Flyers focused on catching Rangers for 2nd place

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Flyers focused on catching Rangers for 2nd place

TAMPA, Fla. -- So how do the Flyers overtake the New York Rangers and steal second place in the Metropolitan Division from them?

If the Flyers win their remaining three games, they will finish with 97 points. They have a game in hand on New York, which can finish with 97 points but holds a tiebreaker.

If the Flyers win out and the Rangers split with a win and regulation loss or overtime loss, they can only finish with a maximum of 96 points, which gives the Flyers second place.

Second place means home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

“Home ice is important,” coach Craig Berube said. “We all know that.”

The Flyers may covet home ice but it’s not looking good, even though they will catch a break in one game on Thursday night against the Lightning because goalie Ben Bishop (37 wins) is injured and Anders Lindback (six wins) will get the start.

“Even though we made the playoffs, we don’t want to fall to the bottom where Boston or Pittsburgh is waiting there,” said Jakub Voracek.

“We got to make sure we keep winning these last three games and hope we catch the Rangers. We got to hold off the Blue Jackets first.”

Teammate Sean Couturier said these last three games come down to inner strength.

“Self-motivation is trying to catch the Rangers and get that home ice,” Couturier said. “We should use that as motivation to get three wins.”

The Flyers face Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and Carolina to end the season, while New York has Buffalo and Montreal.

“You move forward and try to get home ice,” said Kimmo Timonen. “The better you play these last three games, it’s better for the playoffs.

“You can’t relax now just because you made the playoffs. It’s a great accomplishment for our team, but we move forward. Win [tonight], win Saturday, then win Sunday. That’s the key.”

Vinny Lecavalier, the seventh and newest member of the Flyers’ 20-goal club, has been saying all week the team's focus needed to be on catching the Rangers.

“You got to fight for position now and home ice is important,” Lecavalier said. “We got to make sure we finish strong.

“Every time we’ve had a big challenge this year, we came and played the way we should play. It doesn’t change. [This] is a big game, then go into Pittsburgh.”

He also said this is the time you build momentum for the postseason run. He referenced the Lightning’s 2004 run to the Stanley Cup against Calgary.

“When we won the Cup in 2004, we were 10th or 11th in December,” Lecavalier said. “We finished strong … we kept winning and building that confidence.

“It’s all about going into playoffs with confidence knowing you can go into any game and win a hockey game. We’re in a good spot.”

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Our recap of Tuesday's underwhelming performance by the Flyers in Winnipeg.

Their Tragic Number is now 13, meaning the number of points either lost by the Flyers or accrued by the second wild card -- Toronto -- that totals 13 will eliminate the Flyers from the playoffs.

Sean Couturier said it best prior to the road trip: Unless the Flyers won in Winnipeg, then anything positive they achieved in coming from behind to beat Carolina was wasted.

And it was.  

If you watched the telecast with John Boruk, Alfonso Morganti and myself, you already know how I feel about the loss.

But for those of you who are gluttons for further punishment, here's 10 Things I think, I think, as Bill Lyon used to say:

1. A couple players gave everything they had to make a difference in this game. Radko Gudas had eight of the Flyers' 17 hits. Michael Del Zotto had five strong shots from the point, two of which were almost goals. Shayne Gostisbehere had four shots, two of which almost gave them a goal.

2. The Jets had five injured defensemen out of their lineup, which meant the Flyers' forwards should have been attacking them at the net. Again, the only offense generated for 50 minutes was from the point and not down low, where the Jets were vulnerable.

3. Valterri Filppula matched up against Patrick Laine and held him -- with help from Steve Mason -- to no points, a task in itself. Laine generated five shots and two prime scoring chances that Mason took care of.

4. Jets rookie defenseman Julian Melchiori had played just eight NHL games and had a total of four shots. He had three in the first period alone Tuesday and tied Laine with a team-high five for the game. He was more determined to make something happen than most of the Flyers. That should embarrass coach Dave Hakstol, who insisted the Flyers come out strong. They didn't.

5. Winnipeg moved up and down the ice well in transition. They came into the zone with speed and spread their attack out. Blake Wheeler's goal that made it 2-1 in the third period was the result of the Jets' precise puck movement from Mathieu Perreault to Mark Scheifele to Wheeler that demonstrated nothing moves faster on the ice than the speed of the puck. Wheeler got the puck with a wide-open look inside the right circle. The Flyers didn't have a single play during the game that mimicked that rush.

