Flyers 'turn the corner' in win over Penguins

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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.”

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

Best of NHL: Bruins snap 4-game skid, beat Islanders, move into playoff position

NEW YORK -- Riley Nash scored twice and backup goalie Anton Khudobin made 18 saves as the Boston Bruins beat the New York Islanders 2-1 Saturday night, snapping a four-game losing streak.

Nash broke a 1-1 tie with his second goal of the contest at 4:12 of the third period, beating Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss from the slot for his seventh goal of the season. Dominic Moore assisted on the decisive goal, which lifted Boston two points ahead of the Islanders for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference.

John Tavares scored for New York and Greiss finished with 16 saves.

Tavares had a golden chance to knot the score with just over six minutes left in the third period but rang the puck off the crossbar with the Islanders on their sixth power play of the game (see full recap).

Eichel, Sabres slow Leafs' push to clinch playoff berth
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jack Eichel scored twice and set up another goal in the Buffalo Sabres' 5-2 win that slowed the youth-laden Toronto Maple Leafs' late-season surge to clinch a playoff berth.

Ryan O'Reilly and Dmitry Kulikov each had a goal and assist, and Evander Kane also scored in a game the Sabres took control of by scoring three straight times in the second period. Robin Lehner stopped 32 shots, and the Sabres continued their home dominance over their cross-border rivals by improving to 18-2-1 against Toronto in their last 21 games at Buffalo.

The Maple Leafs' hold on third-place in the Atlantic Division dwindled in having a three-game winning streak end and losing in regulation for just the second time in their past 10 (7-2-1). With 85 points, Toronto has a one-point edge over Boston after the Bruins beat the New York Islanders.

Auston Matthews scored his 34th to tie Toronto's single-season rookie record set by Wendel Clark in 1985-86. Connor Brown also scored for Toronto (see full recap).

Marchessault's hat trick helps Panthers blow out Blackhawks
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Jonathan Marchessault scored his first career hat trick, James Reimer stopped 25 shots for his first shutout of the season and the Florida Panthers routed the Chicago Blackhawks 7-0 on Saturday night.

Jonathan Huberdeau had a goal and three assists, and Aleksander Barkov added a goal and two assists for Florida. Reilly Smith and Nick Bjugstad also scored to give the Panthers their largest margin of victory since an 8-0 win over Toronto on Feb. 5, 2008.

Marchessault had two goals in a 3-1 win over Arizona on Thursday. He has nine goals over his last nine games and leads the Panthers with 28.

Corey Crawford stopped 21 shots for the Blackhawks before being lifted at 4:59 of the third for Scott Darling, who allowed three goals on six shots.

Already leading 3-0, the Panthers poured in four goals in the third (see full recap).

Caps top Coyotes as Ovechkin reaches 30 goals for 12th straight season
WASHINGTON -- Alex Ovechkin recorded his 30th goal of the season and Daniel Winnik scored two goals, including the game-winner late in the third period, as the Washington Capitals overcame listless stretches to beat the lowly Arizona Coyotes 4-1 on Saturday night.

Ovechkin became the third player in league history to score 30-plus goals in each of his first 12 seasons, joining Mike Gartner (15) and Wayne Gretzky (13).

Winnik scored with 4:39 remaining, Justin Williams added another goal not long and Winnik sealed the Capitals' fourth consecutive victory with an empty-netter.

Braden Holtby made 28 saves for Washington, which has won five of six to reach an NHL-leading 106 points and keep pace atop the competitive Metropolitan Division. The Capitals are three points up on the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Mike Smith stopped 29 of the 32 shots he faced and Peter Holland scored the lone goal for Arizona (see full recap).

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

Flyers-Blue Jackets 10 observations: Strong effort not enough to overcome Sergei Bobrovsky

From Winnipeg to Minnesota to Columbus, the Flyers' final long road trip made its third stop Saturday afternoon in Ohio against a rather imposing Blue Jackets team.

The Blue Jackets clinched a playoff berth earlier in the week and in this one, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky earned his seventh shutout with a 1-0 victory -- his 40th this season, which is a career-high and a Columbus franchise record (see game story).

Dave Hakstol's team played a ferocious game -- two in succession now -- and demonstrated the urgency needed, even though its playoff odds took another turn for the worse.

The overall impact on the wild card remained temporarily unknown because of the Bruins-Islanders game to be played later Saturday night, but regardless of who wins, the Flyers will fall eight points out of the wild card.

The Flyers end their four-game road trip Sunday night in Pittsburgh in the back end of the back-to-back, where Steve Mason is expected to start in net.

Here are 10 things I think, I think.
 
1. Nationwide Arena hasn't been kind to the Flyers, who are now 0-5-5 in the building since December 2008. To say the Blue Jackets own the Flyers would be an understatement given they've won 13 of the last 15 games going back to Dec. 21, 2013.
 
2. Hakstol dusted off Michal Neuvirth for the front end of this back-to-back. Neuvirth's only start before Saturday was March 9 in Toronto, when Hakstol came under criticism for using him instead of riding Mason, who was on a 3-0-1 hot streak at the time. Saturday was just Neuvirth's third appearance in March, including in relief at New Jersey on March 16. He's been understandably rusty, yet he was very good in this game.
 
3. Hakstol, as he often does after a win, stuck with the same lineup he used during Thursday's 3-1 victory in Minnesota, which meant that rookie Travis Konecny -- who played less than 10 minutes against the Wild -- was again buried on the fourth line. He finished with 12:17 against the Blue Jackets.
 
4. Hakstol has pulled his goalie many times in the past with almost two minutes left on the clock. Why did he wait until the final 48 seconds Saturday to pull Neuvirth? What did he have to lose with a playoff berth on the line?
 
5. There is little question the Flyers' trading of Bobrovsky ranks among their top five worst trades in club history orchestrated just because of the team's enormous monetary commitment to Ilya Bryzgalov, who is chasing bears in the woods of South Jersey these days. All "Bob" has done in Columbus is win a Vezina Trophy and is the favorite for the award again this season. He is also among the candidates this season for the Hart Trophy. Bobrovsky came into the game 7-1 against the Flyers all-time with a 1.85 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. Bobrovsky had three saves on Wayne Simmonds alone in a scoreless first period and finished with 36 overall.
 
6. Nick Foligno has always been a Flyers killer over his career. The talented winger came into play with 21 points (14 goals) in 28 career games against the orange and black. The flyers shut him down Saturday, as Foligno had just two shots in the game.
 
7. The Flyers' penalty kill units were active with their sticks and attacking the puck on Columbus from all sides -- not allowing the Jackets a good setup. Ian Laperriere's PK units improved toward the end of this trip. The Blue Jackets were 0 for 2.
 
8. An unfortunate break of the stick for Simmonds led to Columbus' only goal late in the second period off an Alex Wennberg redirection. If Simmonds had his stick, Kyle Quincey doesn't outreach him for the puck near the blue line. Instead, it's a shot on net that's deflected for the eventual game-winner.
 
9. The Flyers' second power-play unit with Jordan Weal and Konecny produced four shots in the closing minutes of that second period, but again Bobrovsky was the ultimate difference then and in the final eight seconds with a save on Jakub Voracek and subsequent rebound scrum in front. Joey Mullen's power play has collapsed at the end -- 3 for 43 during the month of March. It was 0 for 3 in this game.
 
10. No criticism of the Flyers in this one. They did everything they could to win. That's all you can ask against a goalie that outright owns you. Again, however, the level of desperation they showed in this and the Wild loss should have been exhibited over a month ago.