Flyers blank lowly Avalanche in final game before trade deadline

Flyers blank lowly Avalanche in final game before trade deadline

BOX SCORE

If only every game for the Flyers down the stretch could serve up the Colorado Avalanche. Were that to transpire, Dave Hakstol's club would be a lock to make the playoffs.
 
Tuesday was the final time the Flyers will see Colorado this season. Too bad for the Flyers because they threw snowballs at the Avs to the tune of a 4-0 win at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
 
The Flyers finished February with just four wins in 11 games. Now the team gets set for the post-trade deadline portion of its schedule, which features 20 games in 40 days to end the regular season.
 
How the Flyers fare will determine their playoff fate.
 
Amid this rout, general manager Ron Hextall was spending a lot of time on the phone while assistant GM Barry Hanrahan, his capologist, was on his computer much of the night as the deadline hits Wednesday.
 
According to a report by ESPN's Pierre LeBrun, the Flyers had contract talks with pending unrestricted free agent Michal Neuvirth. Sources said Neuvirth did not agree to a contract. His agent, Patrik Stefan, did not comment.

Hextall is apparently trying to work a deal, and you would have to think it was something larger (see story).
 
The opening period was all Wayne Simmonds on Tuesday, who briefly appeared to have a natural hat trick midway into the first period before it was determined the Flyers' third goal went off an Avs player and was credited to Jakub Voracek (see feature highlight).
 
"I hope it's the first and last time I get booed for scoring a goal," Voracek said after it was taken away from Simmonds.
 
The Avs are the worst team in the NHL. This win was certainly welcome news for the Flyers, who played a fast and energetic game in which they seemed relaxed.
 
"Twenty games left … a good step but the thing is not to get too high," said goalie Steve Mason, who picked up his first win this month. "It's one win, but we have a lot of work to do."
 
It gets harder immediately with Florida and Washington up next.
 
"We had the same type of start tonight we had the last couple nights and tonight we had some reward for it," coach Dave Hakstol said. 
 
Simmonds came into this game with one of the club's two shorthanded goals this season. He now has two himself after Matt Duchene coughed up a puck to Andrew MacDonald to start a rush that ended with Simmonds scoring on goalie Jeremy Smith.
 
His next goal was a redirect on the power play off a point blast from Shayne Gostisbehere. Voracek's goal was actually a pass intended for Simmonds on the power play when it glanced off of Francois Beauchemin to make it 3-0 at 10:35.
 
"It was good for us. We need that," Simmonds said. "It was a good win. I thought we played well. We didn't play perfect but well enough to get the win."
 
Asked about losing a natural hat trick, Simmonds didn't want any part of taking credit for the goal. 

"No, not a chance," he said. "I knew it was Jake's goal."
 
All those hats on the ice went to no good, too. Feel any responsibility to return them to their rightful owners?
 
"What am I supposed to do?" Simmonds said. "Go give every single one their hat back? It's not my fault, sorry."
 
Simmonds is on pace to score 35 goals this season. Of his 27 so far -- most of which have come in the crease -- he has 13 on the power play, which places him second behind Brayden Schenn (14) for the NHL lead.
 
"I'm lucky, I'm getting some bounces right now," Simmonds said. "But the whole idea is to try to disrupt the goalie's flow and to take his eyes away and get some rebounds.
 
"Whether I am scoring goals or not scoring goals, I am doing the same thing. I got a good bounce on the first one and G (Claude Giroux) and Ghost made a great play on top of the second one."
 
Now Mason, who sat six straight games, certainly wasn't going to be in game shape. Yet he had several good stops and finished with 33 saves. His last win, Jan. 25, was a shutout, as well.
 
He also had to handle a penalty shot from Mikko Rantanen, who was hooked from behind by Radko Gudas early in the second period. Mason knocked Rantanen's penalty shot away into the corner with his stick. 

This was Mason's 216th game played, third most of any Flyers goalie all-time.
 
"It's been a tough month, a lot of practice," he said of being benched in favor of Neuvirth. "When you're practicing, you're not getting game action and practices become tedious. … Pretty much every game now is must-win.
 
"It's hard to make up ground with three- and four-point games and people playing each other. For us, we have to focus on one game at a time and understand the importance of each."
 
Jordan Weal's first NHL goal early in the second made it 4-0. The Flyers had not scored four goals since Jan. 12 when they came from behind to stun Vancouver, 5-4, in a shootout.
 
"It felt really good," Weal said. "It was a long time coming. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can and create as many chances when I'm out there."
 
He again played on the top line with Giroux and Simmonds.
 
"It's awesome when you get to play with guys like that," Weal said. "First couple games, I was playing with Coots (Sean Couturier) and Jake and when you play with guys like that, you play your own game and work with them.
 
"If you can get your give and go and cycle game going with them, you'll create a lot of offense. When you get to play with guys like G and Simmer, you just have to get open and good things will happen."

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.

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

Best of NHL: Nikita Kucherov hat trick lifts Lightning over Bruins

BOSTON -- Nikita Kucherov had his third career hat trick to lead Tampa Bay to a 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, snapping the Lightning's three-game losing streak.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and two assists, Brayden Point had a goal and an assist and Anton Stralman also scored to help the Lightning pull three points behind the Bruins for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Peter Budaj finished with 28 saves for the Lightning to earn his 29th win of the season. Ondrej Palat had three assists, and Jake Dotchin and Victor Hedman added two each.

Riley Nashy had a goal and an assist for Boston, and David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara also scored. Tuukka Rask stopped 23 shots as Boston, which won seven of the first eight games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, has now lost four straight and six of 11 (see full recap).

Oshie beats Bobrovsky to give Caps SO win
WASHINGTON -- T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington's 35th shot of the game. Orlov's goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead (see full recap).

Senators take down Penguins in shootout
OTTAWA, Ontario -- Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan scored in the shootout to lift the Ottawa Senators to a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night.

Mike Hoffman scored in regulation for the Senators and Mike Condon finished with 34 saves, including two incredible point-blank stops in overtime to keep the game going.

Nick Bonino had the goal in regulation for the Penguins and Matt Murray stopped 29 shots.

After being outplayed for much of the first two periods, the Senators were much better in the third and tied the score 1-1 on the power play at 9:43 as Hoffman beat Murray over the shoulder with a wrist shot just 14 seconds after Matt Cullen was penalized for holding (see full recap).