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.

Future Flyers Report: Questionable hit ends Sam Morin's AHL ironman streak

Future Flyers Report: Questionable hit ends Sam Morin's AHL ironman streak

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we feature an AHL defenseman whose ironman streak has come to an end thanks to a suspension and a blueliner who made a huge impact in his return from a concussion.

Sam Morin, D, 6-7/227, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Morin’s 125-game ironman streak came to an end last week, not because of injury, but because of a dangerous cross-check to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Garrett Wilson last Tuesday that resulted in a two-game suspension. Morin missed Friday and Saturday’s games against Hartford and returned Sunday night when the Phantoms traveled to Utica, adding an assist in Lehigh Valley’s 7-4 win over the Comets.

The hit in question came in the first period of Lehigh Valley’s 5-1 loss to the Penguins, when Morin cross-checked Wilson head-first into the boards near the Phantoms’ blue line. Wilson did not return after the hit, and he will miss “at least a month” with an upper-body injury. Morin did not appear to attempt to injure Wilson, but the hit was rather reckless and unnecessary. It could have been avoided and should have. Morin avoided a suspension in October for boarding Hershey’s Travis Boyd and that hit was far more vicious than the hit on Wilson. Boyd did not suffer an injury and remained in that game while Wilson did get injured, so that may have played a factor into the decision not to suspend Morin in October. Injuries should not be the deciding factor in disciplining players for dangerous hits, but that is often the case in how the NHL’s Department of Player Safety disciplines players. There at least appears to be the same standard in the AHL. That’s a standard that has to change.

Morin plays with a physical edge and a lot of snarl. His fights often become candy for the Internet, and the burly blueliner brings the old-school fear into his opponents. Still, he’s a decent skater for a 6-foot-7 defenseman who continues to work on his puck-handling. During warmups before each game, Morin can be seen working on his stick-handling. In his second professional season, he had never missed a game before Friday. He was the only Phantom to play in every game last season and played in all 46 games this year prior to Friday.

Dirty hits have not been Morin’s style, but as a player who does play a physical brand, there has to be a recognition as to when to deliver a hit. The cross-check on Wilson was not a play that Morin should have made, and the suspension could be a wake-up call for him. When he does come to the Flyers — likely next season, depending on what the Flyers do at the trade deadline — he’ll add much-needed size on the blue line. Until then, he’ll continue to develop with the Phantoms and learn from this suspension.

Philippe Myers, D, 6-5/209, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
Myers, a rising defensive prospect whom the Flyers found as an undrafted free-agent signing in September 2015, returned to game action after a lengthy absence because of a concussion suffered at the world junior championships in December, and it didn’t take him long to put his imprints back on the Huskies. Myers had a hand in both of the Huskies’ goals in their 2-1 win over Val-d’Or last Wednesday, his first QMJHL game since Dec. 9. (He was away with Team Canada during the world juniors. He had last played Dec. 31.) One assist set up a one-timer that led to Rouyn-Noranda’s first goal, and the other was a one-timing shot that led to a rebound being put into the net. He was held pointless in two other games. There should be some concern about Myers because he’s had two concussions this season, missing six games from Oct. 23 to Nov. 4  because of his first concussion. Head injuries can derail a player’s career, and consider Myers’ trend upwards, it would be a devastating blow to have his progress hampered by consistent head injuries and concussions.

German Rubtsov, C, 6-0/190, Chicoutimi (QMJHL)
Rubtsov continued to dominate the Q last week, though he appeared in just one game because of an upper-body injury. Rubtsov had a goal and an assist in Chicoutimi’s 6-4 loss to Blainville-Boisbriand last Wednesday. It was his second straight multi-point game, and his third in his previous four games. He’s now at 18 points and seven power-play points in 11 QMJHL games. It’s unclear exactly what Rubtsov’s injury is and how long he’ll be out.

Oskar Lindblom, LW, 6-1/192, Brynäs IF (SHL)
After being held out of the Sweden Hockey Games portion of the Euro Hockey Tour as precautionary reasons, Lindblom didn’t miss any time for Brynäs last week, and it was another productive, consistent week for the 20-year-old left winger. Lindblom had two more goals last week, and now has 18 on the season, second in the SHL behind teammate Kevin Clark. He registered his 17th goal in a 6-5 overtime win over Djurgarden last Tuesday on a goal that should help silence the concern about his skating. Two days later, Lindblom put his wrist shot on display in a 4-0 win over Leksand for his 18th. Lindblom has been a consistent force for Brynäs, with 39 points in 44 games. He’s held pointless in just 14 games this season, and the longest he’s gone without a point was three games.

Cooper Marody, C, 6-0/178, Michigan (NCAA)
Michigan lost both weekend games to No. 20 Wisconsin, but Marody continued to pick up points. The sophomore added a goal on Friday in a 5-2 loss and an assist Saturday in a 6-4 defeat. After sitting out the first semester because of academics, Marody has shot up the Wolverines’ scoring list in far fewer games than his teams. His 11 points in 12 games have him fourth on the team in scoring. The six players ahead of him have all played at least 23 games. It’s a testament to Marody’s ability to put up points in bunches. He now has eight points in his last six games, and five goals and six assists on the season.

Quick hits
• A rough outing last Tuesday saw Felix Sandstrom sit out Brynäs IF’s last two games. Sandstrom was slapped for a season-high five goals in a 6-5 overtime win over Djurgarden.

