Erik Gustafsson answers the bell with timely goal

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Erik Gustafsson answers the bell with timely goal

He came out of the penalty box and went screaming down the ice all alone. That he shouldn’t have been in the penalty box in the first place suddenly didn’t matter (except for the fact that it set him up nicely with a clear path). What mattered at that point was watching Erik Gustafsson, a blur of orange, charging hard for the Rangers’ net.

It was an important moment for him in the spotlight after so many other moments spent in the shadows. Gustafsson was the forgotten man for the first five games of the Flyers-Rangers playoff series. Or, if he wasn’t forgotten, he was a mere addendum to conversations that had less to do with him than his teammates. When Nick Grossmann suffered tendon damage to his right ankle in Game 4, the question was who might replace him. Gustafsson was mentioned. So was 39-year-old veteran Hal Gill. Gill got the nod for Game 5 -- then struggled mightily.

Gill was bad enough that people wondered, rightly, whether Craig Berube could possibly go with him again in Tuesday’s Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center. Berube decided against it. Gill was out. Gustafsson was in.

"Obviously, I was a little disappointed I didn't get to play [Game 5],” Gustafsson said. “[Berube] had his reasoning and I accepted that. When I was told that I was playing [Tuesday], I couldn't tell you how excited I was."

Which brings us back to Gustafsson’s moment, which had as much to do with his redemption as the team’s. The Flyers were up by two goals in the second period. It was a nice enough cushion even though it wasn’t quite enough to make them comfortable. How could they relax when the Rangers were capable of deleting their lead and sending them into the offseason sooner than they wanted?

But if there was any anxiety about New York mounting an unfortunate and ill-timed comeback, it evaporated when Gustafsson came out of the penalty box. Braydon Coburn put the puck on Gustafsson’s stick. Gustafsson did the rest. He skated down the ice unimpeded and beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist without much trouble. As the horn blared and the fans went mad, Gustafsson gave what must have been a very satisfying fist-pump.

"It was a lot of fun when I saw the puck come down to me,” said Gustafsson, who helped the Flyers beat the Rangers, 5-2, to force Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening (see Instant Replay). “I think it took a fortunate bounce. I almost thought Lundqvist was going to get it but luckily the puck went in."

It was the second playoff goal of his career. And it might not have happened if not for the penalty that landed him in the box in the first place -- the penalty that shouldn’t have been called because it wasn’t a penalty at all.

With about eight minutes left in the second period, the puck was behind the Flyers’ net and off to the left side. Gustafsson and Rangers winger Derek Dorsett gave chase. As they neared the boards, Gustafsson peeled off. Dorsett kept going. They crossed paths but there wasn’t any contact. Well, there wasn’t any contact except for when Dorsett kept going and sort of face-planted himself into the plexiglass like a confused bird smacking hard into an unyielding office window. Dorsett went down. Gustafsson got called for high-sticking.

(It should be noted that Dorsett got a two-minute penalty for embellishment in the third period. It was the kind of thing that made believers in karma and make-up calls nod approvingly.)

The Gustafsson penalty that shouldn’t have been a penalty was killed off by the Flyers. That’s how Gustafsson found himself in such an advantageous position. If he didn’t merit being in the box in the first place, he surely didn’t mind coming out of it to score a goal thereafter (see 10 observations). Following the game, Gustafsson was asked about that -- about the irony of a penalty he didn’t deserve setting him up for such a big goal.

“It worked out,” Gustafsson said with a grin.

It did indeed.

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

Best of NHL: Matt Murray, Penguins cruise past Habs

MONTREAL -- Eric Fehr and Jake Guentzel scored in the second period to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins past the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 on Wednesday night.

Defensemen Ian Cole and Olli Maatta also scored for Pittsburgh, which won its second game in a row after a three-game skid.

Sven Andrighetto scored for Montreal, which lost its second straight and has only two wins in its last six games. The Canadiens' offense remained in a rut coming off a 1-0 loss Monday in Detroit.

Penguins goalie Matt Murray was back in form after Monday's wild 8-7 win over Washington, making 19 saves. But Carey Price's woes continued as Pittsburgh outshot Montreal 26-20. Price allowed three or more goals for the eighth time in 10 games (see full recap).

Vanek, Nielsen lead Wings over Bruins
DETROIT -- Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen scored in a shootout, lifting the Detroit Red Wings to a comeback 6-5 win over the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.

The Red Wings rallied from 3-0 and 4-1 deficits in the first period, and with 3:04 remaining in regulation, Gustav Nyquist scored to pull them into a tie.

In the shootout, Tuukka Rask and Petr Mrazek stopped the first shots they faced before Vanek scored for the Red Wings and Brad Marchand countered with a goal for the Bruins. Nielsen, who like Vanek joined the team last summer as a free agent, scored on the team's third attempt and Vatrano missed the net with a chance to extend the 1-on-1 duels.

The Bruins were dominant early before blowing a chance to keep Detroit at a distance in the Atlantic Division standings (see full recap).

