Loss to Isles may be final nail in Flyers' coffin

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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.”

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NHL Playoffs: Rangers ride Zuccarello to 3-1 win in series-clinching Game 6

NEW YORK -- Mats Zuccarello scored twice in the second period and the New York Rangers beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 in Game 6 on Saturday night to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Derek Stepan also scored and Henrik Lundqvist stopped 27 shots to help New York get past the first round for the fifth time in six years. The Rangers won three straight after falling behind 2-1 to beat Montreal for the ninth time in 16 postseason series.

The Rangers will face the winner of the Ottawa-Boston series, which the Senators lead 3-2.

Alexei Emelin scored for Montreal and Carey Price finished with 20 saves. The Canadiens, winners of the Atlantic Division after missing the playoffs last year, were bounced from the postseason by the Rangers for the second time in four years. In 2014, it was in the conference finals (see full recap).

Paajarvi's OT goal gives Blues 4-3 win to oust Wild in 5
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Magnus Paajarvi scored at the 9:42 mark in overtime, giving the St. Louis Blues a 4-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday in Game 5 of their playoff series, eliminating the Wild.

The Blues advanced to play Nashville in the second round.

Jake Allen made 34 saves for the Blues, who led 2-0 and 3-1 before a furious rally by the Wild to try to keep their season alive forced the extra frame.

Paajarvi's first career playoff goal gave Blues coach Mike Yeo the satisfaction of beating the team that fired him a little over a year ago.

Mikko Koivu and Jason Zucker scored to bring the Wild back from their second two-goal hole, a deficit that held past the midpoint of the third period (see full recap).

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

Flyers excited for full-season upgrade of Valtteri Filppula

As the Flyers packed up for the offseason much earlier than they had hoped, the focus started shifting to the outlook for 2017-18.

There was some optimism provided by Valtteri Filppula.

It wasn't anything he said. Instead, it was what he did in 20 games.

Make that a full sample size and the Flyers are excited about the possibilities.

Filppula, a well-rounded, 33-year-old center, was acquired at the March 1 trade deadline in the Mark Streit deal. He added five goals and three assists in his 20 games.

"I felt like later in the year, we had more bullets in our gun," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week as the team held exit interviews and cleanout day. "(Jordan) Weal comes in and does a good job. Filppula comes in and really gives us stability. Really upgraded our top nine. So when you're talking 5-on-5 play, just to depend on five or six guys, all of a sudden you have nine guys you can count on."

The Flyers were 27th in the NHL with 128 goals at 5-on-5 -- a significant factor in their postseason absence.

But Filppula should bring more than simply a 5-on-5 boost.

The Flyers desperately needed depth at the center position to relieve some pressure from Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Filppula, who came from the Lightning and played seven seasons with the Red Wings -- winning a Stanley Cup in 2008 -- is a sound matchup center and plays on the penalty kill, too.

"I think with Fil coming in this year, it really helped our depth," Giroux said. "He brings a lot to the team. He kills penalties, power plays, very good defensively and he's a smart player. When you bring a guy in like that, you kind of get excited a little bit."

From Filppula's first game on March 2 to the end of the regular season, the Flyers scored 56 goals, 12th most in the NHL over that span and 2.80 per game -- both improvements from their ranking of 21th on the full season and 2.59 per game.

"Now that we feel like we have nine guys that are legit top-nine forwards," Hextall said, "we've got good balance."

Couturier saw immediate benefits when the Flyers acquired Filppula. Couturier started playing with Dale Weise and Brayden Schenn, which turned out to be the team's best line combination to finish the regular season.

"I think it just brought some depth to our lineup," Couturier said of Filppula acquisition. "I had the chance to play after that with Schenn and Weiser and we just found chemistry right away and things went really well."

It provided head coach Dave Hakstol greater flexibility.

"The addition of Val Filppula to our group up front made our group of forwards better," Hakstol said. "Not just his presence, which I think he's an outstanding hockey player, a good hockey player and a real good veteran, but it just allowed some of the others to come together. I think there's real substance there."

The Flyers hope it shows with a full season of Filppula.

"I think when Filppula came in, the balance that seemed to come with him entering our lineup helped us both with and without the puck," Hakstol said. "Will that cohesion help us generate more offensively on an 82-game basis, not just a short-term basis? I think the answers to those things are yes."