Flyers embrace spoiler role in win over Bruins

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Flyers embrace spoiler role in win over Bruins

BOX SCORE

In the grand scheme of things, it was a victory without reward for the Flyers. But from the Boston Bruins side of things, it could be a major headache.

The Flyers routed the Bruins, 5-2, on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center and may have done some serious spoiler damage to the Bruins, who are tied with Montreal with 59 points.

Boston had the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. Montreal was the fourth seed.

Essentially, this was a game the Bruins needed to win to secure that seed.

“It’s almost something that is fun to do,” Simon Gagne smiled. “It’s not fun where we are at in the standings.

“There was a lot of expectations with [us] this year. Everything we’re doing right now maybe shows management what kind of team we will have next year.”

Goalie Steve Mason again looked sharp with 39 saves, while Jakub Voracek scored his 21st goal of the season.

Mason was making his fifth start in eight games. He had six critical saves in the final four minutes of the second period with the Flyers ahead 3-1 that made a statement.

“A team like that, they have some great offensive talent and myself, it was a great challenge,” said Mason, who is now 3-0-1 lifetime against Boston.

“We got [to] talk about the way the guys played, the goals they scored for us to respond.”

Coach Peter Laviolette said he wanted to “flip flop” Mason for Ilya Bryzgalov and not to read anything into Mason playing against Boston.

“He’s been pretty good for us since being here,” Laviolette said. “You start to see things in practice. You see his glove. He has a real good glove and that kills a lot of plays when there is no rebounds.

“You see his puck skills and his ability to move pucks out of our end or up to a defenseman or winger.

“His athleticism when he makes a save and gets over to another position to make a save. You start to see things in his game that are real positives.”

Mason got more goal support in the final period from Voracek and Gagne, sandwiched around a David Krejci goal.

“I’m not really looking toward next season yet,” Mason said. “I just want to finish off with a strong note.”

Mason had to be sharp, too, because the Flyers again played without another key defenseman, this time Kimmo Timonen, whose season is over with a foot injury (see story).

“Just part of the challenge,” Mason said. “Obviously, losing Kimmo is a huge loss. One of our top defensemen and on the power play. Guys are having ice time right now and doing a great job with it.”

Guys like Eric Gustafsson, who logged a team-high 23:56.

Backed by an emotional “Boston Strong” tribute to the city of Boston and its people (see story), it didn’t take the Flyers long to grab a lead on backup goalie Anton Khudobin.

“Yeah, of course, you know it’s been hard to see what’s been going on in Boston,” Voracek said.

“But it’s obviously a great thing that we kind of think about it and do what we did, you know. And it’s over and they did a great job with it.”

Not even two minutes into the game, Krejci threw a lazy puck off the board into the high slot.

Scott Hartnell all but tripped over it. He couldn’t believe how it was just sitting there. Hartnell roofed a high shot into the net for his eighth goal.

“What an emotional video to start the game,” Hartnell said of the Flyers' “Boston Strong” pregame video tribute. “We wanted to come out with a big start. It couldn’t have worked out better.

“I came on to the ice from a change and just kind of worked my way to the slot. I don't think their guy knew I was there. I was able to get the turnover and get a shot off.”

Three minutes later, the Bruins charged the net hard, making rather obvious contact with Mason.

They were in pursuit of Jaromir Jagr’s shot off Mason that Wade Redden put into the net to make it 1-1.

Redden, who was in the middle of that scrum, is fighting five other players to make the Bruins’ playoff roster.

The Flyers chased Khudobin for Tuukka Rask just before the midway point of the second period after two bad goals.

Khudobin left a fat rebound in the right slot for Matt Read at 11:24 to break the tie. Seven seconds later, another sloppy clear by the Bruins came back to bite them.

This time, former Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara cleared a dump-in from Oliver Laurdisen into the slot from behind the net and the puck went off his goalie’s stick into the net, which infuriated Khudobin.

Then Bruins coach Claude Julien pulled him.

“Awesome, absolutely awesome,” Lauridsen said of his goal. “I mean, it wasn't the dream goal but I'll take it. It was just a dump-in and a lucky bounce but it's my first NHL goal, so I'll take it.”

Now, the second half of that period saw the Flyers get rather sloppy, forcing their penalty killers out there for a brief five-on-three kill that they survived.

Actually, Mason was the reason for the survival. He has a 2.08 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in six overall appearances as a Flyer.

“His confidence is getting bigger and bigger every game,” Gagne said. “It’s something we were talking about on bench. You can see it every practice he is getting better. It’s tougher to score in practice on him. He was really solid for us again tonight.

“As a team, even if you are out of the playoffs, you want to get ready for next season. Show what you can do as a team. Right now, we like what we see from him.”

Flyers returning from World Cup enjoyed playoff-like atmosphere

Flyers returning from World Cup enjoyed playoff-like atmosphere

VOORHEES, N.J. – It’s as if the season began right where it left off for the handful of Flyers players that participated in the World Cup of Hockey. 

Five months removed from their first round series with Washington, the group that played in the international tournament says it was nearly identical to the tempo they saw in the NHL playoffs.

“Our division was really tight so right from the get-go you couldn’t afford to lose a game,” said Sean Couturier, who suited up for North America. “It definitely felt like playoffs, and it definitely didn’t feel like September.”

Couturier was joined by his World Cup teammate Shayne Gostisbehere, along with Team Czech Republic’s Jake Voracek and Michael Neuvirth, in their return to Voorhees for their first practice with the Flyers on Monday. Team Canada’s Claude Giroux and the Team Europe duo of Mark Streit and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will be competing in the finals this week.

