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.”

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.