Flyers cap turnaround with playoff-clinching win

uspresswire-flyers-team.jpg

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.”

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

Dave Hakstol: Travis Konecny on 4th line 'makes sense in a lot of respects'

PITTSBURGH -- The curious line juggling of Travis Konecny continued Sunday night.

Flyers coach Dave Hakstol again started Konecny on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's fourth line with Chris VandeVelde, but just as he did in Columbus, Hakstol moved the rookie around.

This was Konecny's third straight game off Valtteri Filppula's unit with Jakub Voracek at the start. The obvious message to Konecny seems to be: Get yourself into a more defensive-minded role early and then let the offense come to you.

Konecny has made some defensive strides.

"It makes sense in a lot of respects," Hakstol said of the move to Bellemare's unit. "He's playing with two players with a lot of structure. He excels in that type of setting.

"If you look at [Saturday], he can bounce around the lineup with different lines and we used him that way. He didn't just play with his two linemates. He moved around a little bit. He's very effective in that role when we're able to get him out there. He gives us a good boost, a good push."

Against Columbus on Saturday, Konecny played on two units with Sean Couturier -- one featuring Jordan Weal and the other, Dale Weise. He also played a few shifts with Filppula and Wayne Simmonds.

The same thing happened Sunday in the Flyers' 6-2 rout of the Penguins (see game story). Konecny finished with an assist and plus-1 in just 8:02. He is one of the very, very few Flyers who is an even. Most are minus.

Konecny, who just turned 20, and Weal, 24, gave the Flyers a lift on Sunday. Weal had a goal and an assist in 13:06.

"No matter who it is contributing, everyone is excited for everybody," Konecny said. "A lot of guys put up some numbers tonight and contributed. It was a good team effort. That's what we want to see."
 
The Flyers were so relaxed it makes you wonder if the pressure of trying to make the playoffs is gone because their odds are so stacked against them.
 
"We’re at that point where you just need to win and just show up," Konecny said. "There's nerves in the back of your mind. We're pretty loose and trying to enjoy it as much as we can going through a stressful time.
 
"We've handled it well. We played a good team, we knew they would push but we pushed harder."
 
Konecny said he's not fazed by the different line combinations he's a part of, often in the same period.
 
"It's not too bad," he said. "I kind of expected it going into a game. I know when I am playing with Belly and Vandy that throughout the game, there's going to be times like penalty kills come up and he'll fill me in with another line.
 
"At the start of the third [tonight], I filled in another line. I know it's going to come. I just expect it. I've played with pretty much everybody on the team. I'm comfortable out there."
 
Loose pucks
The six goals on the road against Pittsburgh last happened on Feb. 20, 2013, when the Flyers won, 6-5. ... Sunday was the Flyers' largest margin of victory in Pittsburgh since March 31, 2003, when they beat the Penguins, 6-1, at Mellon Arena. ... Weal picked up the second two-point game of his career -- both of which have taken place this month. ... Weise has three goals in his last seven games. ... Claude Giroux had two assists, and now has two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 13 games this month.

Future Flyers Report: Merrick Madsen steals the show at NCAA Tournament

ap-merrick-madsen-harvard.jpg
AP Images

Future Flyers Report: Merrick Madsen steals the show at NCAA Tournament

Before this week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this week’s report, we highlight a Flyers goaltender prospect continuing to make waves in the NCAA Tournament over the weekend and much more as the season winds down.

Merrick Madsen, G, 21, 6-5/190, Harvard (NCAA)
Former Flyers general manager and current team president Paul Holmgren deserves a ton of credit for Madsen because the 21-year-old goaltender was a 2013 sixth-round pick and has developed into a legitimate goalie prospect. Last Friday night, Madsen proved again he has a future in professional hockey with a show-stealing 41-save shutout of Providence in Harvard's 3-0 win. He followed that up with another solid performance in net -- 27 saves, including several big ones in the final minutes to preserve a 3-2 win over Air Force on Saturday night to send Harvard to the Frozen Four. Madsen has now won 16 straight games -- a Harvard school record. He surpassed Grant Blair last weekend for the Crimson's single-season win record -- now at 28 victories. He earned the ECAC Tournament's Most Outstanding Player last weekend and also earned all-tournament honors; he's on the all-Ivy League first team, a finalist for the Ken Dryden ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Year award and a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award -- NCAA Division I's best goaltender. With the Flyers' goalie situation next season, it's likely Madsen will come back to Harvard for his senior season, but his growth has been exciting to track. He's been excellent all season.

