Flyers beat Canadiens to push home streak to 10

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Flyers beat Canadiens to push home streak to 10

BOX SCORE

You could make a compelling case that for so many games on home ice this season -- and even last -- the Flyers too often found ways to lose games.

These days, home or away, with the confidence flowing, with a different line scoring every game, with good defense and goaltending, the Flyers are finding ways to win.

They won their 10th straight at home on Wednesday, 3-1, over the Montreal Canadiens. Confidence abounds these cold January days.

“Earlier in the year, we were finding ways to lose games and now we’re finding way to win games,” Sean Couturier said. “Even if we’re down a goal or two, we’re still confident we can come back and score goals. When we’re up a goal or two now, we’re confident we can close a game, too.”

The Flyers’ confidence has never been higher this season. Craig Berube’s team is 9-2 in its last 11 games.

They have 50 points to maintain second place in the Metropolitan Division with a three-point lead over the New York Rangers, who have catapulted over the Washington Caps for the third spot. 

Amazing what confidence can do for a hockey club.

“It’s big, confidence is big and right now we feel we can find ways to win games,” Couturier said. “Sometimes we’re not in games and our goalie makes big saves. All it takes is one little play to turn momentum around. We’re confident in games that we can shift momentum.”

It’s a fine line, too.

“Little details or turnover or chip or chip out that goes the other way and they score and now we’re doing a good job on those little details,” Couturier added.

Little details?

How about goalie Steve Mason (19 saves) getting an early stop on a Danny Briere breakaway? The night before in New Jersey, it was a goal on Ray Emery and forced the Flyers to play catch-up.

This time, it’s a save that allows the Flyers to get it together for Couturier’s goal five minutes later, followed by Zac Rinaldo’s goal.

A 2-0 lead after one period. It stretched to 3-0.

The days when the opposition would make a push and steal a point or even the game from the Flyers has vanished.

“We’re winning a lot of different ways,” Berube said. “Tonight we had a good first period, had the lead and did what we had to do to win the game. I didn’t think we gave them a whole lot.

“We played pretty good defensively. Jersey game we got down 1-0 but battled back. I can go back to the Phoenix game, we got down and battled back.

“They’re confident guys right now. They believe they can win. They might not always play their best hockey, but we’re squeezing wins out.”

Contributions abounded in this game.

Three assists from Andrej Meszaros –- the most he’s had in a game since he was with Ottawa in 2006. This was his eighth straight game playing in the lineup since Erik Gustafsson got hurt.

“Obviously, if you play more games, you're going to have more confidence,” Meszaros said. “I've been playing a lot of games lately, so that's good for my confidence. Hopefully, I'm doing a good enough job that the coaches will keep me in.”

Vinny Lecavalier still doesn’t seem like the same player he was a while ago because of his back injury, but the tall forward chipped in with another assist, giving him points in two of his last three games.

Rinaldo, who is known for racking up hits by the minute –- literally -– actually scored a goal, his first of the season.

Michael Raffl, back in the lineup two straight games coming off a concussion, got a key goal in the third period to make it 3-0 and break Les Canadiens’ backs.

It wasn’t a setup, just a loose puck and pop-up shot in and out of the net on goalie Peter Budaj.

“I had some really, really good scoring chances [this season],” Raffl said. “And then to get something like that, a rebound and you just whack at it and it bounces in.

“It’s life. Sometimes it goes in and sometimes it doesn’t. It was just bouncing there. I was trying to get through those sticks laying around.”

Best part about this game was that the Flyers didn’t have to scramble back. They got a lead and had it to the end.

“It’s always nice to have a lead,” Raffl said. “You can save a lot of energy. Just wait for them to attack and feed off their turnovers. They’re trying to create stuff. You just get it deep and grind them out.”

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.