Flyers' offense comes alive in wild win over Habs

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Flyers' offense comes alive in wild win over Habs

BOX SCORE

MONTREAL -- If this is what “playing for pride” looks like, then perhaps the Flyers ought to have been playing for pride all along.

With their playoff hopes all but officially over, the Flyers hit the ice hard at Bell Centre Monday, using a wild second period to thrash the Montreal Canadiens, 7-3.

Scott Hartnell had his seventh career hat trick, Jakub Voracek tied his career high for goals in a season and Claude Giroux tied his season total for points in a game. They didn’t look like a team in need of a miracle to reach the postseason.

“It feels great,” Hartnell said. “It’s been a tough year for goals, especially the last few games. But that offensive outburst by the top couple lines, the power play was great, you never know.”

He added, simply, “It was a great game.”

Monday’s effort was a far cry from what the Flyers have executed consistently over the past week, during which they lost four in a row and watched their conference rivals climb further ahead of them in the standings.

This, they said, is how they know they’re capable of playing -- how they should have been playing since January, and how they will continue to strive to play, despite being seven points out of playoff contention in 12th place in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re still playing for a lot of pride,” Luke Schenn said. “I don’t think we’re ever going to throw in the towel. These [final] games, we’ve got to compete hard. Losing can’t become accepted, that’s just the mentality you’ve got to have around here.”

On just their second shot of the game -- and before the Canadiens had registered one of their own -- the Flyers took the early lead. Wayne Simmonds’ slapshot bounced in front of goaltender Carey Price, and a net-crashing Simmonds was able to push the rebound past him.

And only 2:03 later, the Flyers added to their lead. Erik Gustafsson’s shot from the high slot beat a screened Price, giving the Flyers their second goal of the night on only five shots.

But the Canadiens responded -- just not on the scoreboard.

Behind the play, Canadien Ryan White threw an ugly hit on Kent Huskins, who went down hard on the ice and left the game with a concussion (see story).

“It didn’t look good when he was on the ice,” Giroux said. “We don’t like to see those kind of hits.”

As the final minute of the first period ticked toward a close, the Canadiens cut the Flyers’ lead in half. Max Pacioretty scored on the power play, thanks to a redirection that Ilya Bryzgalov probably ought to have stopped.

The Flyers carried their 2-1 lead into the intermission, but once the puck dropped to start the second period, it didn’t take long for things to open up in a big way. The four goals they scored were more than they’d scored in the four games that preceded Monday’s effort combined (three).

“It was good to score some goals,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We haven’t scored a lot of goals lately. To be able to throw some in the back of the net, I think it always helps your confidence. But I think they worked for it, too. They really put them in position to score goals with their work ethic.”

It was the Canadiens, however, who kicked off the second-period flurry, scoring just 1:02 into the stanza to tie the game, when Brendan Gallagher beat Bryzgalov for the Canadiens’ second power-play goal of the night. The tie was short lived, however, as 28 seconds later, Voracek returned the Flyers their lead -- the tally was his 18th of the season, the team lead.

The Flyers struck again, when Hartnell added to their lead as the midway point of the second period approached, besting Price with a quick snipe that snapped the team’s 0-for-17 stretch on the man-advantage.

That two-goal lead was short-lived, as the Canadiens answered right back. Alex Galchenyuk brought the Habs back to within one, scoring to make it 4-3. But it was Giroux who regained the lead at 10:46.

“A lot of goals,” Voracek said. “I think that was the way we played last year, score a lot of goals. Offense won us the game today, and Bryz was good when he needed to be. He made a couple of big saves in important parts of the game, and I think we deserved to win today.”

The Flyers answered back for a boarding hit by Alex Galchenyuk on Ruslan Fedotenko, too, when Hartnell scored again to give them the 6-3 lead they carried into the second intermission. And it was Hartnell, once again, who scored the lone goal of the final period.

A single orange and black Hat was tossed to the ice from the stands, as Canadiens fans hastened toward the exits.

Four days ago, the Canadiens -- currently in second place in the East -- clinched the playoffs. They have been a strong team all season, but never truly had a chance against the suddenly invigorated Flyers.

That the Flyers could take them down so convincingly further demonstrates the fact that they ought to be faring better than they have.

“It’s almost a little embarrassing that we’re not making the playoffs,” Giroux said. “We’re a team that expects to be in the playoffs and we have a team that should be in the playoffs. It’s just frustrating, but we have some games left here, so we’ve just got to keep working hard here.”

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers-Islanders 5 things: Still trying to clean up mistakes after bye week

Flyers (22-19-6) at Islanders (19-17-8)
6 p.m. – CSN/CSNPhilly.com and streaming live on the NBCSports app; Pregame Live begins at 5:30.
 
The struggling Flyers head north Sunday night to battle the Metropolitan Division rival Islanders at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
 
Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s matchup.
 
1. New week, same Flyers
Those hoping the Flyers would be a refreshed, recharged team after the bye week met a harsh reality Saturday night.
 
The Flyers were blown out of the Wells Fargo Center in a 4-1 loss to the Devils that saw the same things continue to haunt the home team — defensive breakdowns and a lack of offense, among other things.
 
It’s no secret this season is quickly slipping away from the Flyers. They’ve lost their hold on the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference to the upstart Maple Leafs and the Hurricanes, Panthers and Devils are breathing right down the Flyers’ backs. To pile on the good news, every other team in the East is within four points of the Flyers, including the last-place Isles, who have 46 points compared to the Flyers’ 50 points.
 
Needless to say, the margin for error is all but gone.
 
