Giroux, Voracek carry Flyers to win over Capitals

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Giroux, Voracek carry Flyers to win over Capitals

BOX SCORE

It should not have become a nail-biter.

Not with a 4-0 lead and everything going so well and the Flyers having played two of their best opening 40 minutes all season, allowing just eight shots.

But it happened.

Luckily, their top line bailed them out and Steve Downie gave them a much-needed empt-netter to secure the Flyers’ wild 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

“They didn’t play the way they wanted the first two periods and we were and that third period they became aggressive and sat back a bit,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux.

“When we get a lead like that, we’ve got to keep it. The first two periods we were playing well and winning battles and we got away from it. We need to play 60 minutes.”

His line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek did yeoman’s work in the win with six points. Voracek and Giroux each had two goals.

Voracek’s second marker (18th overall), late in the game, gave the Flyers a 5-3 lead that would shrink again before Downie decided it with his empty-netter.

“They’re attacking and skating with speed,” said Flyers coach Craig Berube. “Making plays and working hard down low. Cycling the puck and competing. Power play, doing a good job.”

The victory kept the Flyers in second place in the Metro Division with 72 points -- two more than the third-place Rangers while dropping the Caps four points behind the pace.

Thing is, the Flyers made it look so easy, enjoying a 4-0 lead, chasing starting goalie Braden Holtby and even having an ‘ol fashioned brawl to get them going (see story).

So much early emotion may have distracted the Flyers from finishing the task as the Caps whittled down a 4-1 deficit in the third period thanks to the usual suspects -- bad penalties.

Did we mention the Flyers' usually adroit penalty-kill units gave up three power-play goals, as well?

“Penalties and a couple goofy goals,” Berube said. “Penalties. I haven’t looked at them yet or am sure if they were warranted, but it definitely gave them life.”

And nearly ruined all the good work early.

“It was good hockey. We were intense, we were quick, we were on things,” Berube said. “We had everybody going.”

Flyers goalie Steve Mason picked up his 26th victory but he looked like he was fighting the puck a bit in the third period when the Caps scored three goals.

“The first two periods we played some of the best hockey all season long,” Mason said. “Going into the third period, we stopped moving our feet, stopped playing the way we had been playing.

“They have offensive talent on that team and they can take advantage of sloppy play. That’s exactly what happened. We’re fortunate to come out of it with two points.”

The PK units had gone 6 for 6 against the Caps in the previous game but gave up three power-play goals in four chances on Wednesday.

“Couple bad breaks and any time you have [Alex] Ovechkin on the ice and try to focus on him, he can shoot the puck as well as anybody in the league,” Mason said. “They took advantage of it.”

Still, the Flyers survived, thanks to Giroux (two goals, 23 overall) and Voracek.

He and Voracek scored a combined seven goals against the Caps in this now completed home-and-home series, which includes Sunday’s 5-4 Flyers' overtime win in D.C.

This was the fifth time Giroux has had three or more points in a game. Over his last 11 games, he has nine goals and nine assists for 18 points. 

“When they are going, everybody follows,” Mason said of the top line. “We have to have that on a consistent basis moving forward because every game is so important.”

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

Steve Mason rediscovers himself in New York just before Flyers return

It had been a while since Steve Mason saw himself.

Walking into the Barclays Center on Sunday, the Flyers’ goalie was 0-6-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average and .844 save percentage over his last 10 appearances (see more recent Flyers numbers and stats).

A far cry from how Mason truly sees himself in net.

But heading into Wednesday’s rivalry clash with the Rangers, Mason will have something to build on, something he couldn’t say since Dec. 21 — the last time he had earned a victory. He’s fresh off his first win in over a month, a gigantic one for Mason considering all the key moments on Sunday the Flyers hope invigorate his confidence.

Without numerous clutch stops from their goalie, the Flyers don’t come back from two goals down to beat the Islanders, 3-2, in overtime. Mason made four saves  — three on four-time All-Star John Tavares — in just over a minute of a third-period power play. The Flyers ended up having to kill two New York man advantages in the final 10 minutes of regulation in order to force overtime.

The extra session is when Mason was just as good, if not better, stoning Tavares on a breakaway attempt that had game-winner written all over it. Mason made four saves in overtime after 13 in the third period.

“I was happy with the way that, personally, this game went for myself,” Mason said Sunday. “It’s been a tough stretch and this is more the type of game that I expect of myself. In recent games, the team was lacking the big saves and tonight it shows what kind of difference it can make.”