While it may have been an early exit for the first wave of Flyers who reported back, the experience of playing in a tournament with that high of intensity has left them more confident than they’ve ever felt at this time of the year, particularly for Gostisbehere. 

The Calder Trophy runner-up underwent offseason hip surgery following his 46-point season. Having missed a season two years ago because of a torn ACL, Gostisbehere is thankful for how much the World Cup prepared him for his second year. He says he feels better now than he ever has in his career after picking up four assists in the tournament.

“You don’t play in those games in September normally so it was pretty cool to do,” Gostisbehere said. “I think the tournament was a good stepping stone for me and to branch off my injury and give yourself the confidence that you’re feeling good for the year.”

Like Couturier and Gostisbehere, Voracek said the World Cup gameplay mirrored that of the NHL postseason. 

“When I look at the season for the Flyers, it was the best thing that could have happened for me,” Voracek said. “The World Cup was high level… I’m six games in before training camp even starts.”

After what he calls a “good offseason” of training, Voracek saw this opportunity as almost a saving grace – a chance to regain form before embarking on his sixth season in Philadelphia. The winger had one goal and one assist in three games that “felt like I was playing in the playoffs.”

Had this tournament occurred in 2015, the mindset coming back may have been different. Dave Hakstol was coaching his first professional season and as evidenced by their record to start the year and the comments made throughout, things took a little longer than expected when it came to picking up the new coach’s system.

That process is behind the Flyers, and it makes missing the first weekend of camp and possibly the first week of preseason games an easier obstacle to overcome.

“It’s always better when you know the system and what Hak wants in you,” Voracek said. “It’s obviously going to get better and better.”

The best-of-three World Cup finals will begin on Tuesday with the third game (if needed) commencing on Saturday. If the teams go the full distance, the remaining three Flyers involved would likely not play their first preseason game until Oct. 6 if not Oct. 8, the final exhibition game. 

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

Pressure is on Flyers' fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde to fend off competition

VOORHEES, N.J. — Even before Flyers training camp opened, Ron Hextall talked about a plenitude of internal competition for jobs.
 
It’s all over the ice, too.

Who starts in goal: Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth, who came on strong at the end of last season? 
 
Does Ivan Provorov win a spot on the roster? And if he does, who gets sent packing?
 
Between Scott Laughton and Nick Cousins, who gets the lion's share of ice time? 
 
Can Travis Konecny or Roman Lyubimov force a veteran forward off the team?
 
Then there’s free-agent signee Boyd Gordon, a PK specialist who was second only to Claude Giroux in the league last season on winning defensive zone draws. More competition.
 
Well, one of the key battles in training camp for both roster space and minutes concerns how veteran fourth-liner Chris VandeVelde handles the competition from Lyubimov — the 24-year-old Russian who plays a heavy game and can handle special teams — and others.
 
VandeVelde saw a bit of an offensive drop-off last season with 14 points. Though just a point fewer than the year before, the bigger dip was going from nine goals to two.
 
With no real goal-scoring additions in the offseason, Hextall is expecting bigger outputs from returning players.
 
In VandeVelde’s case, two goals is something Lyubimov could easily match or exceed.
 
“You have to go out there and give it your all,” VandeVelde said. “Hopefully, work hard and kind of make an impression. There’s a lot of guys fighting for a fair amount of spots. It’s going to be interesting.
 
“I think I’ve felt pressure every year. Obviously, you want to make an impression and get noticed out there. Reassure [them] I can still do the job and add a few things to my offensive game.”
 
And his self-evaluation?
 
“I think I was solid,” he replied. “As a fourth line, we were very good at times. Individually, I can add a little more and chip in a little more.”
 
VandeVelde is not scheduled to play in either of Monday’s split-squad games in New Jersey or Brooklyn.
 
At stake here isn’t just his job on the fourth line but the penalty kill, as well. VandeVelde’s 2:17 shorthanded ice time per game was second only to linemate Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (2:35) among the forwards.
 
The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Lyubimov has played on the penalty kill in the KHL, and Gordon is a PK specialist. What was VandeVelde’s edge is now something up for grabs, especially given both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol have vowed there will be improvement on the PK, which ranked 20th last season after being among the bottom 10 much of the year.
 
Hakstol has said he intends to tweak the PK with some structural changes. That sounds like personnel changes and Gordon could be a guy on the fourth unit and will certainly be in the mix on the penalty kill.
 
How to make the kill better remains at large.
 
“We have to start a little more aggressively,” VandeVelde said. “Kind of like we finished the last couple games there against Washington [in the playoffs]. We kind of got burnt there, 6-1 [in Game 3]. We switched styles a little too late.”
 
The Flyers gave up five power-play goals in Game 3 to the Caps.
 
VandeVelde admits his penalty kill experience gives him a bit of an edge going into camp.
 
“If I can bring that extra edge and solidify a role, that is huge,” he said.
 
VandeVelde returned to his home in Moorhead, Minnesota, over the summer to focus on his skating, hoping to get a more explosive start on the ice that he could utilize better during the penalty kill.
 
One thing seems certain: VandeVelde says there’s a greater comfort level for returning players as to what to expect from Hakstol. Also, whereas last year’s camp was one of implementing systems, this year’s camp is one of expanding on them.
 
“Everyone knows what to expect,” VandeVelde said. “So do all three coaches. They are going to tweak some things, whether it's penalty kill or power play or other systems. We’ll learn that. That is what preseason is for. All the players know what to expect and are ready to go.”
 
VandeVelde said he’s already been informed what the team expects from him this season. The competition could push him in that direction.
 
“I know what they want,” he said. “Obviously, I can do more offensively and want to chip in a little more as a fourth line and as an individual. Maybe just work on that.”