Gagne's return a success in Flyers' win over Capitals

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Gagne's return a success in Flyers' win over Capitals

BOX SCORE

One of the justifications for using Simon Gagne on a line with Sean Couturier and Max Talbot is that his skillful puck sense might get both of them going.
 
Among the three of them, their goal total going into Wednesday’s game against the Washington Capitals was two.
 
Now it’s doubled after the Flyers' 4-1 victory at Wells Fargo Center that pulled them back into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with 21 points -- two ahead of Tampa Bay.
 
Couturier’s line was arguably the best the Flyers had with Gagne and Talbot picking up their first markers of the season in what was a complete, 60-minute effort from Peter Laviolette’s club.
 
“He’s fun to watch,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux of Gagne. “He’s a smart player and knows how to score goals.”
 
Gagne, who played 16 minutes, made a difference.
 
“A lot of times you come back into a building you left or were traded to and sometimes the night takes over, but I thought Simon had a real good game defensively and offensively for us,” Laviolette said.
 
“From the first shift, [guys] played hard, played smart and defensively. We got chances in the offensive zone and there was good movement and lots of opportunities.”
 
Ilya Bryzgalov didn’t face a lot of shots but finished with 23 saves, losing his shutout in final 2:09 of the game.
 
“There wasn’t a lot of work -- maybe 10 quality chances,” Laviolette said. “He was sharp early when we needed him.”
 
The Flyers caught the Caps in the tail end of a back-to-back situation -- something teams had been doing to them with regularity this shortened season.
 
Gagne celebrated his return with a power-play goal to erase the bad memories of going 11 games without a goal in Los Angeles.
 
“Sometimes, [Philly] is a tough place to come to and a lot of pressure,” Gagne said. “I know what it takes and maybe I can help the young guys with that.
 
“And maybe I can help offensively. It was a tough situation in L.A. I was in and out of the line up in L.A. so it was hard for me to get my game going when you do that.
 
“I just have to play my basic game every game and help the team get back in the playoff mode.”
 
Gagne was warmly greeted by the crowd even before scoring, while the Flyers chased Caps starting goalie Braden Holtby with four goals.
 
The only “downer” here was another critical injury and even worse, on the banged-up defense.
 
Erik Gustafsson blocked a shot from Washington’s Eric Fehr seven minutes into the second period and did not return. He was hit in the left shin.
 
You really can see how much of an impact a healthy Scott Hartnell can have. Last year’s leading goal scorer, with a career-high 37, Hartnell had two assists on the Flyers' first two goals just 4:04 into the game.
 
That’s three points in three games for Hartnell since returning to the lineup from a fractured bone in his left foot.
 
“I feel a little more comfortable with the puck,” Hartnell said. “I had some chances going down the wing but I didn’t get my shot off the way I wanted to. I think it comes with more games played.
 
“If you want to look at it like an exhibition season on a regular season, it takes three, four or five games to feel comfortable and for not skating for four weeks, I feel a little better.”
 
His first assist was pure #HartnellDown. From his knees outside the paint, he managed to backhand the puck across the slot for Claude Giroux’s seventh goal on the game’s opening shift.
 
Hartnell then drew the primary assist on Wayne Simmonds’ power-play goal at 4:04. Simmonds backhanded the puck under pressure in the slot while falling backward for his eighth goal to make it 2-0.
 
The Caps' only danger these days is on the power play. Not coincidentally, Bryzgalov had two fines saves during a late Washington power play, using his blocker on Nick Backstrom and also stopping Alex Ovechkin, who came into the game six points shy of 700 for his career.
 
“They had a power play [there] and had some opportunities with some tricky plays through the slot, a couple redirects,” Laviolette said. “He was sharp.”
 
Gagne’s first marker at 3:54 of the second period with one second left on a power play made it 3-0. He rebounded a shot from Brayden Schenn.
 
Incredibly, that was Gagne’s first goal since Nov. 17, 2011!
 
Now it took Talbot 22 games to get his first goal of the season, blasting a slap shot from the high slot so hard off the camera inside the net that the puck ricocheted out in a blinding instant.
 
“Feels good to get the win, but personally it feels good to find the back of the net,” Talbot said.
 
“I have been practicing with some new sticks this week. That’s a good excuse, huh? But is worked out good. ... Same company (CCM) but different kind.”

That made it 4-0 with five minutes left in the period and brought on backup goalie Philipp Grubauer.

Bryzgalov had some fine stops on Ovechkin in the third period before losing his shutout to Joel Ward.
 
Obviously, the Flyers need to carry this over to Saturday’s matinee against Ottawa. Historically, the Flyers always have a strong third month of the season.
 
That’s always December but in a lockout-shortened season, it’s March.
 
And it also begins with the start of the game.
 
