Flyers cap turnaround with playoff-clinching win

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Flyers cap turnaround with playoff-clinching win

BOX SCORE

SUNRISE, Fla. -- They had been beaten up 4-1 by the Penguins a few days earlier. A few days later, on Oct. 21 at its practice site in Voorhees, N.J., team captain Claude Giroux boldly predicted the Flyers would make the playoffs.

They were 1-7 at the time, having fired coach Peter Laviolette and replaced him with Craig Berube just three games into the season.

“Eighty-two games is a lot of games, and it was only eight games and we had to believe in ourselves,” Giroux said Tuesday after his improbable prediction came true.

“When we started believing how good we were, we started winning games. [Someone] looked at me with crazy eyes when I said that, but it’s good to be in the playoffs. I just believed in our team. We had a good team.”

Berube’s Flyers clinched a playoff spot Tuesday with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center (see Instant Replay).

A four-goal outburst in the second period made it 4-0 as Giroux scored twice.

“Last year, not making the playoffs, it’s Philadelphia and it’s unacceptable and we were aware of that,” he said. “For us to make the playoffs this year after the start we had, we got to be proud of ourselves and make sure we keep playing like that.”

Truth be told, the Flyers had a poor start to this game after a scoreless opening period, a great second period and then, in the words of goalie Steve Mason, a “terrible” third period when the Flyers -- knowing they had it clinched -- let up and allowed the Panthers back into the game at 4-2.

“Our third period was terrible and we all know it and we addressed it after the game,” Mason said. “Come playoff time, we’re going to have to be better with it.”

Several individual heroes besides Giroux contributed. Vinny Lecavalier scored a goal and had a nifty assist on Tye McGinn’s marker. Adam Hall had two assists.

And lastly, Mason had 38 saves, including 14 in the third period when the Flyers were a defensive wreck for long stretches.

“The last seven or eight minutes we played some pretty good hockey, but there might have a little bit of a letdown,” Lecavalier said.

“Overall, we played a good game. First period, both sides weren't all that great but we came out in the second and scored four goals and had a lot of good chances offensively and it paid off.”

Lecavalier, who turns 34 this month, has been on five previous playoffs teams, including with Tampa Bay where he won a Stanley Cup in 2004.

The Flyers could have clinched a spot last weekend, but a four-game losing skid ended that chance. Lecavalier admitted there was a sense of relief in the dressing room tonight.

“It’s nice. You always want to finish strong and the right way, but we accomplished a lot from the start of the year, the first 10 games,” Lecavalier said. “We have to be proud of what we’ve done. We have to finish strong and make sure we’re ready and confident for that first round.”

The Flyers remain likely to face the Rangers and open in New York next week. The Rangers (93 points) won, 4-1, over Carolina to stay two points ahead of the Flyers (91) in the Metro Division. Columbus won, 4-3, in overtime against Phoenix to remain two behind the Flyers.

Berube’s team almost has to win out to overtake the Rangers. The Flyers have a game in hand.

“I told the guys you should be proud of yourselves,” Berube said. “They went through a lot. They battled hard all year. They’re a good group of guys. Good character and they deserve a lot of credit for making the playoffs.”

Berube’s focal point of what was the turning point in the season wasn’t back in October, but after Christmas when the Flyers went on a 5-1 road trip through Western Canada -- sweeping Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary for the first time since 1996 -- then finishing up in the Western U.S. against Colorado and Phoenix and finally, New Jersey.

“That trip after Christmas was a very important road trip,” Berube said. “I believe we went there with a purpose on that trip and came back with five wins out of six. That made believers out of our team more than anything. It put us in a good situation.”

The Flyers were 4-1 in February, then 9-3-2 in March to solidly position themselves as a playoff contender. However, they recently lost four games in succession mostly because they couldn’t score a goal even though they weren’t giving up any, either.

They can’t relax if they want to catch New York.

“It’s a great accomplishment, but within this organization, it’s something that is expected,” Mason said. “It’s one goal achieved and now we have an even bigger one.”

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

Claude Giroux's struggles mirroring Flyers' offensive issues

PITTSBURGH -- He was plus-1 with an assist.
 
No shots on goal and obviously, no goals.
 
Another day's useless energy spent by Flyers captain Claude Giroux, skating around the rink looking for the net and finding nothing but darkness.
 
He hasn't scored a goal in nine games, which is a major reason why the Flyers are 2-6-1 over that same span of time, including Saturday night's 4-2 loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field in the Stadium Series (see game recap).
 
Indoors, outdoors it makes no difference right now for Dave Hakstol's band of minstrels. As goes the captain, so go the Flyers, and it's rough sledding these days with the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference fast disappearing.
 
"Yeah, it’s frustrating," Giroux said this weekend. "You try to do the best you can do to help the team. Right now it’s not going in. I really believe we’re playing some good hockey, playing the right way and we’re going to get rewarded soon."
 
