Instant Replay: Flyers 5, Rangers 2

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Instant Replay: Flyers 5, Rangers 2

BOX SCORE

You wanted a Game 7, Flyer fans?

You got it.

In spectacular, hat-trick fashion, too, as Wayne Simmonds did the honors on Tuesday night during the Flyers' 5-2 thrashing of the Rangers in Game 6 of this Metropolitan Division semifinal at Wells Fargo Center.

Game 7 is Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden.

The Flyers, who promised en masse a more aggressive approach, were tenacious from the drop of the puck and stayed that way the entire game (see 10 observations).

However, the hero in this one is tough to call. Sure, Simmonds had the hat trick but "Stone Cold" Steve Mason played out of his mind in net with 34 saves.

The crucial turning point came at 12:11 when Derek Dorsett sold a high-stick call to the official on Erik Gustafsson, who didn’t appear to even touch the Rangers’ winger. Gustafsson went to the box and Mason had an incredible glove stab on Benoit Pouliot near the end of a Rangers power play.

Coming out of the box with speed, Gustafsson, who was inserted into the lineup for speed on the blue line, took a pass from Braydon Coburn and drilled a shot past Henrik Lundqvist for a 3-0 lead.

That play changed the game right there and the Flyers had it.

It was 4-0 when the third period began and Rangers coach Alain Vigneault pulled Lundqvist for Cam Talbot because ... resting up for Game 7.

Injuries
Before the game, the Flyers announced that defenseman Nick Grossmann, who was injured in Game 4, will miss the remainder of the playoffs following surgery to repair tendon damage in his right ankle. His recovery time is 8-10 weeks (see story).

Playoff history
The Rangers came into the game having lost an NHL record 11 straight games when up in a series dating back to 2009, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

Game 7
The Flyers are 9-6 all-time in Game 7s and 3-3 on the road.

Line changes
Flyers coach Craig Berube replaced Scott Hartnell on the top line with Michael Raffl. Hartnell dropped to the second line with Brayden Schenn and Simmonds. That dropped Vinny Lecavalier back to his original fourth-line spot.

Won’t be denied
Simmonds talked about the Flyers not being “scared” to go at the Rangers and make something happen. He backed up his words with his second goal of the series during a first-period power play. Simmonds, outworking a double-team in the paint, had three shots on that power play, and scored off his own rebound in the second half of the power play for a 1-0 lead at 7:08.

First period
Easily the best first period the Flyers have played in this series. They came out with some “jam” and it carried through the entire stanza. That said, they also had far too many turnovers in their own end. Even sure-handed Sean Couturier had several gaffes that led to Rangers scoring chances. Tuesday marked only the second time this series the Flyers scored first in the opening period (Game 1).

Missed
In the opening four minutes, the Rangers had the Flyers pinned in their own end and missed four shots while Mason had to make several saves on those that were on net.

Second period
The Flyers scored three times as Simmonds notched the first hat trick of the series. His second goal came at 1:32 on a broken pass from Schenn. Then came Mason’s great save on Pouliot, followed by Gustafsson’s burst out of the penalty box to make it 3-0. Simmonds made it a rout at 15:19 on the power play with a deflection at the net for his hat trick.

Hat trick
It was Simmonds’ first career hatter in the playoffs (see video) and the first one since Claude Giroux and Couturier each scored one on April 13, 2012, in Game 2 of the Pittsburgh series, won by the Flyers, 8-5.

Hats
639 were thrown onto the ice.

Special teams
The Flyers won this battle, hands down.

Power play
The Flyers were 2 for 3, while the Rangers were 0 for 5.

Penalty kill
The Flyers came into the game having killed off 15 straight Rangers power plays. That number grew to 20 as they went 5 for 5.

Point blank
Mason had two such saves in stride from the paint in the first period, robbing Rick Nash and Anton Stralman.

Shots
The Flyers had 23 shots through two periods and 29 for the game.

No shutout
Carl Hagelin scored with 6:34 left in the game to ruin Mason’s shutout.

Fight
One large one in the stands; Brian Boyle over Adam Hall on the ice.

Scratches
Defenseman Hal Gill; forwards Jay Rosehill, Tye McGinn, Steve Downie (post-concussion syndrome), and Chris VandeVelde; goalie Cal Heeter.

