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: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

NEW YORK -- Riley Nash scored twice and backup goalie Anton Khudobin made 18 saves as the Boston Bruins beat the New York Islanders 2-1 Saturday night, snapping a four-game losing streak.

Nash broke a 1-1 tie with his second goal of the contest at 4:12 of the third period, beating Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss from the slot for his seventh goal of the season. Dominic Moore assisted on the decisive goal, which lifted Boston two points ahead of the Islanders for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

John Tavares scored for New York and Greiss finished with 16 saves.

Tavares had a golden chance to knot the score with just over six minutes left in the third period but rang the puck off the crossbar with the Islanders on their sixth power play of the game (see full recap).

Eichel, Sabres slow Leafs' push to clinch playoff berth
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored twice and set up another goal in the Buffalo Sabres' 5-2 win that slowed the youth-laden Toronto Maple Leafs' late-season surge to clinch a playoff berth.

Ryan O'Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov each had a goal and assist, and Evander Kane also scored in a game the Sabres took control of by scoring three straight times in the second period. Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots, and the Sabres continued their home dominance over their cross-border rivals by improving to 18-2-1 against Toronto in their last 21 games at Buffalo.

The Maple Leafs' hold on third-place in the Atlantic Division dwindled in having a three-game winning streak end and losing in regulation for just the second time in their past 10 (7-2-1). With 85 points, Toronto has a one-point edge over Boston after the Bruins beat the New York Islanders.

Auston Matthews scored his 34th to tie Toronto's single-season rookie record set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86. Connor Brown also scored for Toronto (see full recap).

Marchessault's hat trick helps Panthers blow out Blackhawks
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third (see full recap).

Caps top Coyotes as Ovechkin reaches 30 goals for 12th straight season
WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 30th goal of the season and Daniel Winnik scored two goals, including the game-winner late in the third period, as the Washington Capitals overcame listless stretches to beat the lowly Arizona Coyotes 4-1 on Saturday night.

Ovechkin became the third player in league history to score 30-plus goals in each of his first 12 seasons, joining Mike Gartner (15) and Wayne Gretzky (13).

Winnik scored with 4:39 remaining, Justin Williams added another goal not long and Winnik sealed the Capitals' fourth consecutive victory with an empty-netter.

Braden Holtby made 28 saves for Washington, which has won five of six to reach an NHL-leading 106 points and keep pace atop the competitive Metropolitan Division. The Capitals are three points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Smith stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced and Peter Holland scored the lone goal for Arizona (see full recap).

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

From Winnipeg to Minnesota to Columbus, the Flyers' final long road trip made its third stop Saturday afternoon in Ohio against a rather imposing Blue Jackets team.

The Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth earlier in the week and in this one, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky earned his seventh shutout with a 1-0 victory -- his 40th this season, which is a career-high and a Columbus franchise record (see game story).

Dave Hakstol's team played a ferocious game -- two in succession now -- and demonstrated the urgency needed, even though its playoff odds took another turn for the worse.

The overall impact on the wild card remained temporarily unknown because of the Bruins-Islanders game to be played later Saturday night, but regardless of who wins, the Flyers will fall eight points out of the wild card.

The Flyers end their four-game road trip Sunday night in Pittsburgh in the back end of the back-to-back, where Steve Mason is expected to start in net.

Here are 10 things I think, I think.
 
1. Nationwide Arena hasn't been kind to the Flyers, who are now 0-5-5 in the building since December 2008. To say the Blue Jackets own the Flyers would be an understatement given they've won 13 of the last 15 games going back to Dec. 21, 2013.
 
2. Hakstol dusted off Michal Neuvirth for the front end of this back-to-back. Neuvirth's only start before Saturday was March 9 in Toronto, when Hakstol came under criticism for using him instead of riding Mason, who was on a 3-0-1 hot streak at the time. Saturday was just Neuvirth's third appearance in March, including in relief at New Jersey on March 16. He's been understandably rusty, yet he was very good in this game.
 
3. Hakstol, as he often does after a win, stuck with the same lineup he used during Thursday's 3-1 victory in Minnesota, which meant that rookie Travis Konecny -- who played less than 10 minutes against the Wild -- was again buried on the fourth line. He finished with 12:17 against the Blue Jackets.
 
4. Hakstol has pulled his goalie many times in the past with almost two minutes left on the clock. Why did he wait until the final 48 seconds Saturday to pull Neuvirth? What did he have to lose with a playoff berth on the line?
 
5. There is little question the Flyers' trading of Bobrovsky ranks among their top five worst trades in club history orchestrated just because of the team's enormous monetary commitment to Ilya Bryzgalov, who is chasing bears in the woods of South Jersey these days. All "Bob" has done in Columbus is win a Vezina Trophy and is the favorite for the award again this season. He is also among the candidates this season for the Hart Trophy. Bobrovsky came into the game 7-1 against the Flyers all-time with a 1.85 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Bobrovsky had three saves on Wayne Simmonds alone in a scoreless first period and finished with 36 overall.
 
6. Nick Foligno has always been a Flyers killer over his career. The talented winger came into play with 21 points (14 goals) in 28 career games against the orange and black. The flyers shut him down Saturday, as Foligno had just two shots in the game.
 
7. The Flyers' penalty kill units were active with their sticks and attacking the puck on Columbus from all sides -- not allowing the Jackets a good setup. Ian Laperriere's PK units improved toward the end of this trip. The Blue Jackets were 0 for 2.
 
8. An unfortunate break of the stick for Simmonds led to Columbus' only goal late in the second period off an Alex Wennberg redirection. If Simmonds had his stick, Kyle Quincey doesn't outreach him for the puck near the blue line. Instead, it's a shot on net that's deflected for the eventual game-winner.
 
9. The Flyers' second power-play unit with Jordan Weal and Konecny produced four shots in the closing minutes of that second period, but again Bobrovsky was the ultimate difference then and in the final eight seconds with a save on Jakub Voracek and subsequent rebound scrum in front. Joey Mullen's power play has collapsed at the end -- 3 for 43 during the month of March. It was 0 for 3 in this game.
 
10. No criticism of the Flyers in this one. They did everything they could to win. That's all you can ask against a goalie that outright owns you. Again, however, the level of desperation they showed in this and the Wild loss should have been exhibited over a month ago.