• Ohio State freshman Tanner Laczynski’s point streak reached five games with a goal and an assist against in the No. 14 Buckeyes' 3-2 win over Michigan State last Friday, but it was snapped Saturday night in a 4-3 win over the Spartans.

• Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen now has not lost in his last 10 games — 9-0-1 (yes, there are still ties in college hockey). Madsen stopped 21 of 23 shots in No. 3 Harvard’s 4-2 win over Yale on Friday, and then Madsen pitched an 11-save shutout over Brown Saturday.

• Four games, four wins for Everett’s Carter Hart, who allowed just six goals on 115 shots.

• Sarnia’s Anthony Salinitri scooped up two assists last Wednesday in a 6-2 win over Guelph, and a goal in a 7-5 loss to Flint. Salinitri has 20 goals and 45 points in 54 games.

• The Phantoms’ Robert Hagg, a sound two-way defender who’s a perfect of example of patience with development, scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season Sunday for his first multi-goal game of his pro career. Check out his first goal here, an impressive howitzer.

• With an assist Sunday, Travis Sanheim now has a three-game assist streak going. He’s up to 26 points in 52 games in his first pro season with the Phantoms.

• It was a 50/50 split in net for Lehigh Valley last week, with Anthony Stolarz starting Tuesday and Saturday and Alex Lyon starting Wednesday and Sunday. Not the best week in terms of the number of goals allowed — nine by Stolarz, seven by Lyon — but both faced a ton of shots last week. Stolarz saw 43 and 44 shots, respectively, in both of his starts; Lyon saw 18 and 47, respectively. Both won a game and lost a game last week.

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

Flyers' power play rediscovers swagger in win over Canucks

BOX SCORE

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – The Flyers got some swagger back Sunday night.

But especially so on the power play, which entered Sunday's clash just 2 for 19 over the last six games.

Two markers on the man advantage helped the Flyers edge the Canucks, 3-2, at Rogers Arena in Vanvoucer (see Instant Replay).

“It all comes back to finding a way to produce – and they did that tonight,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, who had called for his power-play participants to rediscover that swagger.

Hakstol’s club won for the first time in its last nine games in Western Canada. More importantly, the Flyers (28-24-7) moved within a point of the eighth and final playoff spot, currently shared by Florida and Boston, in the Eastern Conference.

Thanks to the power-play success, the Flyers built a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes and then hung on, atoning for a sub-par effort in a one-sided loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Thursday night.

The Flyers converted two of three power plays while blanking the Canucks on all four of their man advantages. The loss prevented the Canucks (26-28-6) from getting closer to a Western Conference playoff berth.

“I thought we were playing some pretty good hockey of late, but the pucks weren't going in,” said Flyers center Brayden Schenn, who scored the winning goal on the power play at 2:38 of the second period. “Tonight, we tightened up defensively again from Edmonton's game and were able to score a few more goals. It's a huge two points going home."

Wayne Simmonds, also on the power play, and Jakub Voracek scored the Flyers’ other goals.

“We needed a win,” Simmonds said. “Especially after the game in Edmonton, this is good for the morale."

Shayne Gostisbehere assisted on all three goals, recording the first three-point night of his career.

Schenn’s winning goal came only a minute and 27 seconds after Voracek gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead at 1:11 of the second by sending Sean Couturier’s huge rebound into a gaping net behind Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller. Voracek’s goal was his first in 10 games. He had not scored since Jan. 25 against the New York Rangers.

How did long sought-after goal make him feel?

"Like I scored a goal,” deadpanned Voracek. “We won the game. That’s the way I looked at it. It doesn't matter who scored the goals. Special teams were huge tonight. I liked our power play. We were going all 60 minutes. This one kept us in the race."

The Flyers were a well-rested team thanks to a two-day break between games and a three-day break before the start of the road trip. The Canucks, on the other hand, were playing their second of back-to-back home games with only a day’s rest following a grueling six-game United States road trip. But there was still considerable suspense over the final 30 minutes.

Markus Granlund and Jannik Hansen tallied for the Canucks, who are known as comeback artists, at 3:43 and 12:42 of the second, respectively, before the Flyers shut Vancouver down the rest of the way. Voracek indicated the Flyers were not nervous in the final frame.

"I don't think we changed anything to be honest,” he said. We were pretty tight in the neutral zone. We didn't give them much. When we had a couple of breakdowns, [Michal Neuvirth] was on his act.”

Neuvirth stopped 18 of 20 shots as the Flyers outshot the Canucks, 28-20. He enjoyed a much better start Sunday, holding the Canucks scoreless in the opening period after allowing four goals on his first 12 shots on Thursday in Edmonton. One of his better saves came with just over a minute into the game as he got his toe on Markus Granlund’s dangerous chance from in close.

"I felt good,” said Neuvirth. “I have been practicing well and playing with confidence. The last game, it didn't work out. I put that one behind me and restarted my mind and got back to work tonight.”

“I thought he was excellent,” said Hakstol. “He was calm and settled in there. You can go back through that 60 minutes and you can pick out three or four pretty darned good saves.”

Neuvirth excelled while making his fourth consecutive start and sixth in the past seven games overall.

“It feels good,” he said of the heavy workload. “It feels better when we win.”

But he was not about to get too excited. The Flyers have a tough clash at home Wednesday against NHL-best Washington and a road game Saturday at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field against the rival Penguins as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series.

“We have a tough schedule coming and we have to be ready,” Neuvirth said.