As Flyers suffer brutal loss, playoff door begins to close

032613_flyers1.jpg

As Flyers suffer brutal loss, playoff door begins to close

BOX SCORE

With a lot of talk about believing in each other and their ability to scratch and claw their way to the playoffs, the Flyers had deemed each one of the 10 games they’ve played so far in March a must-win.

But after Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to the New York Rangers, they fell to 3-6-1 for the month, and seven points out of playoff contention.

“It comes down to one-on-one battles, and we didn’t win many of them today,” Kimmo Timonen said. “I think it was all Rangers -- they were hungrier and a better team today.”

Time is running short for the Flyers, who are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and have just 16 games left in the season to get their act together. But against the Rangers, to whom they’ve now lost 11 of their last 12 games, the Flyers allowed themselves to fall into a 3-0 deficit before they woke up at all.

They seem to think they know the reason why.

The problem is, they can’t figure out how to correct it.

“I always think it comes down to individual preparation,” Timonen said. “You’re either ready to play or you’re not. And a lot of guys, a lot of people, blame coaches. But we play the game. We’re out there making plays. Like I said, you’re ready to play or you’re not.”

And on Tuesday night, right from the very first shift, in which they allowed Rangers left wing Carl Hagelin to skate in on Ilya Bryzgalov on a breakaway, the Flyers simply weren’t ready to play.

“The losses are just a result of us not coming to battle shift after shift,” Wayne Simmonds said. “To win games in this league that’s what you have to do, and it just didn’t happen tonight.”

Based on all their talk, and even on the way in which they played for much of Sunday’s overtime loss in Pittsburgh, though, they should have been. In fact, it should have been Timonen’s night to shine. With his friends and family in attendance, the veteran defenseman was honored before the game for having played his 1,000th affair in the NHL.

Instead, it was the Rangers’ Rick Nash and Derek Stepan who stole the spotlight.

Stepan had four points and was involved in all but one of the Rangers’ goals, while Nash scored twice. The ex-Blue Jacket has now scored four goals (equal to a third of his season total) against the Flyers in 2013.

The game seemed to unravel for the Flyers in the second period. Though the Flyers entered the middle frame trailing 1-0 thanks to Nash, the Flyers fell apart as it went on, allowing goals to Brad Richards and Stepan, who now has points in 11 of the Rangers’ last 14 games.

Simmonds got one back late in the second period after the Flyers had fallen down 3-0, but the period ended 3-1 -- and the Flyers were 1-10 when trailing after two periods this season heading into Tuesday’s affair.

“It’s disappointing,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s a big game. Need to find a way to be ready for those kinds of games. It’s frustrating because we have a good team in here and can’t find a way to get those wins.”

Voracek, who recorded his 10th multi-point game of the season, scored for the Flyers in the third period. Giroux’s shot from the high slot appeared to hit Jakub Voracek in the chin area, into the net, making it 3-2 and giving fans hope of a comeback.

But whatever hope there was faded quickly, however, when Nash scored his second of the night on a wraparound less than a minute and a half later. Chris Kreider’s goal to make it 5-2 sucked what air remained out of the arena. Fans left in droves.

“We have 16 games left, and to me, we have to move on,” Timonen said. “Obviously it’s tough and this was a huge game to lose. We can talk all we want or watch tape, but once we step on the ice and it doesn’t happen that’s our fault. We’re the players that play the game and that’s our fault.”

There are small things to build on from Tuesday’s game. Bryzgalov looked very sharp through two periods, and the Flyers finally scored a third-period goal. But the end result makes it that much harder for the team -- and its fans -- to keep the faith that a run at the playoffs is at all possible.

“There’s nowhere to go except to the rink tomorrow for practice and to get ready for the next game,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Regardless of how the night went, the season’s not over. We need to win hockey games. The objective remains the same.”

Four games now remain in what is undeniably a crucial homestand for the Flyers. And most of the players in the locker room believe they must win all four in order to have any chance of making the postseason.

“We have four games left on this homestand, and we’ve got to put up points,” Simmonds said. “There’s no excuses.”

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

Flyers' trip to Ottawa brings back 'fond memories' for Travis Konecny

OTTAWA, Ontario — Exactly one year ago, Dec. 1, 2015, Travis Konecny was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s.

He had just learned that he had been invited to the Team Canada selection camp for the World Junior Hockey Championship and he was at the Canadian Tire Centre spending time with future Flyers teammates during the morning skate as they prepared for a game that night against the Ottawa Senators.

Fast forward one year to today, Dec. 1, 2016, and Konecny is back at the CTC, this time to face the Senators alongside his current Flyers teammates as a key part of the team’s offense.