Black Aces
Defensemen Brandon Manning, Oliver Lauridsen and Mark Alt; forwards Scott Laughton, Ben Holmstrom, Nick Cousins, Brandon Alderson, Petr Straka; goalie Yann Danis.

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid's outburst over Brandon Manning

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

"I guess we can put the whole 'if he did it' thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that," said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers' loss.

"I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player," Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. "I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I'm a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that."

Gretzky didn't mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

"And Connor, he's going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him," Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. "He's been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he's always responded and done his part."

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

Michael Raffl's power moves impressing Flyers, adding another element to top line

He did it last Sunday in Nashville.

And he did it again Thursday night against Edmonton.

Michael Raffl displayed power and speed to send the Flyers to their seventh straight victory and longest winning streak since 2011 Thursday with a 6-5 win over the Oilers.

"Raf has this stutter step that's undercover speedy," goalie Steve Mason said. "He used it in Nashville to get a big goal and then here tonight.

"It looks like he's going to stop fully up, but he finds another gear and he really adds another element to that line that brings physical play.

"He has that sneaky talent, too, that can make you pay."

Raffl received a bank pass off the wall from Jakub Voracek, stutter stepped and then blew by Oilers defenseman Oscar Klefbom, protecting the puck along the way before flipping it over goalie Jonas Gustavsson for the game-winning marker with 1:29 left in the game.

It was his sixth goal of the season and his second game-winner in three games.

"Jakey has been hard on me for three years now," Raffl said, referring to Voracek's pass, "and it's actually the first time it worked out.

"He wants me to make that play all the time. He's been hard on me. I threw a little fake in there, got around their D-man and chipped it up high."

Voracek, who tied a career high with four points (one goal, three assists) said after the game his pass was not as perfect as it appeared on tape, as it didn't hit Raffl in stride.

"I think we should use it a little bit more to be honest," Voracek said, "because if their D wants to have a gap on that, you know you put it off the boards, it's tough to handle for the defenseman. [Raffl] had to slow down a little bit, so next time I've got to put it better."

Juggling his lines in an attempt to find chemistry, Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol moved Raffl up from the third line to the top line with Voracek and captain Claude Giroux on Nov. 27. Coincidentally, that was the start of this seven-game winning streak.

On Thursday night, Raffl showcased the reasoning behind the move to the top line, a spot he's familiar with, having played with Giroux and Voracek in seasons' past.

"He's good from coming off either way as he enters the zone," Hakstol said. "He's got the ability to take it to the net. 

"Obviously at a critical time of the hockey game. But, that's Raffl when he's at his best. He's a power forward that can do those type of things offensively."

In his fourth season with the Flyers, the 28-year-old doesn't possess jaw-dropping skill. He's better suited for a third-line role, but drives play at 5-on-5 and is strong on the puck to move up into the top six. His style complements Giroux and Voracek's game well.

"[Raffl] complains a lot on the bench," Giroux quipped. "Nah, he was fired up there in the third. He is so strong on the puck. That's a big goal for us. He's been playing some great hockey right now for us. I think me and Jake are lucky to play with him right now."

"He does every little thing right," Voracek said. "He wins the battles. He wins so many puck battles in the corners and on the boards and gives me and G a lot of space to work with. He knows what to do to have success with us and he's been doing that."

Against the Oilers, Raffl was one of two European free agents the Flyers found to contribute to their win, with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare slowing down Connor McDavid.

It's been an avenue the Flyers have found some success in recent years. Raffl was a Paul Holmgren signing, while general manager Ron Hextall plucked Bellemare from the SHL.

"Since we signed him, I think he surprised everyone," Voracek said of Raffl. "He's got a lot of talent. He's a strong guy on the puck. He's skating well. He's got a great shot.

"I think he's one of the good players."

The Flyers described Raffl as a sneaky talent, someone who may not demand the respect from defensemen but has the ability to surprise and make them pay for playing lax against him.

But it's really simpler than that, according to Raffl.

"Just puck possession," he said. "Just focus on being the first on forecheck, digging out pucks. It's not a fun job to do, but somebody has to do it.

"They're two great players with the puck, I try to dig it out and get it to them and get in an open area and they'll find me eventually."

And they found him Thursday night when it mattered most.