Flyers-Blues: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blues: 5 things you need to know

The Flyers (37-25-7) will aim to win their fifth straight game when they host the St. Louis Blues (47-15-7) Saturday afternoon.

Puck drop is set for 1 p.m. (CSN) at the Wells Fargo Center.

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Wayne’s world
All eyes have been on Claude Giroux over the past few months -- and rightfully so -- but Wayne Simmonds reminded everyone Thursday night why he’s been a key to success for the Flyers all season long.

Simmonds beat Stars goalie Tim Thomas twice in the Flyers’ 4-2 win over Dallas and moved into a tie for second place in the NHL in power-play goals with 13 after a first-period tap-in marker. Capitals sniper Alex Ovechkin is the only player in the league with more goals (20) than Simmonds on the man advantage this season.

The 25-year-old has become a much more complete player since joining the Orange and Black in 2011. He’s been focusing on puck possession and is showing more patience when entering the offensive zone.

Earlier in his career, Simmonds would be more inclined to dump the puck and grind it out of the corners before heading to the front of the net. Now, he’s built up the confidence to gain the zone and either shoot or pass before getting to the middle of the ice.

Simmonds’ growth has paid dividends for the Flyers. He’s become a legitimate threat on the power play and the league is starting to take notice. It’s also worth noting that Simmonds has already set a career high in points with 52, which ranks second on the team, through 69 games this season.

2. Reinforcing the line
Andrew MacDonald has now played seven games with the Flyers since being acquired from the New York Islanders and he’s already done everything that was expected of him.

MacDonald has brought stability to the Flyers’ back end. He has blocked shots, run smooth breakouts and -- most importantly -- has developed chemistry with Luke Schenn.

Schenn has struggled to find consistency this season but has looked much more relaxed and confident since MacDonald came on board.

“We complement each other well,” Schenn said Friday (see story). “He’s helped me out there. He’s a steady player to play with. We knew what type of player he was: steady and consistent.”

MacDonald has just one assist since leaving Long Island, but the Flyers have gone 5-1-1 with him in the lineup. The MacDonald-Schenn pairing has also given the Flyers a more versatile look on the blue line and allows them to use their three pairings in multiple situations. So far, so good.

3. Welcome back
Saturday will mark the first of two meetings between these two clubs this season. Thanks to the NHL lockout that shortened last season to 48 games, the Flyers and Blues haven’t faced off since Oct. 22, 2011.

In that game, Carlo Colaiacovo had a goal and an assist to help St. Louis come away with a 4-2 victory at the Wells Fargo Center. Danny Briere and Matt Carle registered the Flyers’ two markers.

The Blues entered the weekend at the top of the NHL standings with 101 points. They are built around an outstanding defensive corps and balanced offense.

St. Louis got even scarier when they acquired netminder Ryan Miller and gritty forward Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres just prior to the deadline.

The Flyers will need to play better than they did Thursday if they want to shut down the Blues. They are a hardworking group that has an active forecheck and won’t shy away from contact.

4. Injuries
The Flyers are a healthy bunch.

For St. Louis, Magnus Paajarvi is listed as questionable for Saturday’s matinee with an upper-body injury.

The Blues will be without Jordan Leopold (high right ankle sprain) and Vladmir Tarasenko (right hand).
 
5. This and that
• The Flyers are 23-0-2 when they score four or more goals this season.

• Miller has allowed two or fewer goals in seven of his nine games with the Blues (seven wins).

• With one more marker, Mark Streit will become the Flyers’ ninth player to reach double digits in goals this season.

• T.J. Oshie, who leads St. Louis with 54 points, has a goal and three assists in his last three games.

• Giroux has at least one point in five consecutive games and has collected five goals and 10 assists since the Olympic break.

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

As the Flyers packed up for the offseason much earlier than they had hoped, the focus started shifting to the outlook for 2017-18.

There was some optimism provided by Valtteri Filppula.

It wasn't anything he said. Instead, it was what he did in 20 games.

Make that a full sample size and the Flyers are excited about the possibilities.

Filppula, a well-rounded, 33-year-old center, was acquired at the March 1 trade deadline in the Mark Streit deal. He added five goals and three assists in his 20 games.

"I felt like later in the year, we had more bullets in our gun," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week as the team held exit interviews and cleanout day. "(Jordan) Weal comes in and does a good job. Filppula comes in and really gives us stability. Really upgraded our top nine. So when you're talking 5-on-5 play, just to depend on five or six guys, all of a sudden you have nine guys you can count on."

The Flyers were 27th in the NHL with 128 goals at 5-on-5 -- a significant factor in their postseason absence.

But Filppula should bring more than simply a 5-on-5 boost.

The Flyers desperately needed depth at the center position to relieve some pressure from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Filppula, who came from the Lightning and played seven seasons with the Red Wings -- winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 -- is a sound matchup center and plays on the penalty kill, too.

"I think with Fil coming in this year, it really helped our depth," Giroux said. "He brings a lot to the team. He kills penalties, power plays, very good defensively and he's a smart player. When you bring a guy in like that, you kind of get excited a little bit."

From Filppula's first game on March 2 to the end of the regular season, the Flyers scored 56 goals, 12th most in the NHL over that span and 2.80 per game -- both improvements from their ranking of 21th on the full season and 2.59 per game.

"Now that we feel like we have nine guys that are legit top-nine forwards," Hextall said, "we've got good balance."

Couturier saw immediate benefits when the Flyers acquired Filppula. Couturier started playing with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, which turned out to be the team's best line combination to finish the regular season.

"I think it just brought some depth to our lineup," Couturier said of Filppula acquisition. "I had the chance to play after that with Schenn and Weiser and we just found chemistry right away and things went really well."

It provided head coach Dave Hakstol greater flexibility.

"The addition of Val Filppula to our group up front made our group of forwards better," Hakstol said. "Not just his presence, which I think he's an outstanding hockey player, a good hockey player and a real good veteran, but it just allowed some of the others to come together. I think there's real substance there."

The Flyers hope it shows with a full season of Filppula.

"I think when Filppula came in, the balance that seemed to come with him entering our lineup helped us both with and without the puck," Hakstol said. "Will that cohesion help us generate more offensively on an 82-game basis, not just a short-term basis? I think the answers to those things are yes."