Flyers earn important win before holiday break

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Flyers earn important win before holiday break

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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: Red Wings' 25-year playoff streak snapped in loss

Best of NHL: Red Wings' 25-year playoff streak snapped in loss

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Lee Stempniak and Joakim Nordstrom scored about five minutes apart in the first period, and the Carolina Hurricanes beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 Tuesday night in the teams' second meeting in two nights.

Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm also scored for Carolina and Cam Ward stopped 21 shots. The Hurricanes have earned a point in 12 straight games (8-0-4) to move four points out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot.

The Red Wings beat the Hurricanes on Monday in a makeup game rescheduled from Dec. 19 when a Freon leak at PNC Arena made for unplayable ice. Tuesday's contest was regularly scheduled.

The postponement resulted in three games in the three days for the Red Wings. They won the first two but visibly struggled with their energy in the finale to snap a four-game point streak.

Tomas Nosek scored his first NHL goal and Jimmy Howard made 28 saves for Detroit (see full recap).

Rask backstops Bruins to important win over Predators
BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask made 24 saves in his return from a one-game absence and the Boston Bruins beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 on Tuesday night, boosting their playoff chances.

Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Noel Acciari and David Backes scored for the Bruins, who moved three points ahead of idle Tampa Bay for the second Eastern Conference wild card with six games remaining. Boston began the night a point behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.

Rask was sidelined with a lower-body injury for Boston's 2-1 road win against the New York Islanders on Saturday.

Bergeron's goal was his 18th of the season, and Krejci got his 22nd. Acciari scored his first career goal in 43 NHL games, Backes netted his 17th of the season and Zdeno Chara earned his 600th NHL point with an assist on Boston's first goal (see full recap).

Matthews sets rookie scoring mark in Leafs' win
TORONTO -- Auston Matthews broke Wendel Clark's 31-year-old franchise rookie record with his 35th goal of the season, and the Toronto Maple Leafs earned a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.

The victory kept Toronto (87 points) one point up on the Boston Bruins (86) for the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division and four up on the Tampa Bay Lightning (83).

Curtis McElhinney made 25 saves to earn the win for the Leafs. Leo Komarov and Zach Hyman also scored for Toronto.

James Reimer allowed two goals on 14 shots for Florida before he was knocked from the game with an injury and replaced by Reto Berra, who made 10 saves. Reilly Smith and Jaromir Jagr scored for the Panthers (see full recap).

Oshie's OT goal for Caps beats Wild after Ovi hat trick
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- T.J. Oshie scored his second goal of the game 1:42 into overtime to bookend Alex Ovechkin's hat trick, Braden Holtby earned his 40th win and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 5-4 on Tuesday night for their fifth straight victory.

After Eric Staal's goal for the Wild tied the game with 26.6 seconds left in regulation, Oshie took a pass in the left circle from Marcus Johansson and beat struggling Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with a wrist shot. Johansson had four assists.

Martin Hanzal and Jason Pominville had a goal and an assist apiece, but the Wild lost for the eighth time in nine games and fell to 3-11-1 in March after forward Zach Parise exited early with an injury (see full recap).

Flyers win game over Senators, but fail to gain ground in wild-card race

Flyers win game over Senators, but fail to gain ground in wild-card race

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It was a special night as 24-year-old Jordan Weal hoisted his team upon his young shoulders, saving the Flyers in regulation and then winning for them in the shootout.
 
Yet in the end, even though the Flyers defeated Ottawa 3-2, they still lost (see Instant Replay).
 
Lost where it counts most -- in the wild-card standings.
 
Boston's 4-1 win over Nashville kept the Flyers six points behind in the wild card, but more significantly, reduced the Flyers' tragic number to six.
 
Six Bruins points or six points lost by the Flyers moving forward will eliminate Dave Hakstol's club from the playoffs.
 
"The last five or six games, we've been playing pretty good," Wayne Simmonds said. "After I looked up and saw Boston win, it sucks."
 
These last four games -- including the loss to Columbus -- have seen the kind of consistency the Flyers have craved and not gotten enough of during the second half of the season.
 
Had they been playing this type of sound, focused hockey in late January through February, they'd own a playoff spot right now.
 
"Even before that, we were losing games we should have been winning," Michael Del Zotto said. "That's the beauty of the game: there's no easy games.
 
"Consistency is the biggest factor. The teams at the top of the standings have been consistent all year long … not stringing three or four losses in a row, which is tough to come back on, especially this year with our division playing so well."
 
These days, one Flyer playing with every-night consistency is Weal, the kid the LA Kings sent to the Flyers as part of the Vinny Lecavalier deal.
 
Ottawa's Kyle Turris broke a 1-1 tie with 7:25 left on a goal that Steve Mason never saw through a thick screen. It was a deflating moment given how hard the Flyers worked defensively.
 
Two minutes later, Sens goalie Craig Anderson tried to clear the puck from behind the net and Weal intercepted, then scored on empty net to tie, 2-2.
 
Ottawa challenged that Simmonds interfered at the net and lost. Simmonds skated to the post and effectively prevented Anderson from getting there in time.
 
"It's my ice. I got there before him. It doesn't matter so long as I'm not in the blue paint," Simmonds said. "He touched me. It's my ice. He ran into the back of me."
 
That set up overtime and a bunch of missed opportunities before Weal beat Anderson once more during the shootout to clinch it. He's 2 for 2 here in shootouts.
 
Weal has six goals in 18 games. He is playing aggressively above his 5-foot-8 or so height. He seems to have earned his keep for next season as a regular and not a call-up, which he's been since early February.
 
Asked if he felt he's cemented his position as a Flyer, Weal replied, "Not at all. No, this is one of the best leagues in the world. Nothing is given to you here. You've got to keep working all the time, year to year. Your position is never guaranteed."
 
Flyers coach Dave Hakstol likes what he has seen, but won't talk about Weal's future.
 
"He's earned everything he's got and continues to do that on a daily basis," Hakstol said. "I wouldn't say he's brought a different vibe or energy. He's brought energy in his own way and has been a good two-way player. He's scored some big goals for us. He's a reliable player, who generates and creates offensively."
 
Weal's play on Valterri Filppula's line with Simmonds has had a trickle-down effect on the lineup, creating better matchups for the Flyers. He's taken pressure off Claude Giroux's line, and particularly, Sean Couturier's unit with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn.
 
"They've been good together," Hakstol said of the Filppula unit. "Simmonds is playing some of his best hockey of the year, in terms of a power forward game.
 
"He's very tough to handle down low and that's adding an element for Fil and Wealer there. They seem to have chemistry here in the very short amount of time they've been together."
 
It's something for Flyer fans to look forward to next season. No one is talking about next season yet, but deep down inside, the players realize some of them need to make lasting impressions with the season running out on them.
 
The consistency in effort the Flyers have shown recently is exactly what they should have shown when it counted most -- right after the All-Star break.
 
"Yeah, you know we're competing hard," young Travis Konecny said. "We're not going to quit until the end of the season. That's the way we are. It's the character of our team. It's the things we've shown all year.
 
"Our games may not show it at times, our scores, but I think each and every night we always compete, we always battle. I think things are starting to happen for us. Pucks are starting to bounce the right ways for us and we're getting on the score sheet and it's helping us a lot."
 
What's not helping is all those teams ahead of them, especially Boston, are posting wins. Every two points Boston gets puts another dagger in the Flyers' side.
 
"Watching what other teams are doing is more stressful," Mason said. "Teams are going to win, teams are going to lose. But we obviously have to win and that's really all that matters."