It was a massive performance heading into a massive three-game stretch against the Rangers, Maple Leafs and Hurricanes.

“Mase made some huge saves for us,” Simmonds said. “It allowed us to get back in that game.

“It’s not just Mase [with the] ups and downs. Everyone in here has been kind of fighting it and squeezing sticks pretty tight. That one felt good and I think Mase led the charge for sure.”

Mason understands just one game doesn’t turn around a season.

“It’s nice to feel good after a game,” Mason said. “At the same time, whether you’re winning or losing, you have to have a short mindset and get ready for the next one.”

That brings the Flyers to Madison Square Garden Wednesday to face the Rangers, who they’ve lost five straight games to dating back to last season. Mason hasn’t had much luck against New York this season, allowing seven goals in two losses with an .860 save percentage. However, in 2015-16, Mason put up a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in five games against the Rangers.

“That’s going to be a tough game going into MSG,” Mason said Tuesday (see story).

The good thing: Mason was in New York two days ago, remembering what he can be.

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

Flyers in familiar spot in standings as critical games before break await

While many people believe the Flyers are in far better shape right now than where they were a year ago, the fact is, they are pretty much the same.
 
After 48 games played, the Flyers have the same number of points now as they did last season – 52.
 
The critical difference – and this is why fans say they’re better off – is that a year ago at this juncture, the Flyers were five points behind Pittsburgh in the wild-card chase.
 
Right now, they own the second wild-card spot, but there are five teams behind them within four points or less of catching them, two of which have games in hand.
 
Earlier this week, Toronto was ahead of them and the Maple Leafs have three games in hand, which makes Thursday’s showdown against the upstart Leafs at Wells Fargo Center a very critical game.
 
That game represents the back end of the Flyers' 13th back-to-back set, which starts Wednesday with a date at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers.
 
If ever two games in a short week prior to the All-Star break were of prime significance, these next two seem to qualify.
 
“A hundred percent,” said Jakub Voracek, the Flyers' leading scorer with 42 points. “It’s the same for every game. Practice and come to the rink with a win in your head.”
 
To a man, the Flyers go into the nationally televised showdown with the Rangers feeling great about themselves because of the extraordinary effort they showed in Sunday’s 3-2 comeback victory against the Islanders in OT.
 
“I felt like we won the Stanley Cup with that overtime goal,” Voracek kidded. “That’s how happy we were. There was a lot of relief. Now we have to keep going.”
 
Just five points separate nine teams from the second wild-card position right now. The Eastern Conference is just as tight as it’s always been. Within the Metropolitan Division, just five points separate the Flyers from the three times tied for last in the conference – the Islanders, Sabres and Lightning.  
 
“It’s been that way,” said coach Dave Hakstol. “Right from the drop of the puck in October, it was going to be a battle. You can’t get too distracted by it. You worry about the job in hand and that’s tomorrow.”
 
The focus this week is rather narrow: two games left before the All-Star break begins on Friday.
 
“Yeah, both these games have implications directed to us in the standings,” said goalie Steve Mason, who will start against the Rangers. “Both being Eastern Conference teams and they are right with one another.
 
“We have to have a short mindset. We have the Rangers and that’s going to be a tough game going into MSG. Once that game is over, we focus on the Leafs.”
 
The Rangers have beaten the Flyers twice this season already – both in South Philly. While the games were mostly competitive, there remains a huge disparity in one critical area for both teams this season: goal differential.
 
The Rangers have a plus-40 differential while the Flyers check in at minus-18. As poor as Henrik Lundqvist (2.75 goals against average) has been this season – although his recent performances are trending upward – he still owns the Flyers.
 
In his last 15 games against the Flyers, going back to Jan. 1, 2013, Lundqvist is 11-3-0 with a 1.91 GAA and .938 save percentage.
 
“This is huge, especially in MSG,” Voracek said. “We lost two games in a row to them at home. Hopefully, we get points.”
 
In his last three starts this month, Lundqvist is 3-0 with a 1.32 GAA and .952 save percentage. In other words, the “old” King Henrik appears to have regained his throne just in time to face the Flyers.
 
“Their goaltender has been outstanding over this past stretch for them,” Hakstol said. “Their team is playing well.
 
“We have to worry more about our team. We’re not going to control what their side is going to do. We can control what we do.”