Erik Gustafsson answers the bell with timely goal


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: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored in his season debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Crosby, who scored on a power play, missed the team's first six games with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.

Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season (see full recap).

Kings top Blue Jackets in overtime
LOS ANGELES -- Alec Martinez scored 1:14 into overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Tuesday night for their third straight victory.

Drew Doughty scored the tying goal with 5:57 left in regulation for the Kings, who won their third straight overtime game after an 0-3-0 start to the season. Captain Anze Kopitar also scored, and third-string goalie Peter Budaj stopped 19 shots in his third consecutive win.

Cam Atkinson scored a tiebreaking power-play goal late in the second period, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves for Columbus. Brandon Saad also scored for the Jackets, who had won two straight after an 0-2-0 start.

Martinez ended it by putting a rebound into an open net for the defenseman's second goal of the season (see full recap).

Lightning strike for seven goals in win
TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos matched a career-high with four points -- two goals and two assists -- and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Tuesday night.

Frederik Andersen gave up seven goals on only 24 shots, the third time in five starts he has allowed at least five goals and fourth time he's allowed four or more. The 27-year-old has an .851 save percentage so far this season.

Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin added goals for Tampa Bay, while Ben Bishop made 40 saves.

William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews scored for the Maple Leafs, who outshot the Lightning 43-24 (see full recap).

Flyers pull off huge comeback over Sabres in shootout

Flyers pull off huge comeback over Sabres in shootout


All it took to provide a jolt of energy to a band of weary skaters was a rookie scoring his first goal and a veteran getting laid out on the ice.
Travis Konecny’s first NHL marker (see video) and then Dmitry Kulikov’s ill-advised charging hit to Jakub Voracek released the beast inside of the Flyers on Tuesday night as they climbed from a three-goal canyon to a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
“It was amazing,” Voracek said. “They didn’t get frustrated and go after Kulikov. They got focused and tried to tie the game up. We’ve been down so many times this season and come back. That’s the big character of this group.”
They were behind 3-0 in the third. Fans had already left the building when Konecny scored the first of a Flyers season-high three power-play goals at 4:30.
A few minutes later, Kulikov went high on Voracek, leaving him wobbly. Under the NHL concussion protocol, the Czech winger left the ice for a few minutes. He returned in the final two minutes of regulation.
By then, Mark Streit had set up one goal for Brayden Schenn — his first — and scored himself on a scramble in front of goalie Anders Nilsson to make it 3-3.
The drama only increased during a dominant overtime session for the Flyers, followed by a shootout in which goalie Steve Mason aggressively challenged and stifled two Sabres shooters before Claude Giroux and Voracek nailed it shut with goals (see highlights).
“You try different things and we did shootout practice a week ago and I did very well so, you try what works,” said Mason, who made eight saves in relief of starter Michal Neuvirth and earned the win.
“They both tried going five-hole and it was good to get the saves with some goal support in the shootout.”
Goal support has always been the Flyers' shootout nemesis.
Now if Dave Haktol’s squad looked fatigued, well, it had reason, given this six-games-in-nine-days torture trial (three in five days) and a late arrival on Tuesday morning from Montreal.
Neuvirth wasn’t very sharp — three goals against on 17 shots — and has been pulled twice in three starts. Somehow he’s also gotten two no-decisions to remain unbeaten with a save percentage well under .900.
Mason came in, made a couple of stops, then watched the comeback begin. In some ways, it was reminiscent of last week in Chicago when the Flyers came back with four goals, only this time, they won.
“We wanted to go out and play hard for each other in the third period,” Hakstol said. “Tough situation down 3-0 in your building, back-to-back night, not a whole lot going right.
“Not able to really get a whole lot of things going … get that first one, anything can happen.”
And it did, starting with Konecny’s goal.
“I felt excited — everyone was excited we got a goal on the board,” the 19-year-old winger said. “But what got us motivated to go was when we saw that hit on Jake. It’s not what you want to see, one of your best players go down like that … that got us motivated to go.”
The Flyers scored twice more in 1:05 to stun the Sabres, who had not played in five days.
“He’s a tough guy,” Giroux said. “He was more mad he had to go off the ice for protocol. He’s a warrior. Don’t tell him I said that.”
Giroux didn’t use tiredness as an excuse for the first two periods.
“We played some bad hockey,” he said. “We know we’re a better team than this. Our work ethic got us back in this game. Emotions and fans behind us, it was a fun third period.”
Fun even though he still doesn’t have a goal — outside of the shootout, which doesn’t count. Hakstol gave him a pep talk.
“He knows I am not happy with my play right now,” Giroux said. “I have to find a way to play better.
“We need everyone in this locker room if you want to be successful. If individually you play some good hockey, if everyone does that, as a team you will be good.”
Incidentally, Hakstol changed up his top line. Schenn, who was hot during preseason, was in a rut since coming back from his suspension. Schenn dropped down to the third line and Matt Read — the team’s leading goal scorer with five — took his spot on Giroux’s unit.
“It’s not easy,” Schenn said. “You get ready for the season, you play preseason and then you sit two weeks. Especially the World Cup guys are fresh, guys are playing well, then you take your two-week break, but it keeps coming.
“I feel it getting better game by game. It’s nice to get on the board tonight and hopefully that builds confidence.”
These comebacks should provide that confidence for his teammates, as well.