6. Although the Flyers' penalty kill units gave up a 10th goal in their last 24 chances, they shut down the Jets' the final four power plays of the game, including the four-minute double-minor to Ivan Provorov in the second period. The PK got no help from the power play (0 for 3).

7. Mason had four saves during the Jets' four-minute power play, which should have given the Flyers some momentum for the remainder of the second period and into the third. He also had a terrific stick save on Laine in the slot after the PP that left the rookie so angry he was jamming his stick violently into the ground on the Jets' bench.

8. Following up on that, why were the Flyers hesitant in the third period, tied 1-1, while the Jets peppered Mason at the outset? Where's that sense of desperation Hakstol's team should have shown? This is precisely what happened in Boston a few weeks ago. Game tied going into the third and instead of playing for two points they absolutely had to have, the Flyers were playing to get the game into overtime and earn at least one. That strategy failed spectacularly in Boston when the Bruins won the game in the final 5.6 seconds of regulation and failed again Tuesday.

9. Hakstol talked about effort and determination, yet the numbers say otherwise. With 13:34 left in regulation, the Flyers had just two shots in the period. Two! In the final seven minutes of the game, their sense of urgency finally kicked in when they kept the puck in Winnipeg's zone to the end and even scored shorthanded. That again raises this question: Where was that urgency at the period's start when it was 1-1 and not 3-1?

10. Finally, the Flyers had three power plays in this defeat. During their second power play, trailing 2-1, Winnipeg's lowly PK unit generated two shorthanded chances and cleared the zone four times. On the Flyers' final power play -- they trailed 3-1 at that point -- Hakstol pulled Mason to create a 6-on-4. The Flyers generated several scoring chances. They have scored three times this season under that scenario. Young goalie Michael Hutchinson, who had a 4.06 goals against average head-to-head against the Flyers, had a couple of terrific saves, including one on Wayne Simmonds in the slot. Where was that pressure on Hutchinson earlier in the period? Or earlier in the game?

Steve Mason critical of Flyers' effort in road loss to Jets

Steve Mason critical of Flyers' effort in road loss to Jets

BOX SCORE

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Steve Mason sat alone in his stall, clearly dejected by what he'd just witnessed. His team, supposedly fighting for its playoff lives, had come out with one of its flattest efforts of the season.

Where was the push? Where was the desperation? Mason certainly didn't see it.

"I don't think anyone is too pleased with this game," the candid Flyers goaltender said following Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets (see Instant Replay). "It's frustrating for everybody, considering the situation we are in. We need to be a more desperate hockey club. I don't think we were tonight."

Mason did his part, stopping 30 of 33 shots he faced (see feature highlight). At the top of his list of complaints was the eight consecutive minutes in penalties the Flyers took in the second period. Winnipeg would score the tying goal during one of those four power plays and seemingly steal all momentum away from the Flyers.

"It gets everybody out of rhythm, gets key guys sitting on the bench for too long a period of time," Mason said. "It definitely just disrupted any chance of making a push during the second, for sure."

Forward Jordan Weal said he expected more as his team began the third period with the score tied 1-1 and the result still very much up in the air.

"Our killers did a great job to keep us in that game," Weal said. "Guys that didn't kill need to come out in the third and come up big. There just wasn't enough push in that third."

The Flyers remain seven points out of the final wild-card playoff spot but now have just 10 games remaining (see standings).

"If you want to be a playoff team, we've got to be more consistent in what we do," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We need to find ways to get it done every night."

Head coach Dave Hakstol bemoaned his team's play on the road as of late; it has now dropped four straight in enemy territory.

"It's been a difference for us," Hakstol said. "That's how it is right now. This is one we needed here that we didn't get tonight on the road."

Mason said struggling away from home speaks to bigger issues with the team.

"We haven't been a good road team and it's cost us. It's put us in the position we're in right now," Mason said. "It's easy to have a good record at home. You're comfortable there. But we have to elevate our games on the road. It's a little bit more difficult to feel good about your game on the road, but it's all about hard work and working for it and we're not doing a good job."

Giroux said they were aware Winnipeg was without several key players, especially on defense, but didn't do enough to take advantage.

"I think we could have cycled that puck a little bit more and created more chances," he said. "At the end of the day, we need to focus on our game. We're a better team than what happened tonight." 

Mason noted that Winnipeg goalie Michael Hutchinson was making his first start in two months, but the Flyers failed to generate much in the way of scoring chances.

"I don't think we made it hard enough on him. We need to have a better effort," Mason said. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it. We've got to stop this win one, lose one. We need to have some growth as a team here."