This has been said many times recently, but the emphasis still hasn’t waned — if the Flyers want to save this season, it has to start with the next game.
 
2. What’s the mindset?
Michal Neuvirth, who was pulled before the third period of Saturday’s game for “precautionary reasons,” had a striking quote after the loss to the Devils.
 
“When you lose so many games, you lose confidence,” he told reporters.
 
He’s not kidding, and further proof of that came in the loss to the Devils, when the game was tied 1-1. In the second period, Radko Gudas was whistled for a clipping penalty and, boy, was it an awful call. It was nothing more than a hard hip check, aka a solid hockey play. Gudas got the two-minute minor and then Wayne Simmonds received an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct for protesting the call, giving Jersey a full two-man advantage.
 
Predictably, the Devils scored to take the lead. Also predictably, the Flyers unraveled after that point.
 
It just seems lately that when something goes wrong for the Flyers, it all goes wrong for the Flyers. And that’s a troubling trend.

3. Changes in Brooklyn
Superstar John Tavares is still there, but beside that, plenty has changed since the Flyers and Islanders last met, a 3-2 Flyers shootout win in November at the Barclays Center.
 
No more Jack Capuano behind the Isles’ bench, as he was recently canned amidst his team’s struggles. Assistant general manager Doug Weight, whom you may remember from his not so distant playing days, is the interim head coach for the Isles.
 
Remember goalie Jaroslav Halak, who started the two teams’ first meeting? It’s no longer his net in Brooklyn, as he’s had a falling out with the club, lost the starting job to Thomas Greiss and was recently put on waivers.
 
And the Isles have responded positively to the changes, as they’ve won three in a row heading into Sunday night’s contest. The last-place moniker is misleading because the Isles are still just five points out of the final wild-card spot and still have tons of talent.
 
4. Keep an eye on …
Flyers: Let’s go with Travis Konecny. Let’s just say the Flyers are in need of an energy jolt these days and the rook has just the type of skillset to provide it. He scored his team’s only goal Saturday against the Devils and isn’t afraid to throw his body around if need be. He also scored against the Isles earlier this season. He’s now up to eight goals and 14 assists on the season.
 
Islanders: It has got to be John Tavares. The guy is an absolute star, but still could fit into the “underrated” or “under the radar” categories just because he plays for the Isles. I mean, check out this goal he scored earlier this year against St. Louis. Holy moly. While you’re at it, get a glimpse of this one he scored against Dallas last week. He’s got 19 goals and 17 assists on the year. In his career against the Flyers, he’s got 15 goals and 13 assists for 28 points, the third-most points he’s tallied against any team in the NHL.
 
5. This and that
• In a scheduling quirk, Sunday evening will mark the fourth straight time the Flyers and Islanders will play in Brooklyn. They haven’t met in Philadelphia in over a full calendar year — Jan. 9, 2016, a 4-0 Flyers win

• Sunday is the second of four meetings between the teams this season. They’ll also play Feb. 9 and March 30, both times in South Philly.

• Greiss will start in net for the Isles on Sunday. He’s recorded shutouts in his last two starts. For the season, he's 12-7-2 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average.

• Reinforcements could be on the way Sunday for the Islanders, as forward Cal Clutterbuck (lower-body) and defenseman Johnny Boychuk (upper-body) could be ready to return to the lineup after injuries.

• Sunday’s game will be the second of a back-to-back set for both teams. The Flyers are 6-3-2 this year in such situations.

• The Flyers’ ugly road losing streak is up to nine games. A loss Sunday would make it a not-so-perfect 10.

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

Flyers' loss changes complexion after questionable penalty on Radko Gudas

There are good penalties. And bad penalties. And penalties which aren’t even penalties.

The last one would perfectly describe Radko Gudas’ hip check on Miles Wood that was whistled as clipping by referee Dan O’Halloran in the second period.

Even Wood was laughing as Gudas went to the box, realizing what a break he had gotten – a power play for nothing.

“He’s a pretty quick D-man,” Wood said. “I don’t think it should have been a call, but it was a good hit by him.”

That gave the Devils a power play. Then, when Wayne Simmond argued the call with O'Halloran, Simmonds drew two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct. The resulting 5-on-3 New Jersey power play saw the Devils score to break a 1-1 tie.

Minutes later, the Flyers had a bad line change and it was 3-1. Game over. The Devils would go on to win, 4-1 (see game story).

Bottom line? The Gudas call changed everything.

“I was really surprised,” Gudas said. “I didn’t think it was a penalty at all.”

Is this oversimplifying the game to say everything changed with that one call?

“Are we really simplifying it?” Gudas asked. “I think that after those calls we have to get together as a group and make sure we kill these off. Unfortunately, we let them score on that power play. It was just unlucky.”

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol called it “an excellent hit” by Gudas. He wouldn’t go deeper than that.

The six muffed power plays gave him enough reason to believe the Flyers could have gotten back in it. His Flyers are 3-9-3 since winning 10 games.

You can’t underestimate how those two calls turned the tables on the Flyers in this game.

“Everyone has their own opinion on the hit and we were obviously frustrated on the hit,” Travis Konecny said. “We thought it was a clean hit and we reacted to it. We have everyone’s backs.

“We have all had the one’s where we are angry with the ref and the one who made a hit like that. There is a time for that moment there.”

Goalie Michal Neuvirth thought it was a difference maker.

“Oh, absolutely, we were playing better in the second period,” he said. “I thought we had a momentum. You know stuff like that 5-on-3 for two minutes, it’s tough to defend.

“I think it’s taking way too many penalties lately and you got to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”