 win in Pittsburgh the night before.
 
Earlier this week, Berube mused privately that it would be nice to go on a six-game win streak and get this team’s foundation where it should be.
 
He’s halfway there with the final game of this three-game road swing Friday against the Jets.
 
“As a coach, obviously, in your mind you want to go on a streak,” he said. “But it’s been one game at a time and that is all we have preached. Take care of tonight’s game. And we’ll move on. And when it’s over, forget about it … get ready for the next one.”
 
He didn’t bother to give the team a speech before this crazy, cross-country trip began, starting in Ottawa, then going to Pittsburgh, then flying all the way to Manitoba for three games in four nights.
 
Berube said the Flyers started off so poorly, every game since has been do or die. The Flyers need points every night to gain ground. They are 7-7-1 under him.
 
“Oh, I know this is a big [trip], but it’s been important for a while now,” he said. “I can go back to that Jersey game at home and how big that was. We didn’t play good enough to win it.”
 
He says there’s enough pressure on this group just to crawl back into the race one game at a time without being pressured by the coaches reminding them they need quantum points.
 
The Flyers have played two near flawless road games with the 5-0 blitz in Ottawa and the 2-1 win over the Penguins.
 
Berube has been harping about play away from the puck and defense as the standard by which all good things will emerge.
 
Both came into play during those two victories, along with outstanding goaltending from Steve Mason and Ray Emery.
 
Also, the Flyers have just six giveaways in the past two games versus 30 by the opponents.
 
“It’s skating, it's the forechecking, it’s getting on people,” Berube said. “That is a big part of it. When you are working, reloading and skating and getting on people, they will turn pucks over. When you don’t and you give them time, they’re going to make plays.”
 
Players, especially team captain Claude Giroux, are feeling good about themselves. Heads are high. Some of the old Flyer swagger is visible again.
 
You know it’s going good when Evgeni Malkin crosschecks Sean Couturier after the whistle, hits him again and Coots pushes him back without taking a penalty.
 
Berube said getting out of town for this road trip was helpful for the Flyers to settle themselves down.
 
“The way things have been going at home with the fans and everything," Berube said. "Pressure has built up there.
 
“On the road, you can play a little bit more relaxed. You don’t hear [boos]. You don’t have to be perfect on the road. You just play. At home, sometimes, we get a power play and it’s not clicking and the fans get on you. You tense up. It’s natural.”
 
There’s still one more road game to go against a Jets club that has been a problem for the Flyers in this city with a 2-2 record since the franchise relocated from Atlanta a few years back.
 
“It’s just a start,” Berube said. “It’s not where it needs to be yet. We have to keep working on it. It’s my job to get harping on it and driving it home.”
 
Loose pucks
Berube said that while Michael Raffl was healthy, he was also wiped out by the flu and needs to get some skating in. … He also said there is really no reason to make lineup changes, but if and when he does, he is often “tweaking” things based on the opponent and not necessarily the players coming out of the lineup. … Look for Mason to start Friday in goal.

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Wild-card race about to get busy

Flyers (36-32-8) vs. Islanders (35-28-12)
7 p.m. on CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App; Pregame Live at 6:30

The Flyers welcome the New York Islanders to the Wells Fargo Center Thursday on a busy night in the wild card.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Let's get wild
Ready for some movement in the Eastern Conference playoff race?

The four teams ahead of the Flyers for the second wild card are all in action Thursday.

The Bruins (vs. Stars) still lead the pack at 86 points, followed by the Lightning (vs. Red Wings) with 83. The Islanders come to Philadelphia with 82 points, while the Hurricanes (vs. Blue Jackets) also have 82.

And one more team to follow: the Maple Leafs (at Predators), who lead the Bruins by only one point for third place in Atlantic Division.

2. Time to streak?
With all the inconsistency, the Flyers are looking to win three games in a row for the first time since Jan. 22-25.

The final six contests for the Flyers are no cakewalks because every single one is against the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers are 9-13-2 in divisional play and have a record of 6-9-1 against the remaining clubs on the schedule.

They still have to play the Blue Jackets and Rangers, two top-five NHL teams.

And they also get the Devils twice more, a team that has won the first three meetings between the two by a combined score of 14-3.

We'll see if the Flyers can flip the script and make things interesting.

"We're not going to quit until the end of the season," Travis Konecny said Tuesday. "That's the way we are. It's the character of our team. It's the things we've shown all year.
 