“The first couple shifts were huge ... to get a goal in there and after that power play, two goals in the first,” Talbot said.
 
“But I thought we played a solid 60-minute effort, which is nice to build on.”

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The toughest challenge for the Flyers this weekend might be themselves.

They’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series event. That should be a big deal.

Yet, given their circumstances right now, how can they possibly enjoy the moment?

Maybe had this game been played in early January, before the team hit a crisis point in the standings, and was winning, it would be easier to relax.

The fact is, the Flyers have lost seven of their last 10 games, are drifting as the 11th team in the Eastern Conference, and the second wild card they held for so long seems far from their reach.

Tough to have fun and soak up the atmosphere when there’s so much pressure to start making up ground in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, we’re there to have two points,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. “If this was earlier in the season, we could take it in a bit more, but it’s all business for us right now. It’s just playing.”

That attitude extends right up to coach Dave Hakstol, who didn’t break a smile when talking about what’s really important here.

His team is desperate for points. There are 22 games left in the regular season and 19 are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Flyers need to win a bunch of games and get hot like they did last season in March if they are going to recapture a wild-card berth.

“Honestly, it’s business first,” Hakstol said. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.

“Points. Simple as that. It’s two points. We need the two points and it’s a road game and it happens to be in an event-type situation.

“So we’ve got to make sure we handle all of that in terms of our preparation. But the bottom line is it comes down to the two points that are at stake on Saturday night.”

Michal Neuvirth will make his sixth consecutive start in goal for the Flyers. He was a backup to Semyon Varlamov at Heinz Field during the 2011 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got to focus on the game,” Neuvirth said. “There is going to be a lot of distractions. Lot of families and friends in town. But we’re gonna go there and it’s all about business and trying to get the two points.”

Hakstol is only slightly concerned about the hype taking away from the players’ focus. If the Flyers were coming into this game on a win streak, he and his players wouldn’t be quite as uptight as they are right now.

You can cut the tension in the Flyers' dressing room these days with a skate blade.

“You need a little mental attention to detail there,” Hakstol said. “That’s what it is. We’re in that mold. I don’t think that’s a big hump to overcome. I think we’ll be OK.”

Heinz Field holds 68,000 people. The NHL expects 60,000 in attendance. Regardless, it will be the largest crowd ever to witness a Flyers game.

“It’s more exciting and a must-win for us,” said Michael Raffl, who played outdoors once in Europe. “A huge game no matter where we would have played it. We could play it at Skate Zone and we’d be excited.”

Giroux said it will be “weird” being on the ice because his past experiences in outdoor games saw him drown out the fans as much as possible. Yet he admitted the sheer number of fans this time might make that difficult to do.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in the Steelers' stadium,” he said. “Playing against Pittsburgh, it should be a great game.”

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

Best of NHL: Patrick Kane hat trick lifts Blackhawks over Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Patrick Kane scored three goals for his third career hat trick to lead the surging Chicago Blackhawks past the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 on Thursday night for their third straight win and eighth in nine games.

Kane has 23 goals to lead Chicago, which closed within three points behind first-place Minnesota in the Central Division and Western Conference.

Rookies Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman each had a goal and assist. Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival scored his first goal of the season in his first game since Jan. 15.

Chicago captain Jonathan Toews added two assists to extend his points scoring streak to five games and increase his output to 22 points in his past 13.

Jakob Chychrun, Ryan White and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes. Chychrun and Vrbata each scored for the second straight game (see full recap).

Rangers outlast Maple Leafs in shootout
TORONTO -- Mika Zibanejad scored the shootout winner and the New York Rangers continued a strong February with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night.

Henrik Lundqvist made 32 saves and J.T. Miller scored the game-tying goal in the third period for the Rangers, who improved to 8-1-1 this month.

New York moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 80 points.

Connor Brown scored for Toronto, which fell to 1-7 in shootouts this season. Frederik Andersen had a stellar performance in defeat with 37 saves.

The Leafs hold the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division (68 points), two points back of Ottawa (70) and four back of Montreal (see full recap).

Islanders shut out Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Rookie Anthony Beauvillier scored in the first period, Thomas Greiss made 24 saves, and the New York Islanders beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-0 Thursday night.

Anders Lee scored in the second period and John Tavares added an empty-netter in the final minute to seal the Islanders' third straight win. New York has won the first two games on a crucial nine-game road swing and improved to 12-4-2 since interim coach Doug Weight replaced the fired Jack Capuano.

Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson each had two assists, and Greiss got his third shutout of the season.

Carey Price finished with 21 saves as the Canadiens lost coach Claude Julien's 1,000th NHL game. Montreal is 1-2-0 since Julien replaced Michel Therrien last week and has totaled just 14 goals while going 2-7-1 in the last 10 games, including four shutouts (see full recap).