Loss to Isles may be final nail in Flyers' coffin

slideshow-040913-flyers-mason-huskins-uspresswire.jpg

Loss to Isles may be final nail in Flyers' coffin

BOX SCORE

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Sometimes, the right play is the easy, defensive play -- not trying to make something out of nothing.

Recognizing the difference is the hard part. And it’s why the Flyers have given up some ill-timed and rather costly goals this season.

That scenario repeated itself Tuesday night at Nassau Coliseum as the Islanders drove a stake through the Flyers' collective hearts with a 4-1 victory that may have very well sealed the team's playoff fate.

“Couple times,” coach Peter Laviolette said, “there were a few mistakes made that way. It was a competitive game both ways. Sometimes that’s the difference -- just making the right decision at a different time in the game.”

In the final 2:18 of the second period, Brayden Schenn had a chance to get a puck deep from neutral ice after a long shift following a Flyers' timeout. He tried to make an offensive play with Wayne Simmonds.

It backfired and resulted in Michael Grabner beating goalie Steve Mason low to the glove side from the high slot for a 2-1 Islanders' lead.

The Flyers never recovered and were outplayed in the third period by a fiercely competitive Islanders group that can smell the playoffs.

“It was a two-on-two and me and Simmer could have gotten it deep and gotten the line change,” Schenn said. “Made the wrong play.”

The game had tremendous playoff implications. The Flyers came in five points behind the eighth-seeded Isles in the Eastern Conference. They remain five behind the new No. 8-seeded Rangers with nine games to play.

They gained no ground, and that could prove fatal. The Islanders were a team the Flyers had to beat. With each loss, they become more dependent on others for help. They almost need a miracle.

“Probably,” Scott Hartnell said. “We know where we sit and how big this game was. “You’re trying to do the right thing when you’re working hard and create things and stuff like that.

“There are times and places where, like the last minute of a hockey game or a period, where you need to make a smart play.

“Seems like when we make a mistake it always goes in our net and we’re always frustrated and the heads go down and it goes on from there.

“Their second goal, I think I thought the puck was being chipped by Kimmo [Timonen] and [I] went behind Kimmo to get it and I get the ref, and it becomes a two-on-one and they score. It seems one play filters into more after that.”

Right-handed goalie Mason made his first start for the Flyers since being acquired last week at the NHL trade deadline. He played the third period of Saturday’s loss in Winnipeg.

New York held a 2-1 lead when the third period -- without question, the biggest of this season -- began.

For whatever reason, the Flyers appeared tired during the opening minutes of that frame as they were badly beaten to pucks in their own end.

Even as the period progressed, they had difficulty on the breakout, getting trapped in their own end before gaining their balance.

“I thought the first three-quarters of the second period we carried the play and were doing the right things,” Mike Knuble said.

“Then we tried to get a little too courageous offensively at times when the rush wasn’t in our advantage and ended up turning pucks over. They have some good guys who really live off it, and they grabbed the momentum off turnovers.”

In the final 1:37 of the game, the Isles iced it off the rush when Erik Gustafsson slid in an attempt to stop a partial breakaway by John Tavares but ended up putting the puck into the net himself.

That was followed by an empty-net goal.

“We were pushing but obviously it wasn’t enough to get one in there,” Knuble said.

Things were different at the start.

Claude Giroux has thrown some uncanny stretch passes up the ice this season that have led to Flyers' goals. He tossed another at 6:28 of the first period to one of his favorite targets, Jakub Voracek.

Catching it in full stride and into the Isles' end, Voracek went backhand on Evgeni Nabokov, who oddly trapped it under his pads.

“I knew G saw me so I kind of cheated a little bit,” Voracek said. “I think the puck bounced over their defenseman's stick.”

The problem was that Isles defenseman Andrew MacDonald pushed Voracek into Nabokov, who slid completely into the net with the puck as the net went off its moorings. After a review, it was ruled a good goal.

“I tried to square [Nabokov] up and slide the puck past him,” Voracek said. “I was a little lucky that it was early in the period because if it was at the end of the period, I don't think he would have slid in with it.”

The 1-0 lead lasted nine minutes before the Isles tied it. Brad Boyes gave Matt Moulson a perfect pass in the slot. His shot deflected off the stick of Bruno Gervais (minus-16 for the season).

The second period was pretty much like the first -- a lot of up-and-down skating and tight checking.

Remember Voracek coming to Giroux’s defense recently? Well, Schenn did the same for Mason after he got run into by Matt Martin. Schenn took Martin on in a fight six minutes into the period.

Near period’s end, Mason’s righthand ability came up big time with a huge save on Kyle Okposo’s breakaway.

Mason wasn’t so fortunate on Grabner’s shot soon after.

“We keep going,” Knuble said. “Thursday [against Ottawa] is another game for us. Obviously, we’re gonna start needing some help. But we can only worry about the games we have to play. That’s as simple as it is … Win the games in front of you.

“Any points would have been helpful tonight. Every day that ticks off the calendar, every game, every point is more valuable than the previous.

“You have to come up with something. To come up empty-handed the last two games … is not what we need right now.”

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

Best of NHL: Lightning capture OT win over Red Wings

DETROIT -- Nikita Kucherov scored 3:28 into overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Lightning over the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 on Friday night.

Situated on the edge of the crease, Kucherov redirected a hard pass from Brayden Point into the net.

The Lightning are one point behind the Boston Bruins and New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference wild card.

Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg opened the scoring 8:03 into the second period. Taking a backhand pass from Gustav Nyquist, Zetterberg flipped a knuckling wrist shot toward the goal and over the stick-side shoulder of goalie Andrei Vasilievskiy, who struggled to find the puck through the screen of teammate Point (see full recap).

Islanders notch shootout win over Penguins
PITTSBURGH -- John Tavares and Anthony Beauvillier scored in the shootout to lead the New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 on Friday night.

Beauvillier opened the shootout with a goal, and Tavares snapped a wrist shot past Marc-Andre Fleury in the next round. Sidney Crosby scored in the shootout for Pittsburgh, but Jaroslav Halak, making his first start since Dec. 29, stopped Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino.

Anders Lee scored his 28th goal of the season, while Brock Nelson got his 17th and Casey Cizikas his eighth for the Islanders, who moved into the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. New York is tied with Boston at 82 points, but the Islanders have a game in hand on the Bruins. The Islanders have 18 wins in 31 games since Doug Weight was named interim coach on Jan. 17, replacing Jack Capuano.

Halak, a former All-Star, made 37 saves (see full recap).

Cracknell nets first hat trick in Stars' win
DALLAS -- Adam Cracknell got his first hat trick in seven NHL seasons and the Dallas Stars handed the San Jose Sharks their fifth straight loss, 6-1 on Friday night.

Cracknell opened the scoring in the first period, capped a three-goal flurry in the second and beat goalie Aaron Dell on a short-handed breakaway in the third for his career-high 10th goal of the season.

The Sharks entered two points ahead of Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division despite their longest losing streak of the season. San Jose has been outscored 16-5 during the stretch.

Brett Ritchie, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg also scored for the Stars.

Joe Thornton scored for San Jose on the power play in the second period. Dell had 23 saves.

Dallas' Kari Lehtonen made 20 saves four nights after shutting out San Jose (see full recap).

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

Flyers-Wild 10 observations: Sean Couturier shows flash, Matt Read answers call & more

You know Dave Hakstol has reached crisis measures when he takes a skill player in Travis Konecny and throws him onto the fourth line while promoting Matt Read to the top line.

This was risk-taking at its craziest to generate some enthusiasm and life into a Flyers squad that didn't show much of a pulse a few nights earlier in Winnipeg.

Guess what?

It worked during a 3-1 victory on Thursday, the Flyers' fifth straight win over the Wild going back a few years (see Instant Replay).

Their playoff hopes still flicker.

As much as the fan base hated the lineup moves, consider this: general manager Ron Hextall was very explicit this week in saying that the roster Hakstol has right now is what it is. Hextall is not going to promote any young Phantoms into a bad situation when they are headed for what could be a decent playoff run in the AHL.

Therefore, as my former colleague Bill Lyon would say, here are 10 things I think, I think …

1. The Flyers began the game as they have so often this season with yet another turnover and scoring chance against them. Rinse and repeat. The Flyers had three turnovers in less than five minutes to start the game.

2. Minutes later, Steve Mason coughed up a bad rebound off his stick and Zach Parise burned him with a gimme goal for a 1-0 lead. Mason had issues in this one with rebounds that were looking like grenades, but he settled down with a strong final two periods with 24 saves. This was Mason's 100th win as a Flyer (see game story).

3. You had to see it to believe it. Sean Couturier with a nice backhand shot through Devan Dubnyk's five-hole to make it a 1-1 game near the end of the opening period (see feature highlight). I haven't seen that kind of offensive move from Couturier in quite some time. Question is, why can't he do that nightly instead of semiannually? That's the offensive spark you know Couturier is capable of providing.

4. The Wild were very aggressive in this one as they were trying to clinch a playoff spot, so the Flyers had to match that intensity. The Flyers more than matched it. This was far, far better than what Hakstol's team brought to the ice in Winnipeg. Not even close, as the Flyers dominated.

5. Matt Read had a quick stick -- no other way to explain it -- on his goal in the second period off a series of Wild turnovers that came about because of a play set up by Jakub Voracek. That goal seemingly stunned Dubnyk. It was Read's second goal in the last two games. He was all over the ice in this one. Many nights this season, Read was invisible. Not this game.

6. The Flyers had some genuine scoring chances in this game. You had to wonder where this desire to skate, create and score was all through the month of February and into March. The Flyers had strong forecheck pressure and a rebound-attack mentality the entire second period. If that had happened with regularity down the stretch, this team would be sitting in the wild card right now.

7. While the shake-up of the lines obviously benefited Read, it did little for Konecny and actually set him back. He was invisible. No shots. No hits. Invisible with little ice time. Really can't figure this move out but obviously, Hakstol is upset with him for some reason.

8. Minnesota went all in at the NHL trade deadline to get Martin Hanzal and Ryan White, forking over four draft picks, including a first-rounder. The Wild were leading the Central Division before losing six straight (and eight of nine) that allowed Chicago to regain the top spot in the division. The Wild don't look like the same confident, surging team it was a month ago in the Western Conference.

9. Minnesota had a strong push in the final five minutes and the Flyers had some initial difficulty answering that until the final minute when Wayne Simmonds picked up his 300th point as a Flyer on Voracek's empty-net goal to seal the deal. A nice way to finish off a complete effort by everyone involved.

10. The Flyers picked up two points on Boston, which lost to Tampa Bay, and are six behind the Bruins in the wild card. They still remain a l-o-n-g shot to make the playoffs, given the sheer number of teams ahead of them that they need to climb over.