Quite a step forward in just one calendar year for a kid not named Crosby or McDavid.

“It’s crazy how fast it happened and I’m definitely humbled I was given the opportunity. They believed enough in me to make the jump this year and it definitely hits me every day that I get the opportunity to play in the NHL,” said Konecny, who has scored four times and added nine assists through the first 25 games of his NHL career. He has also added a team-leading 33 penalty minutes and that goes a long way in explaining the type of game he plays.

“I don’t know what happened. I’ve never been like that before," Konecny said before the Flyers' 3-2 overtime win Thursday (see game story). "When you’re playing in the NHL, some guys will run over you all game if they can so I think part of these penalties I’m taking is me just having to step up and I’m just setting an example of sticking up for my teammates."

It wasn’t until his second game in the league that he took his first penalty, but he was on the score sheet before that having collected two assists in his debut Oct. 14 in a 4-2 win over the Kings in Los Angeles.

His first goal came Oct. 25 in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The key for his success in making the jump from junior to the NHL is simple.

“Just keeping things simple," he said. "Learning in the NHL is about reading off mistakes. You can’t always make a play, you have to be smart and make sure you’re doing what’s right for the team and I think just keeping my game simple is what got me here." 

There is one main difference between the two levels, Konecny added.

“The speed, and I don’t necessarily mean just skating," he said. "Thinking wise and how fast plays happen. Guys like [Senators defenseman Erik] Karlsson, he’s thinking so fast and he knows his play two or three steps before the next guy does, so you just have to try and outthink guys and to me that’s been the biggest jump.”

Konecny is not foreign to the Senators’ home ice surface. He spent part of his time in junior playing there while the 67’s home arena was being renovated.

He had to leave several passes for friends and family for the game Tuesday night, his first as a pro in the city that was dazzled by his play in junior for 2½ seasons.

“It was a lot of fun and it brought back a lot of memories," Konecny said after going scoreless in 14:13 of ice time. "We didn’t play in front of as many fans as we did tonight but definitely a lot of games played here and a lot of fond memories.

“Even flying in [Wednesday] was something special and driving around the city looking at the roots where I was for three years.”

Best of NHL: Hossa gives Blackhawks OT win over Devils

Best of NHL: Hossa gives Blackhawks OT win over Devils

CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa scored his team-leading 12th goal through a screen at 1:31 of overtime to lift the Chicago Blackhawks to a 4-3 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night.

Hossa's shot through traffic from high in the slot beat Cory Schneider on the glove side, moments after New Jersey's Mike Cammalleri hit the post on a prime chance against Chicago's Corey Crawford.

New Jersey's Travis Zajac scored his third goal of the game at 8:49 of the third to tie it 3-all after scores by Chicago's Artem Anisimov and Niklas Hjalmarsson late in the second period had put the Blackhawks ahead.

Marcus Kruger also connected for Western Conference-leading Chicago to end a 22-game drought as the Blackhawks won their second straight and played beyond regulation for third consecutive time. They are 3-0-1 in their last four.

The Devils have dropped four straight (0-2-2) (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins run away from Stars
PITTSBURGH -- Sidney Crosby broke the game's final tie and assisted on another score in the third period as the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Dallas Stars 6-2 on Thursday night.

Crosby scored his league-leading 16th goal in the second period and assisted on Conor Sheary's sixth as Pittsburgh scored three goals in the final 4 minutes. Eric Fehr's third of the season was the 100th of his career and Patric Hornqvist's seventh came on the power play. Nick Bonino and Ian Cole both scored their third for Pittsburgh, which avoided consecutive regulation losses for the first time this season.

Marc-Andre Fleury made 33 saves for Pittsburgh. Fleury, who won for the first time in five starts, has six wins in his last nine home games.

Tyler Seguin scored his eighth and Devin Shore his second for the Stars, who continue to struggle on the road. Dallas has lost its previous five away from home and has three wins in 14 road games this season. The Stars have lost three straight and seven of their last 10.

Antti Niemi , playing in his 400th career game, stopped 34 shots (see full recap).

Eichel helps Sabres knock off Rangers
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored two goals in the third period, and the Buffalo Sabres beat the New York Rangers 4-3 on Thursday night for their second straight victory.

Buffalo's winning streak coincides with the return of Eichel, who missed the first 21 games with a high ankle sprain. The 20-year-old center had a goal and an assist in Buffalo's 5-4 win in Ottawa on Tuesday and has recorded a point in seven straight games dating to last season.

In his first home game of the season, Eichel scored on a power play with 7:15 remaining and netted the winning goal 1:43 later. Buffalo is now 10-3-1 when Eichel has more than one point (see full recap).