Brian Elliott's outstanding effort goes to waste

Brian Elliott's outstanding effort goes to waste


BUFFALO, N.Y. — Shut out for nearly 58 minutes on Friday night, the Flyers got goals from Michael Raffl and Shayne Gostisbehere on the closing shifts but couldn’t finish the comeback job in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.

Buffalo’s Robin Lehner stopped 33 shots and engaged in a goaltending duel with Philadelphia’s Brian Elliott (33 saves) for two scoreless periods before goals from the Sabres' Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane in the third built a 2-0 lead. Jack Eichel added two empty-net goals. 

The Flyers entered the night three points out of a playoff spot, having won seven of eight since the 0-5-5 skid that included three shutout losses. The Sabres are the lowest-scoring team in the NHL and have the worst record (9-19-7) in the Eastern Conference.

Raffl scored on a power play after the Flyers pulled Elliott to gain a 6-on-4 advantage with 2:10 remaining. Gostisbehere whistled in a wrist shot from the right circle with 38 seconds remaining, in between Eichel’s goals.

O’Reilly broke a scoreless tie four minutes into the third period when his shot from the behind the red line on the left side of the net burrowed behind the right pad of Elliott and into the net. Kane made it 2-0 with 8:52 left in the game when he deflected a high shot past Elliott.

• Elliott got his 10th straight start in net and played in his 400th NHL game. He entered the game 12-2-1 in his career against the Sabres

Elliott showed little sign of fatigue — or dizziness from standing on his head — while making 16 saves in the first period. He swatted away Kane, Buffalo’s leading scorer, on a penalty shot early in the first and slid across the crease to stuff Sabres star Jack Eichel at the doorstep on a power play later in the period.

With Michal Neuvirth (lower body) not yet cleared to return and rookie Alex Lyon yet to make his NHL debut, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol is leaning on Elliott to play every night. 

“He’s been real good for us, he’s feeling good, he’s feeling strong and there’s no reason we wouldn’t go back to him,” said Hakstol on Friday, morning while noting he had not yet decided who would start Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back in Columbus.

Hakstol said before the game he had not yet made a decision on who would start Saturday on the second night of a back-to-back in Columbus.

• The Flyers scored on the power play for the seventh time in nine games but struggled to create scoring chances on multiple opportunities with the man-advantage before falling behind 2-0.

Playing 5-on-3 for 40 seconds during the third period, the Flyers did not put a shot on goal. The best chance on what turned out to be a 3:20 power play came when Jake Voracek shot high on a one-timer from the right circle.

The Flyers put four shots on net during two power plays in the second period, but none challenged Lehner. He had to make just one save on the Flyers' second opportunity, while the Sabres cleared the puck three times. 

Buffalo has been perfect on the penalty kill over its previous five games.

• Jake Voracek assisted on both goals to bring his NHL-leading tally up to 36. He has a point in five straight. Claude Giroux also had two assists and extended his point streak to four games.

• Voracek shared some of the secret sauce fueling the Flyers’ recent surge following Friday’s morning skate.

“We got drunk,” Voracek told reporter Joe Yerdon. “That helped. We sat down together, talked about some stuff we wanted to do better. We had some heart-to-hearts and it worked out so it was good.”

• Coming off a game in which he scored his first NHL goal, defenseman Robert Hagg made a couple rookie mistakes in the first period. Hagg’s giveaway in the neutral zone sent Kane on the breakaway that led to Gostisbehere’s takedown and the ensuing penalty shot. Hagg also took a hooking penalty in the period.

• Jori Lehtera replaced Taylor Leier (upper-body) on the fourth line for the second straight game. Defenseman Mark Alt was a healthy scratch.

• This was the Flyers’ only trip to Buffalo this season. They defeated the Sabres 2-1 at Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 14 and wrap up the season series in Philadelphia on Jan. 7.

• At Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, where the Sabres played from 1970-96, chairs in the cheap seats were painted orange. On Friday night, the color was smattered around several sections near the ice at KeyBank Center, with Flyers fans surely finding good prices on the secondary market from disgruntled Sabres’ season-ticket holders

• The Flyers play for the seventh time in 12 days Saturday night at Columbus before getting a four-day break. It will be Hakstol’s 200th game behind the bench. 

Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

AP Images

Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

PITTSBURGH -- Taylor Hall beat Matt Murray on a breakaway 27 seconds into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

Hall was all alone when Nico Hischier found him with a long lead pass. Hall then slipped the puck between Murray's legs for his 33rd goal of the season as New Jersey picked up two vital points in the race for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Hall added two assists for New Jersey. Hischier finished with a goal and an assist, and Blake Coleman and Will Butcher also scored for the Devils. Keith Kincaid made 40 stops for the Devils, who finished a season-high six-game road trip 4-2.

Sidney Crosby scored his 25th of the season for Pittsburgh. Brian Dumolin and Phil Kessel scored in the third period as the Penguins erased a two-goal deficit. Murray finished with 30 saves as the Penguins lost for just the second time in their last 17 home games.

New Jersey's drive to end a six-year playoff drought has stalled since the All-Star break. A lopsided loss in San Jose dropped the Devils to just 13-12 since Jan. 30 and skated onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena with a tenuous grasp on the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see full recap).

Bruins win on Pastrnak’s last-second goal
DALLAS -- David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card (see full recap).

Berglund, Blues push win streak to 4
ST. LOUIS -- Patrik Berglund scored twice and the surging St. Louis Blues beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin also scored for St. Louis. Jake Allen made 19 saves in his eighth straight start as the Blues won for the sixth time in seven games.

Sam Gagner scored for Vancouver, which has lost eight of nine. Anders Nilsson stopped 21 shots.

The Blues swept the season series and have won their last five games against the Canucks.

Tarasenko extended the lead to 3-1 just 14 seconds into the third period, slipping Jaden Schwartz's pass between Nilsson's legs. Tarasenko missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury.

Jaskin's sixth goal of the season with 2:29 left sealed it for St. Louis (see full recap).

5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

5 crucial developments behind Flyers' playoff push

With seven games to go, the Flyers are in playoff position.

They sit in the Eastern Conference's top wild-card spot, four points ahead of the next-closest team, while also lurking just one point out of third place and two out of second in the Metropolitan Division.

You would have been hard-pressed to envision such a scenario back when the Flyers had lost 10 straight games and were in dead last of the Metro on Dec. 2.

But, through the streaks — both good and bad — here the Flyers are.

So how did they get here?

Let's look at five keys:

1. Giroux, period
The revitalization has been astounding. 

Claude Giroux's precipitous turnaround is the biggest reason the Flyers find themselves smelling postseason hockey again.

At age 30 and coming off a career low in goals for a full season and a third straight drop-off in scoring, the Flyers' captain has buried those 14 markers and 58 points in the past. This season, he has 26 goals and an NHL-high 64 assists, while reaching the 90-point plateau for the second time in his career. 

When the regular season is over, he will very likely own new career highs in goals, assists and points.

Tip your hat to the guy.

2. Do-it-all Coots
Sean Couturier has done yeoman's work in his breakout year.

Obviously the team-best 30 goals are nice, but he does so much more for this team.

He plays the third-most minutes (21:38) among all NHL forwards, leads the Flyers in PK time by a landslide and his plus-26 rating is top 10 in the league.

3. The kid is here
With a greater role, Travis Konecny has made a crucial jump in Year 2.

Since Dec. 28, the 21-year-old has put up 34 points (18 goals, 16 assists) and a plus-17 rating in 38 games, a stretch in which the Flyers are 22-12-4.

And since Jan. 20, Konecny has the same number of goals (16) as Alex Ovechkin and Nathan MacKinnon.

4. Defensive leaders
While the Flyers have stomached inconsistency and change on defense, Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere have served as two pillars.

Imagine if one of the two got hurt? Or if Provorov endured a sophomore slump and Gostisbehere didn't rebound from his own last season?

Who knows where the Flyers would be.

Provorov and Gostisbehere are first and third, respectively, in minutes per game on the team, while both have netted 13 goals with "Ghost" leading all NHL blueliners in power-play tallies (seven) and man-advantage points (29).

It's not just offense, either. Provorov is ultra steady and Gostisbehere has improved in his own end.

5. Lookin' like No. 2
Nolan Patrick's numbers don't jump off the page, but his evolvement from the start of the season to now is one of the bigger storylines of this season.

Following an underwhelming first 40 games (with an injury mixed in), the second overall pick now looks supremely comfortable and makes a clear impact, even when he's not scoring.

The 19-year-old is playing well centering Jakub Voracek and Oskar Lindblom on the second line and showed tons of power-play potential filling in for an injured Wayne Simmonds.

Patrick has 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in his last 26 games after recording nine (three goals, six assists) in his first 40.

He's been a different player.