Giroux's last-second magic gives Flyers OT win

ap-flyers-claude-giroux.jpg

Giroux's last-second magic gives Flyers OT win

BOX SCORE

In the goal-scoring annals of young Claude Giroux, the Flyers’ captain admits this particular goal might have been the latest to ever come off his stick during a game.

There was roughly 10 seconds left in overtime when he began racing up the ice and just 4.2 ticks left on the clock after he scored the game-winner to give the Flyers a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay).

“When I went on the ice, it was maybe 15 seconds … I just wanted to shoot as hard as I can,” Giroux said. “Get it to the net. To be honest, I just shot it on net.”

He shot from a hard angle in the right circle for his 24th marker of the season. This goal has to be among the biggest because it comes during the Flyers' deadly-dozen march that is going to determine their playoff fate.

Did we mention the Flyers are 18-2-1 when Giroux scores? And that they own second place in the Metropolitan Division with 79 points -- one ahead of the Rangers with the Flyers having two games in hand?

“We did a lot of good things, traffic in front of the goalie (Antti Raanta),” said Giroux, who hit two posts earlier in the game. “When you hit a post, you can get momentum a little bit and we kind of got momentum from there.”

Honestly, while the Flyers played a perfect game against depleted Pittsburgh last Saturday in winning 4-0, this was a far more competitive game given the 'Hawks had all of their aces -- Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa -- in the lineup.

The Flyers took the fight directly to the defending Stanley Cup champs and beat them. Despite a rough four-minute start for goalie Ray Emery -- his first full game action since Feb. 8 -- the Flyers neutralized the 'Hawks the remainder of the night.

Toews had two shots and Kane had five as Sean Couturier’s shutdown line worked wonders again, just as it did against Sidney Crosby.

“That’s something we’ve focused on -- playing smart defense,” said Matt Read, a winger on that line. “Defense leads to offense and when we shut other teams down it gives us opportunities to win games.”

Emery faced 25 shots and did a very good job of anticipating some of the things his ex-Blackhawks teammates do -- like Toews on a sneaky wraparound in the third period to the far post where Emery had it sealed off.

By then, Emery was well into it and feeling his game legs after a rocky start.

“Ray did a great job,” Flyers coach Craig Berube said. “Probably read his old teammates very well. They had some wraparounds and stuff and he was over there. He was ready for it. He did a real good job of that. He stayed composed even though we were down 2-0 right away.”

A horrendous giveaway on the breakout by Brayden Schenn gift-wrapped Andrew Shaw’s goal at 2:29 of the first period. Then a bouncing shot from the point by Duncan Keith made it 2-0.

“Razor may have looked a little shaky, but after that he gobbled everything up,” said Scott Hartnell, who scored two himself before the first period ended. “He calmed things down. We started playing after that, got some goals and won.”

Berube’s clan looks at deficits as challenges, not adversity. Mentally, the Flyers seem playoff-ready for comeback challenges because they’ve been doing it so many months just to get into the race.

“We didn’t quit,” Couturier said. “Two little mistakes, they capitalized. It was still early in the game. We knew we could come back. We’re a pretty confident team right now. We can score goals.”

Hartnell scored twice to make it 2-2 and the game stayed that way into overtime as both teams settled into a contest in which neither wanted to make a mistake and yet, the Flyers were pressing on the attack at every chance, too.

“They skated, they won battles, they won draws," Toews said. "They did all the little things they needed to do to win the game. If you ask me, they deserve to win it -- and we didn’t.

"Antti played great. We had a horseshoe, you know, where at some moments where the puck didn’t end up in our net. We didn’t get anywhere close to Razor after the first 10 minutes of the game. It’s frustrating. We didn’t do the little things again. That’s what it comes down to, it’s pretty simple.”

Schenn atoned for what appeared to be the go-ahead goal in the third period, but it was waived off for a high-stick call to Vinny Lecavalier.

Instead of getting down, the Flyers came right back at the 'Hawks and peppered the net.

“The disallowed goal, yeah shoulders kind of relaxed and it was like, ‘You got to be kidding me,'" Read said. “We have good leadership in this locker room. Everyone was saying, 'Keep going.' 

