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.”

Connor McDavid: Brandon Manning made 'classless' comments about injury

Connor McDavid: Brandon Manning made 'classless' comments about injury

Connor McDavid scored his first power-play goal of the season in the second period during the Flyers' 6-5 win on Thursday night (see Instant Replay). After his 12th goal of the year, McDavid made a point to stare down and exchange words with Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning.

In the first period, Manning and McDavid were in the middle of a scrum after the whistle, chirping each other (see 10 observations). The battle between the two roots back to when Manning broke the rising superstar’s collarbone November 2015 during a play against the boards in Edmonton.

“You know what, I did all I could defending him last year in the media," McDavid said after Thursday's game. "I didn’t want to make a big deal saying he did it on purpose.

"He wanted to make some comments today about what went on last year and I thought it was one of the classless things I’ve ever seen on the ice. He said some things and our guys responded accordingly.

"We can put the whole 'he did it on purpose' thing to rest, because what he said out there confirmed that. It shows what kind of guy he is, how he doesn’t step up and fight some of our guys.”

Manning received death threats from Edmonton fans last season, and responded after the game Thursday, reiterating the play that injured McDavid was an accident.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here," Manning said, "knows that I am not that kind of player. I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.

"I think going back to last year, it was a total accident. I mean, there were three players involved and there was never any intention of hurting anyone."

The injury ended up costing McDavid a few months, and a year later, the tension is still high between him and Manning.

As the second period moved along, McDavid continued to make plays for the Oilers. At the 4:35 mark in the second period, he took the puck away from the Flyers and then helped set up Andrej Sekera for a shorthanded goal that tied the game, 3-3.

The shorthanded goal helped give the Oilers momentum at the end of the period, but they could not carry it over to the third. The loss Thursday is the second night in a row in which Edmonton lost a game it looked like it was going to win.

“I’m not too sure what it is but I think we will figure it out,” McDavid said. "I’m not too sure what it is, like I said before. Something we need to figure out real fast here.”

Flyers top Oilers in thriller for seventh straight win

Flyers top Oilers in thriller for seventh straight win

BOX SCORE

Close your eyes and it was the 1980s all over again with the Edmonton Oilers piling up goals and Grant Fuhr giving up just as many.
 
Last goal wins.
 
Ah, but this is a different era with Connor McDavid not Wayne Gretzky.
 
Yet instead of McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, it was Michael Raffl scoring last as the Flyers twice overcame a two-goal deficit to burn the Oilers, 6-5, Thursday night at Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
 
That’s seven wins in succession for the Flyers, who are now tied for second in the Metro Division with the Rangers (35 points).
 
“We never give up no matter what the score is,” Jakub Voracek said. “We come back. We have a lot of good offensive players. We showed it again. Raffl was outstanding. He had a lot of scoring chances and he came up big.”

So many Flyers made critical plays. Voracek (plus-3) had a four-point game to go with the nifty pass off the offensive boards to Raffl, who then made a sharp cut to the net to wrist the puck past Jonas Gustavsson.
 
“Jakey banked it off the wall there and he wants me to make that play all the time, and he’s been hard on me about that,” said Raffl, who had a power move for the game-winner in Nashville last weekend. “I just put a little fake in there, got around the D-man and chipped it up high.”
 
This was a complete team comeback effort. Claude Giroux (plus-3) had two goals and three points. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare held McDavid to a power-play goal while shadowing him with rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov.
 
“Everyone knows what kind of player he is, what kind of speed he brings to the table,” Bellemare said of McDavid.
 
“I just tried to be as close as possible to him and kind of be annoying and cut off his speed. I didn’t make a big fool out of myself, so that’s a good point.” 
 
Goalie Steve Mason looked tired, but his teammates paid him back for earlier efforts when he stood there alone. Mason now has a personal-best six-game win streak.
 
“A couple nights ago, Mase was the best player and picked up a lotta guys around him,” coach Dave Hakstol said.
 
“Tonight maybe wasn’t his best, but was pretty good. Guys battled hard and they picked up some of the slack. That’s what it takes. Every guy is not going to be at their best every night.”
 
Voracek echoed those thoughts.
 
“That is how you become a great team,” he said. “Mase playing the last six games the way he did, it wasn’t his night tonight, but we got the win for him. That’s how you get into the playoffs and how you have success in the playoffs.”
 
The Flyers fell behind 2-0 early, rallied for three goals in 1:12 in the second, then were stunned by a shorthanded goal from Edmonton’s Andrej Sekera to tie it at 3-3 after two periods.
 
Edmonton scored twice to open the final period before Voracek and Giroux re-tied the game with eight minutes left, setting up the dramatic finish from Raffl at 18:31.
 
“It was an intense game, a lot of emotion. It felt like a playoff game,” Giroux said. “It was the funnest game all year. The fans were unreal. They weren’t wooing. They were cheering.”
 
Edmonton got a brilliant game from Leon Draisaitl, who moved off McDavid’s unit to another line and was dishing out passes like Monopoly money. He had a three-point night, scoring one goal and setting up two more.
 
Back and forth it went. Last goal wins.
 
“The guys bailed me out and that’s a sign hopefully when your goalie is not making the saves you need … it’s huge to see that,” Mason said.
 
“Once it got to 5-4, I tried to lock it down best I could. There are nights when you’re not feeling as sharp as you’d like, but this was a situation where the guys never quit. They earned the two points.”
 
The Flyers’ never-quit attitude is something that should carry them. It has become repetitive this season and they’ll want to remember it during the dog days of the season when their legs get tired.
 
“We’ve shown since the beginning of the season – come back and salvage some points,” Hakstol said. “That’s just guys believing in one another and going out and playing hard.
 
“You don’t want to be in that situation night after night. But tonight, guys stuck with it and great job.”