Philippe Myers, D, 20, 6-5/209, Rouyn-Noranda (QMJHL)
After finishing the regular season on a seven-point, five-game point streak, Myers exploded for three points in Rouyn-Noranda's 5-4 loss to Halifax in Game 1 on Friday night. The right-handed blueliner registered his first goal of the postseason in the third period with a power-play tally with the Huskies down, 5-2. Myers began the play with the puck before handing it off to Jean-Christophe Beaudin and setting himself up for a one-timer in the circle. He added two assists in in the loss and finished as a plus-one. In Game 2, Myers was held pointless and finished as a minus-1, as Rouyn-Noranda won, 3-2, in overtime. The Huskies and the Mooseheads are now tied 1-1 with Game 3 scheduled for Tuesday night.

Wade Allison, RW, 19, 6-2/205, Western Michigan (NCAA)
Allison's freshman campaign is now over after Western Michigan was bounced from the NCAA Tournament Friday night in a 5-4 loss to Air Force. It was a rough return to the lineup for Allison, too, who finished the game as a minus-4 and received a five-minute major for charging with 1:13 left in the game shortly after WMU made it 5-4. He finished the season tied for fourth on WMU with 29 points -- 12 goals and 17 assists -- in 36 games.

Quick hits
Tanner Laczynski assisted on Ohio State's game-tying goal in the third period Friday night in its 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota-Duluth. Laczynski finished the season with 32 points in 34 games and never regained his form he had before the world juniors.

• Phantoms defenseman Robert Hagg returned to the lineup Saturday for the first time since March 3. Hagg was a minus-1 with two penalty minutes in his first game back, a 4-0 loss to Wilkes/Barre-Scranton. He sat out Sunday as a healthy scratch as scheduled.

Matej Tomek's sophomore season came to an end, too, over the weekend, as North Dakota was eliminated with a 4-3 double-overtime loss to Boston University. Tomek was a healthy scratch and has played just two games in his collegiate career thus far.

• After missing a lengthy period of time because of a concussion, Taylor Leier added a goal and two assists in four games last week with the Phantoms.

Connor Bunnaman finished as a minus-3 and received a five-minute major for slew footing in Kitchener's 9-1 loss to Owen Sound in Game 1 of their playoff series Friday night. Bunnaman was suspended two games for the incident and missed Game 2 on Saturday. He'll serve the second game Monday night in Game 3 of the best-of-seven game series.

Anthony Salinitri picked up an assist in Sarnia's 9-3 loss to Erie Saturday night in Game 2 of its best-of-seven series. The Sting and Otters are knotted up 1-1. Game 3 is on Monday.

German Rubtsov (upper body) missed Games 1 and 2 of Chicoutimi's series with Victoriaville last weekend. Game 3 is scheduled for Tuesday. Chicoutimi is up 2-0.

Pascal Laberge scored Victoriaville's lone goal in the Tigres' 2-1 loss to the Saguenéens in Game 2 on Saturday night. He had two penalty minutes in a 4-3 loss last Friday.

Samuel Dove-McFalls didn't factor in any of the scoring for Saint John's in its wins vs. Rimouski in Games 1 and 2 over the weekend but did win 63.3 percent of his faceoffs.

• Kelowna's Carsen Twarynski potted two goals and was named the first star in the Rockets' 4-0 win over Kamloops in Game 1 on Friday. He was pointless in Game 2 Saturday.

Carter Hart has Everett tied, 1-1, in its best-of-seven series with Victoria. In Game 1, Hart turned away 30 of 32 shots in a 4-2 win but yielded four goals in a 4-3 loss Saturday night.

Oskar Lindblom picked up an assist on Brynäs IF's game-winning goal over Linkoping in a 1-0 overtime win in Game 4 on Friday. He had just one point in four playoff games last week. Brynäs leads the best-of-seven series, 3-2.