“We knew it was going to come. It’s fun playing hockey right now. We’re doing the easy and simple things out there … playing smarter defense and winning games.”

Three games into the deadly dozen, Berube’s Flyers are 3-0 with six points. The march continues Thursday against Dallas.

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

NHL Playoffs: Vernon Fiddler provides big lift as Predators take 1-0 series lead on Blues

ST. LOUIS -- One nifty little flip by Vernon Fiddler provided a big lift for the Nashville Predators on a rough night.

Fiddler scored with 5:05 left and P.K. Subban had a goal and two assists, powering Nashville to a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series on Wednesday.

The Predators lost Kevin Fiala to an ugly leg injury in the second period and blew a 3-1 lead before Fiddler poked a loose puck by Jake Allen in the third.

"They had a little push there," Fiddler said. "We got 3-2 and then 3-3 and the building's rocking. You have to give our guys credit. We just regrouped and went back at them and found a way to get the two points."

It was the fifth goal in 43 career playoff games for the 36-year-old Fiddler, who did not play in the Predators' first-round series sweep against the Blackhawks.

"He's a veteran guy so he's been in these situations before and he stepped up and got us a big goal," Subban said. "That was the toughest game of the season for us and they fought so hard and had so many chances, but we found a way to get it done."

Colin Wilson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, and Pekka Rinne made 27 saves.

Game 2 is Friday night (see full recap).

Draisaitl leads Oilers to Game 1 win over Ducks
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Adam Larsson scored his second goal of the third period with 4:40 to play, and the Edmonton Oilers blew a two-goal lead in a wild third period before beating the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 on Wednesday night in their second-round playoff series opener.

Mark Letestu scored two power-play goals and Cam Talbot made 33 saves for the upstart Oilers, who seized home-ice advantage from the Ducks with a four-goal final period.

Jakob Silfverberg scored the tying goal with 9:13 to play in regulation for the Ducks, who lost in regulation for the first time in 19 games since March 10.

Larsson scored just four goals in his first 85 games this season, but the Swedish defenseman improbably got two goals in 7 1/2 minutes.

Game 2 is Friday night in Anaheim (see full recap).

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

We conclude our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the second part of evaluating the forwards. You can find Part 1 here, as well the goaltending here and defensemen here.

Matt Read
Age: Turns 31 on June 14
Stats: 63 GP; 10G, 9A, 19 Pts.; plus-3; 13:46
Cap hit: $3.625 million

No Flyers forward has been more disappointing than Read during his six seasons here. Signed out of college, he scored 24 goals and had 47 points his first season and hasn't come close to matching those numbers again. Read broke his right forearm late in the season and missed the final five games. He missed 11 games earlier in the season with an oblique injury. He has averaged fewer than 10 goals over the past three seasons, which doesn't cut it with his salary. Will undoubtedly be exposed in the expansion draft.

Brayden Schenn
Age: Turns 26 on Aug. 22
Stats: 79 GP; 25G, 30A, 55 Pts.; minus-13; 17:48
Cap hit: $5.125 million

Often criticized for not fitting in or not delivering enough offensively, Schenn has demonstrated continued improvement every season as a Flyer. He was four points under last season's point total, yet among all forwards except Wayne Simmonds, he was the closest Flyer to having a season as good or better than his previous season. Tied for the NHL lead in power-play goals (17). Has a long way to go at 5-on-5 in terms of goal production. After years of being tried at various positions under three head coaches, it appears the organization has finally settled on Schenn as a winger, not center. And like so many others on this team, coach Dave Hakstol used him all over the lineup. If GM Ron Hextall decides to break up his core this summer, Schenn offers the most possibilities for a trade given his offensive output at a young age.