Burns, Pavelski push Sharks past Kings
LOS ANGELES -- Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels scored in the San Jose Sharks' seventh win at Staples Center in their last eight trips, 3-2 over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night.

Joe Thornton had two assists and Martin Jones made 22 saves for the defending Western Conference champion Sharks, who wrapped up their regular-season series against their biggest rivals with three victories in five games.

After Burns scored his 19th goal in the opening minutes, San Jose hung on through a scoreless third period to continue its recent domination in downtown Los Angeles, including three victories in last season's first-round playoff series.

Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik scored for the Kings, who ended a seven-game homestand with four defeats (see full recap).

McDavid scores in OT, Oilers edge Panthers
EDMONTON, Alberta -- Connor McDavid scored the winning goal in overtime as the Edmonton Oilers won their fourth game in a row, 4-3 over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night.

McDavid, who also had two assists in the game, got a breakaway late in overtime and got the puck away with 2.6 seconds left. Florida's James Reimer made the glove save, but the puck was ruled to be across the line via video review.

Zack Kassian, Mark Letestu and Jordan Eberle also scored for the Oilers, who have their longest winning streak since December 2015.

Vincent Trocheck, Michael Sgarbossa and Greg McKegg had goals for the Panthers, who have lost two straight (see full recap).

Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

Tanner Laczynski's development not being lost in sweet freshman year at Ohio State

TORONTO — First semester of college can often be a challenge for many students, but for Tanner Laczynski, the experience was a sweet one — literally. 

Part of Laczynski’s course load at Ohio State was “Chocolate Science.” According to the course website, students receive an “introduction to science and business of chocolate. Students develop and market a chocolate product as part of a virtual company. Students taste commercial products.” 

Laczynski, who plans to declare his major in business in his second semester, got a lesson in chocolates from around the world during the course. 

“Chocolate Science wasn't bad,” Laczynski said with a laugh a few weeks ago. “All I did was eat chocolate and write a paper about it. There's lots of different chocolate, and they all taste good.” 

Growing up 43 miles outside of Chicago in Shorewood, Illinois, Laczynski wasn’t a big football fan, saying there wasn’t much to cheer for with respect to the Bears, but since relocating to the Buckeye State, he’s taken up interest in the local team. 

“That's a big part of it,” Laczynski said of attending OSU. “I've been to two games, they haven't been the strongest opponents so kind of blowouts.” 

Laczynski was in the middle of a nap when the Flyers used their sixth-round pick to select him on the second day of the 2016 NHL draft. He was admittedly startled to be woken up by his parents, Ken and Dawn, along with sister Payton and brother Hayden.

“I'd just gotten back home from coaching some kids, it was early in the morning, came back, took a nap and my parents were all excited,” Laczynski said. “I was still tired from my nap, but woke up pretty quick. 

“They just kind of attacked me so I was kind of like, 'What's going on?' at first. That was unbelievable and it's a moment I won't forget."

After a quick phone call from his agent, Flyers amateur scout Nick Pryor and John Riley, in charge of player development in Philly, were on the phone to welcome Laczynski to the club. 

This season, the 19-year-old had six goals and 16 assists in 15 games prior to leaving to join Team USA at the World Junior Hockey Championships.  

The under-20 tournament is the third time Laczynski has represented the U.S. internationally. He also wore Team USA colors for the under-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial tournament and the under-19 World Junior A Challenge.

Through the first six games at the world juniors, Laczynski tallied one goal and an assist. He missed the semifinals against Russia because of an illness but was in the lineup as the Americans defeated the Canadians 5-4 in a shootout to win gold.

Despite being just three months into his first year at OSU, the Flyers remain in constant communication with their prospect. 

“I talk to John Riley quite a bit, he's always in contact with me sending me game film and sending me clips of NHL highlights and stuff like that,” Laczynski said. “We keep in touch, it's a relationship and it's nice to keep in touch with him.”

During his freshman season, skating has been an area of focus for the 6-foot-1, 190-pound forward.

“I think my big thing is my first couple steps, just my quickness, stopping, getting back on it. I think that's my biggest thing,” he said. “Once I get that down, I feel like I have the speed, but just build an extra step, just improve on that, I think that'll be a tremendous help to my game.” 

Laczynski, who spent three seasons in the USHL prior to committing to the Buckeyes, said he tries to model his game after one-time Flyer Jaromir Jagr. 

“He's kind of the guy that I watched a lot just because of his puck protection and everything,” Laczynski said. “I try to kind of use my body to protect the puck down low and create some chances in the offensive zone. 

“He's got a really good stick — I try to watch that and have an active stick in the defensive zone and offensive zone, as well.” 

In his conversations with Riley and Pryor, the expectations for Laczynski are clear.

“Their goal for me is just to consistently play nine out of 10 nights instead of that seven out of 10 nights and get my game elevated a little bit more, play more consistently,” Laczynski said.

“I think that's the biggest thing.”