Flyers not overlooking underachieving Islanders

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Flyers not overlooking underachieving Islanders

VOORHEES, N.J. -- It wasn’t long ago the New York Islanders were almost a team to overlook. Sure, they had some speed and some offensive weapons, but the Flyers hardly had to worry about them.

That’s definitely not the case anymore.

While the Islanders might be in eighth place in the Metropolitan Division, they arrive at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday having won eight of their last 10 games -- and eight of their last nine on the road.

“They’re playing great right now,” Vinny Lecavalier said. “We’re going to look at video for sure … of what they do. They got some pretty good offensive guys. A lot of talent. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go.”

The Islanders’ top line of John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Thomas Vanek will pose a challenge. Tavares, the Isles’ captain, is second in the NHL in points this season with 57, and has three points in his last three games.

“Obviously they have a ton of confidence on the road right now,” Luke Schenn said. “And they’re playing well as a team, and we know how good that Tavares line is, too. They’re extremely successful right now, too. This game, actual back-to-back games against the Islanders, it’s going to be a huge test for us.

“We have a few divisional opponents coming up, so you say it every week, but this is a big week for us coming up.”

Coincidentally, perhaps, the one big area the Flyers will need to exploit against the Islanders this weekend is their penalty kill. The Islanders’ PK is dead last in the NHL, at 75.2 percent. In many other ways, the two teams are actually quite evenly matched.

But the Flyers, of course, have one of the NHL’s worst power plays on home ice (see story)

After Saturday’s game in Philadelphia, the Flyers will travel to Uniondale, N.Y., to face the Islanders on their home turf for a Monday afternoon matinee.

For the Flyers, who are 2-0 against the Islanders this season, both games will be tough. This is a different Islanders team from the one they faced back on Nov. 23 and beat 5-2.

“I think they’re doing a very good job defensively and getting some timely goals by people,” coach Craig Berube said. “Good team. They’ve got some good players, some good skilled players. Goalie’s playing good.”

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

As the Flyers packed up for the offseason much earlier than they had hoped, the focus started shifting to the outlook for 2017-18.

There was some optimism provided by Valtteri Filppula.

It wasn't anything he said. Instead, it was what he did in 20 games.

Make that a full sample size and the Flyers are excited about the possibilities.

Filppula, a well-rounded, 33-year-old center, was acquired at the March 1 trade deadline in the Mark Streit deal. He added five goals and three assists in his 20 games.

"I felt like later in the year, we had more bullets in our gun," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week as the team held exit interviews and cleanout day. "(Jordan) Weal comes in and does a good job. Filppula comes in and really gives us stability. Really upgraded our top nine. So when you're talking 5-on-5 play, just to depend on five or six guys, all of a sudden you have nine guys you can count on."

The Flyers were 27th in the NHL with 128 goals at 5-on-5 -- a significant factor in their postseason absence.

But Filppula should bring more than simply a 5-on-5 boost.

The Flyers desperately needed depth at the center position to relieve some pressure from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Filppula, who came from the Lightning and played seven seasons with the Red Wings -- winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 -- is a sound matchup center and plays on the penalty kill, too.

"I think with Fil coming in this year, it really helped our depth," Giroux said. "He brings a lot to the team. He kills penalties, power plays, very good defensively and he's a smart player. When you bring a guy in like that, you kind of get excited a little bit."

From Filppula's first game on March 2 to the end of the regular season, the Flyers scored 56 goals, 12th most in the NHL over that span and 2.80 per game -- both improvements from their ranking of 21th on the full season and 2.59 per game.

"Now that we feel like we have nine guys that are legit top-nine forwards," Hextall said, "we've got good balance."

Couturier saw immediate benefits when the Flyers acquired Filppula. Couturier started playing with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, which turned out to be the team's best line combination to finish the regular season.

"I think it just brought some depth to our lineup," Couturier said of Filppula acquisition. "I had the chance to play after that with Schenn and Weiser and we just found chemistry right away and things went really well."

It provided head coach Dave Hakstol greater flexibility.

"The addition of Val Filppula to our group up front made our group of forwards better," Hakstol said. "Not just his presence, which I think he's an outstanding hockey player, a good hockey player and a real good veteran, but it just allowed some of the others to come together. I think there's real substance there."

The Flyers hope it shows with a full season of Filppula.

"I think when Filppula came in, the balance that seemed to come with him entering our lineup helped us both with and without the puck," Hakstol said. "Will that cohesion help us generate more offensively on an 82-game basis, not just a short-term basis? I think the answers to those things are yes."