Wayne Simmonds
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 26
Stats: 82 GP; 31G, 23A, 54 Pts.; minus-18; 18:58
Cap hit: $3.975 million

Led the Flyers in goal scoring for the fourth consecutive season and was right behind Schenn in power-play goals with 16. Simmonds was unquestionably the club's MVP this season and many feel he should be wearing the "C," because he's often the guy on the ice intervening with the officials. He offers the most bang for your buck on the Flyers. By his own admission, Simmonds is the "bad" cop to Claude Giroux's "good" cop. He plays a hard, power forward game despite his skinny legs. If he were an NBA player, he'd be a shooting guard. Simmonds wears his heart on his jersey and sometimes avoided the media this season after games because he was fearful of saying something he would later regret. Every Flyers club has had at least one player who defines orange and black and Simmonds is this team's rep. Was very effective on Valtteri Filppula's line with Jordan Weal this season. Like Giroux, however, Simmonds can't afford to be a minus player next season.

Chris VandeVelde
Age: Turned 30 on March 15
Stats: 81 GP; 6G, 9A, 15 Pts.; minus-5; 11:33
Cap hit: UFA who earned $712,500

For whatever reason, VandeVelde was totally immune from being benched by Hakstol this past season while others suffered at the drop of a puck. It wasn't until the very last game that Hakstol sat him. The fact is, VandeVelde tended toward disappearing in many games this season and his overall effectiveness with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the penalty kill was muted because he simply didn't generate shorthanded chances like he had done in the past. Although he tied his career high with the Flyers in terms of points, it's unlikely the club re-signs him. The Flyers have too many grinders and need scoring at this point with others waiting in line. 

Jakub Voracek
Age: Turns 28 on Aug. 15
Stats: 82 GP; 20G, 41A, 61 Pts.; minus-24; 19:05 
Cap hit: $8.25 million

The only number fans are going to remember from Voracek's lost season is "minus-24." That was worst on the Flyers. Since signing that gargantuan, eight-year, $66 million contract in 2015, the Czech winger has had two poor seasons in succession. Everyone -- himself included -- assumed a bounce-back year this past season, and while Voracek had 20 goals and more points -- five more than 2015-16 -- he remained well short of what he should have provided for his salary. This truly was a season in which the Flyers' big guns -- Simmonds and Schenn being the exceptions -- came up fairly lame. Even more distressing, however, was Voracek's being bounced off the second power-play unit, and not finding a set line. Truth is, his best production came with Michael Raffl and Giroux -- 24 points. He had six goals playing right wing on Giroux's line and six playing there on Sean Couturier's line. Hakstol needs to find Voracek a permanent line.

Jordan Weal
Age: Turned 25 on April 15
Stats: 23 GP; 8G, 4A, 12 Pts.; plus-4; 14:18 
Cap hit: UFA who earned $650,000

Weal was more or less a "throw-in" as part of the Luke Schenn-Vinny Lecavalier deal with L.A. in January 2016. He got his chance this season when Travis Konecny suffered his knee and ankle injury in February against St. Louis. The Flyers discovered that Weal can play. And play above his size, with grit and skill, and an attitude that resembles a pit bull gnarling on a puck. Weal could get a contract close to or right at $2 million from someone this summer if he elects free agency. Hextall says he wants to re-sign Weal but isn't sure when. Weal can't be exposed because he's a free agent. Yet under the expansion draft rules, Vegas will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to sign free agents. Weal would be a perfect player for Vegas GM George McPhee to sign and grow with an expansion club. If Hextall signs him before that window opens, he will have to protect Weal on June 21. If he waits, he is potentially competing with a lot of clubs. Filppula's line with him and Simmonds was very good in the second half. Hextall has no choice but to re-sign this kid. The Flyers are already lacking in the skill/creativeness department and Weal provides both. 

Dale Weise
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 5
Stats: 64 GP; 8G, 7A, 15 Pts.; plus-1; 12:52 
Cap hit: $2.35 million

Essentially, Weise was signed last summer to replace Ryan White. Things began poorly for him -- a three-game suspension and no goals through the club's first 20 games. His game never picked up until late in the second half when Hextall admitted he was disappointed in the production he had gotten from him. That's when Weise came alive -- after sitting six straight games -- with some excellent play on Couturier's line with Schenn. Weise scored six goals with four assists (10 points) over his final 14 games. He was vocal and noticeably moody much of the second half because of his benchings (twice for multiple games) and lack of production. It didn't seem to have an impact in the room. The Flyers need more from him next season. Will be exposed in the expansion draft.