"Our games may not show it at times, our scores, but I think each and every night we always compete, we always battle. I think things are starting to happen for us."

3. Weal's turning
Jordan Weal has provided a legitimate jolt to the Flyers, who desperately needed offense.

He'll see more and more ice time if he continues to perform the way he has in the past two games, putting up two goals and an assist.

Dave Hakstol has liked the early chemistry on the new second line of Weal, Valtteri Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

"I think right now, Wayne Simmonds is playing some of his best hockey of the year in terms of a power forward game," Hakstol said Tuesday. "He is just a straight forward, power forward right now. He is very tough to handle down low and I think that is adding an element for Fil and Weal there."

4. Keep an eye on ...
Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere has looked like his old self offensively the past two games in which he has one goal and two assists. He's been active with nine shots, while his point blast looks sharp. The Flyers will need more of that the rest of the way.

Islanders: It has to be John Tavares, who does so much for the Islanders. The captain has 28 goals and 37 assists this season. Twelve of his 65 points have come in the previous 12 games. He also has put up 15 goals and 14 assists in 37 career games against the Flyers.

5. This and that
* Steve Mason will make his 14th start in the last 16 games. Over his past 13 outings, Mason is 8-4-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

* Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss has been tough on the Flyers in two starts this season, going 1-0-1 with a 1.95 goals-against average and .951 save percentage.

* New York has lost two straight games and six of its last nine.

* Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk is likely to return from a foot injury that has sidelined him since March 5.

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Flyers taking 'never die' approach to final playoff push

Nothing has changed for the Flyers as they enter Thursday night's game against the Islanders at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
They remain six points behind Boston for the wild card. They still have four teams to leapfrog over to claim the second wild card spot.
 
Their Tragic Number remains 6 points -- points the Bruins need to eliminate them or points the Flyers need to lose to eliminate themselves.
 
The only difference tonight is the Flyers are playing head-to-head against a team in front of them in the chase.
 
The Islanders absolutely feel they're in this thing even after losing to the Bruins this week. So if they think like that, why not the Flyers?
 
"Obviously a team that is in the race with us," said Flyers captain Claude Giroux. "But, in general, we know we pretty much have to win every game. Our focus is on the Islanders. The big picture is not a picture we like to see.
 
"But at the end of the day, we have to worry about the New York Islanders. It's the only thing we can control now. We can't control future games or other teams."
 
There was genuine euphoria after the Flyers' comeback, 3-2 shootout win over Ottawa on Tuesday. Some of that excitement was immediately tempered when the players realized Boston had won as well.
 
Yet there is a noticeable difference in the Flyers dressing room right now. Guys are looser and more relaxed after three wins in their last four games.
 
"We keep doing what we keep doing," coach Dave Hakstol said. "Guys keep showing up. We're playing hard for each other and taking care of business. We've been real focused on doing that, day after day and night after night."
 
Several players said this week that the games right now are "fun" to play, despite the obvious pressure to gain a playoff spot that is virtually impossible to attain at this point because the numbers overwhelmingly favor clubs ahead of the Flyers.
 
Have games become "fun" because the players are resigned that it's out of their hands and they are now content to allow the chips to fall where they may be?
 
"No, I'll be honest, I think we are seeing some results," Hakstol said. "When you play hard and don't get results it's not fun. But we've continued to play hard and are getting some of the results right now.
 
"We all know the reality of our situation and don't have to revisit it day-in, day-out. We know that for us the most important thing is take care of our own business. That's the single-minded focus of our group right now.
 
"Come to the rink, playing hard together and winning becomes fun. We got to just turn the page, come out and play hard again."
 
Among those Flyers who believe the impossible is doable is defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.
 
"Our motto is ‘Never die,'" Gostisbehere said. "We know what's against us here. We're just taking it game by game and we're just trying to win every game.
 
"I think you can tell it's a little looser in this locker room, but we’re still going out there putting our best foot forward and trying to win games."
 
The Flyers are 2-1 against the Isles this season.
 
Lineup:
 
F: Read-Giroux-Voracek
Weal-Filppula-Simmonds
Weise-Couturier-Schenn
Vandevelde-Bellemare-Konecny
 
D: Provorov-MacDonald
Del Zotto-Gostisbehere
Manning-Gudas
 
G: Mason; Neuvirth