Flyers 'turn the corner' in win over Penguins

usa-emeryschenn-slideshow.jpg

Flyers 'turn the corner' in win over Penguins

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- On Saturday, the Flyers proved they could actually score goals. On Tuesday, they showed their doubters that they could score and play solid defense.

And on Wednesday night at the CONSOL Energy Center, when the Flyers fought out a close 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins (see Instant Replay), they confirmed that those previous two games weren’t flukes.

Have they finally turned that metaphorical corner?

“Yeah,” Ray Emery said. “I think the last couple weeks, the boys scored more goals, had a great night in Ottawa [Tuesday], and a tough back-to-back against one of our rivals and a really good team in Pittsburgh. Getting a good road win, they’re all steps in the right direction.”

If ever there was a way to make a statement, holding the Metropolitan Division-leading Penguins to a single goal in their home arena was it. For the Flyers, it was a complete team, complete game performance; they were sharp on offense, clean on defense and very impressive in net.

The Flyers’ effort wasn’t a perfect one, however. They started out slowly, but pushed past it. They never backed down or got sloppy as the game progressed -- two issues that have plagued them for most of this young season.

“More than anything, I like the fact that we grinded the win out,” coach Craig Berube said. “We played the night before, and did a lot of little things right, getting the puck out, getting it in deep. It’s just another game, boys. Got a long way to go.”

The Flyers’ second line of Vinny Lecavalier, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn shined in Wednesday’s victory, with Schenn netting both of the Flyers’ goals and Simmonds’ hard work standing out the entire night.

Though Sidney Crosby did score the Pens’ lone goal, Sean Couturier, when matched up against him, did a thorough job at keeping him quiet. Couturier, as he earned his stripes doing in the 2012 playoffs, also did a good job of getting under Evgeni Malkin’s skin.

The Flyers are still under .500, at 7-10-1, and they’re still lingering around the NHL’s basement in power-play production and scoring as a whole. But after Wednesday, their third consecutive victory, they’re starting to really believe they can get their season back on track.

“We’re working on it right now, trying to put some wins together,” Schenn said. “We’re playing some sound defensive hockey, waiting for opportunities to score, and right now we’re scoring when they’re there. Got to keep on it, keep going and finish off the road trip strong in Winnipeg.”

If Schenn was all the Flyers needed, offensively, to eke out their victory, it was Emery who came to the rescue defensively. The Flyers’ netminder stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, and as impressive as that number looks, it was even moreso -- the saves he did make were often very, very good ones.

Though some fans were clamoring for Steve Mason to get the start, Emery’s success didn’t come at all as a surprise to his coach.

“Ray’s been good all year,” Berube said. “Got a shutout in Jersey, played another good game at home against Jersey, we didn’t get him any support that night. Tonight, I thought he was great, especially early on in the game. He shut the door there and gave us an opportunity to win. He’s a winner. Always has been.”

The Flyers finish up their road trip Friday in Winnipeg. As pleased as they are to have won three games in a row for the first time all year -- and to finally reach .500 under Berube’s rule -- sweeping their road trip would prove they’re even closer to righting their proverbial ship.

At least, it would to those of us who watch. To the coach, there’s no such thing as a true turning point.

“I think it’s a work in progress all the time, I really do,” Berube said. “You can’t take a break. You’ve got to keep on ‘em. It’s my job to keep on ‘em. It’s my job to keep teaching. It’s my job to make sure they’re focused. It’s a constant job all the time.

“You got to keep working on it and keep practicing and keep talking about it.”

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."