Flyers earn important win before holiday break


Flyers earn important win before holiday break


Their goalie made a couple of timely momentum saves.

Their still fairly-new top line had another big game with four points.

And they got secondary scoring once again from a familiar face.

All three things played a role in the Flyers' 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday that sent the team into the Christmas break over .500 and secured a hold on a playoff spot as the third-place club in the Metropolitan Division (see Instant Replay).

You can talk at length about how Claude Giroux’s unit now has 28 points in the six games its been together, but you have to first mention that goalie Steve Mason had two critical saves at different times that gave the offense a chance to score.

First, Mason stoned Jason Pominville shorthanded with the Flyers holding a precarious 2-1 lead in the second period. A few minutes later, Giroux made it 3-1.

Then in the third period, the Wild made a hectic push for several minutes with Mikko Koivu charging down the slot to get his stick on a pass and one-time at Mason’s doorstep.

That save prevented what should have been a certain goal. And it gave the Flyers more momentum. Moments later, Simmonds (two goals and an assist) scored an empty netter (see highlights).

Game over.

“It was definitely a big save,” Mason said of the Koivu shot that drew thundering applause. “If we don’t make that, it becomes a one-goal hockey game and there is probably seven and a half, eight minutes left at that point.

“That could have become an entirely different hockey game, and those are the saves that we need to come up with in order to have success.”

What can you say about the top line that hasn’t already been said? Giroux has a career-high seven-game point streak (12 points), while Voracek has a career high eight-game streak (11 points).

The line came together Dec. 12 against Washington when Michael Raffl replaced Scott Hartnell at left wing.

“We’re finding the back of the net,” Giroux said. “It’s a lot more fun than the start of the year.

“We’ve got chemistry going. We’re controlling the play better. And [Raffl] is playing great for us. He’s moving everywhere and he has a great stick.”

Raffl had a couple of quality chances against the Wild, himself. His speed makes everyone go.

Coach Craig Berube says that’s the key.

“They all bring a different element,” Berube said. “The speed factor with Jake, the hands of Giroux and Raffl just strong on the puck. But they all skate and that is the key. They move their feet well in the offensive zone.”

Raffl is tough as nails on the wall, too, Berube said.

“It's nice to play with those guys,” Raffl said. “It's a challenge every day but I really enjoy it. I'm trying to stay on that line as long as possible.”

The Flyers kept pressing the offense against Minnesota.

“Our best defense is our offense and we keep pressuring them,” Giroux said. “We’ve got four lines going and everyone is playing great.”

Voracek seems just as relaxed as Giroux right now.

“We’re working hard all the time,” he said. “Back in the day when things didn’t go well, we stayed patient, we work real hard, and I think we’re old enough players to know we’ve got to work hard and we should be fine eventually. That’s exactly what happened and I think we’re making a difference in the game, which everybody is expecting from us.”

What has made it a bit easier on them is the contributions from others. Simmonds had two goals against the Wild. His new unit has Hartnell and Brayden Schenn in the middle.

“I think it’s worked great,” Simmonds said of his unit. “Like I said, we all do the same thing, we play north-south, we get bodies in, we grind on the other team's D, and we get the pucks to the point and we crash the net. I think that’s a good recipe and so far it’s been working.”

Right into Christmas.

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

Best of NHL: Penguins beat Panthers in Sidney Crosby's debut

PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby scored in his season debut as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to beat the Florida Panthers 3-2 on Tuesday night.

Crosby, who scored on a power play, missed the team's first six games with a concussion. Carl Hagelin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Penguins, who extended a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Panthers.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who has started the first seven games of the season for Pittsburgh, stopped 20 shots. Matt Murray, who backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in June, served as the backup to Fleury after missing the first six games with a broken hand.

Reilly Smith scored a power-play goal and Mark Pysyk also scored for the Panthers, who have lost 11 of 12 against the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

James Reimer made 19 saves in his second start of the season (see full recap).

Kings top Blue Jackets in overtime
LOS ANGELES -- Alec Martinez scored 1:14 into overtime, and the Los Angeles Kings rallied to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 Tuesday night for their third straight victory.

Drew Doughty scored the tying goal with 5:57 left in regulation for the Kings, who won their third straight overtime game after an 0-3-0 start to the season. Captain Anze Kopitar also scored, and third-string goalie Peter Budaj stopped 19 shots in his third consecutive win.

Cam Atkinson scored a tiebreaking power-play goal late in the second period, and Sergei Bobrovsky made 27 saves for Columbus. Brandon Saad also scored for the Jackets, who had won two straight after an 0-2-0 start.