Asked whether he believed his own production is a mirrored reflection of the team he plays for, Giroux hedged.
 
"You try to play the right way, do what’s asked of you," he replied. "I've had a lot of chances, but at the end of the day, it has to go in. We’re done with excuses."
 
Thing is, Giroux really hasn’t had that many chances. Just 13 shots during this nine-game stretch. In four of those games, he had no shots at all.
 
Teammate Jakub Voracek says it’s going to come for Giroux. But when? Time is running out on the Flyers.
 
"He's always been a streaky player," Voracek said. "And not streaky that he's going to go on a tear for 10 games and then disappear for 10. He was streaky for 18 and then struggled for two, then he had another 20 games.
 
"It's only a matter of time. I think the last two games he played really well. For the guys who don't watch the hockey game, they look at the stat sheet and say, 'Oh, he didn't have any points.' But that's the way it is."
 
The Flyers used the word "desperation" before and after their outdoor loss to the Penguins. They played another pretty good overall game, but one thing stood out: they didn't make it difficult enough for Pens goalie Matt Murray in terms of traffic.
 
Pittsburgh's fourth goal was an example of what the Flyers couldn't do – screen out the goalie.
 
"I thought in the first couple periods we – not a whole lot, but I thought there were a few opportunities where we didn't make it difficult enough for [Murray] to find the puck," Hakstol said.
 
"But we had enough quality, no question. We did have good quality. Is it enough? Obviously tonight it wasn't. We didn't win the hockey game."
 
There were spurts where the Flyers carried the play, showed momentum, and then it died. When Shayne Gostisbehere made it a 3-2 affair early in the third, the Flyers needed to seize the moment. They didn't get the equalizer.
 
Eight minutes later, the Penguins scored from the point off a lost faceoff draw between Evgeni Malkin and Sean Couturier. Michal Neuvirth didn't see the puck soon enough. On Matt Cullen's wraparound goal that made it 3-1, Neuvirth was unaware.
 
Neuvirth wasn't very good in this game.
 
"There's no question they had two or three spurts where they carried some momentum for short periods of time, but I thought overall through the 60 minutes, our group did a good job and played the type of game that we wanted to play," Hakstol said.
 
Giroux was asked this weekend how much pressure he is putting on himself right now to salvage the Flyers' fading playoff hopes.
 
"It’s tough not to put a lot of pressure on yourself when it’s not going the right way," Giroux said. "At the end of the day, you have to take a step back and know what you’re playing for.
 
"I’ve been playing since I was three years old and I love the game so much, just try to go out and enjoy the game even if it’s not going your way. You have to find a way to love the game and play with passion."
 
You've seen the Flyers do that throughout all this losing – 3-7-1 in their last 11 – but passion doesn't always result in goals. Voracek had a goal in this game. His second in three games.
 
The Flyers need a bunch of guys to get going simultaneously like last season when they made their playoff charge. Over the last 16 games (6-9-1), the Flyers have scored just 25 goals. That's a bad trend that needs to be reversed immediately.
 
"Obviously, we haven't been able to score a whole lot," Hakstol said. "There's been a lot made of that. And you know what, fairly so. I think that's fair.
 
"Yet tonight, I look at the opportunities at this time of year, the type of opportunities and the number of opportunities that we generated were pretty reasonable.
 
"We've got to stick with it. We've gone through a tough stretch here, and through that stretch we've played for the vast majority, we've played some pretty good hockey.  ... We've got to make sure that we completely stay together as we have, and we've got to keep pushing the envelope."
 
Hakstol was pleading his case.
 
Whether he wins it, is another story.

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

Brandon Manning to face hearing for hit on Penguins' Jake Guentzel

As if Saturday night's deflating loss to the Penguins at Heinz Field wasn't enough, the Flyers could be coming out of the defeat minus a defenseman in the lineup.

Brandon Manning will have a hearing with the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday morning for his hit on Pittsburgh forward Jake Guentzel during the second period of the Stadium Series game.

That means a suspension is looming.

Just over three minutes into the second stanza on Saturday, Guentzel tried to corral a bouncing puck as he exited the Penguins' zone. He did not see Manning, who flattened him with a huge hit.

While the hit did seem a bit late in real speed to the naked eye, no interference penalty was called and play continued. Manning did look to leave his feet to the deliver the hit and make contact with Guentzel's head, though, so both could work against him during the hearing.

Video of the hit in question can be seen above.

Guentzel was not injured on the play, stayed in the game and finished the evening with two assists.

Manning has a clean history as he has never been suspended in the NHL.

If Manning does get suspended by the league, Michael Del Zotto is likely to draw back into the Flyers' lineup Tuesday against visiting Colorado.

Del Zotto, who is a prime candidate to be moved before Wednesday's trade deadline, has sat out the past three games as a healthy scratch.