Martinez ended it by putting a rebound into an open net for the defenseman's second goal of the season (see full recap).

Lightning strike for seven goals in win
TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos matched a career-high with four points -- two goals and two assists -- and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Tuesday night.

Frederik Andersen gave up seven goals on only 24 shots, the third time in five starts he has allowed at least five goals and fourth time he's allowed four or more. The 27-year-old has an .851 save percentage so far this season.

Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jonathan Drouin added goals for Tampa Bay, while Ben Bishop made 40 saves.

William Nylander, James van Riemsdyk and Auston Matthews scored for the Maple Leafs, who outshot the Lightning 43-24 (see full recap).

Flyers pull off huge comeback over Sabres in shootout

Flyers pull off huge comeback over Sabres in shootout


All it took to provide a jolt of energy to a band of weary skaters was a rookie scoring his first goal and a veteran getting laid out on the ice.
Travis Konecny’s first NHL marker (see video) and then Dmitry Kulikov’s ill-advised charging hit to Jakub Voracek released the beast inside of the Flyers on Tuesday night as they climbed from a three-goal canyon to a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).
“It was amazing,” Voracek said. “They didn’t get frustrated and go after Kulikov. They got focused and tried to tie the game up. We’ve been down so many times this season and come back. That’s the big character of this group.”
They were behind 3-0 in the third. Fans had already left the building when Konecny scored the first of a Flyers season-high three power-play goals at 4:30.
A few minutes later, Kulikov went high on Voracek, leaving him wobbly. Under the NHL concussion protocol, the Czech winger left the ice for a few minutes. He returned in the final two minutes of regulation.
By then, Mark Streit had set up one goal for Brayden Schenn — his first — and scored himself on a scramble in front of goalie Anders Nilsson to make it 3-3.
The drama only increased during a dominant overtime session for the Flyers, followed by a shootout in which goalie Steve Mason aggressively challenged and stifled two Sabres shooters before Claude Giroux and Voracek nailed it shut with goals (see highlights).
“You try different things and we did shootout practice a week ago and I did very well so, you try what works,” said Mason, who made eight saves in relief of starter Michal Neuvirth and earned the win.
“They both tried going five-hole and it was good to get the saves with some goal support in the shootout.”
Goal support has always been the Flyers' shootout nemesis.
Now if Dave Haktol’s squad looked fatigued, well, it had reason, given this six-games-in-nine-days torture trial (three in five days) and a late arrival on Tuesday morning from Montreal.
Neuvirth wasn’t very sharp — three goals against on 17 shots — and has been pulled twice in three starts. Somehow he’s also gotten two no-decisions to remain unbeaten with a save percentage well under .900.
Mason came in, made a couple of stops, then watched the comeback begin. In some ways, it was reminiscent of last week in Chicago when the Flyers came back with four goals, only this time, they won.
“We wanted to go out and play hard for each other in the third period,” Hakstol said. “Tough situation down 3-0 in your building, back-to-back night, not a whole lot going right.
“Not able to really get a whole lot of things going … get that first one, anything can happen.”
And it did, starting with Konecny’s goal.
“I felt excited — everyone was excited we got a goal on the board,” the 19-year-old winger said. “But what got us motivated to go was when we saw that hit on Jake. It’s not what you want to see, one of your best players go down like that … that got us motivated to go.”
The Flyers scored twice more in 1:05 to stun the Sabres, who had not played in five days.
“He’s a tough guy,” Giroux said. “He was more mad he had to go off the ice for protocol. He’s a warrior. Don’t tell him I said that.”
Giroux didn’t use tiredness as an excuse for the first two periods.
“We played some bad hockey,” he said. “We know we’re a better team than this. Our work ethic got us back in this game. Emotions and fans behind us, it was a fun third period.”
Fun even though he still doesn’t have a goal — outside of the shootout, which doesn’t count. Hakstol gave him a pep talk.
“He knows I am not happy with my play right now,” Giroux said. “I have to find a way to play better.
“We need everyone in this locker room if you want to be successful. If individually you play some good hockey, if everyone does that, as a team you will be good.”
Incidentally, Hakstol changed up his top line. Schenn, who was hot during preseason, was in a rut since coming back from his suspension. Schenn dropped down to the third line and Matt Read — the team’s leading goal scorer with five — took his spot on Giroux’s unit.
“It’s not easy,” Schenn said. “You get ready for the season, you play preseason and then you sit two weeks. Especially the World Cup guys are fresh, guys are playing well, then you take your two-week break, but it keeps coming.
“I feel it getting better game by game. It’s nice to get on the board tonight and hopefully that builds confidence.”
These comebacks should provide that confidence for his teammates, as well.