Flyers

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Home streak vs. Chicago continues

Flyers-Blackhawks observations: Home streak vs. Chicago continues

BOX SCORE

The streak lives on.

The Flyers continued their dominance over the Blackhawks by beating Chicago, 3-1, at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night. The victory was their 14th consecutive regular-season home win in the series. The Blackhawks' last non-playoff win in Philadelphia came exactly 21 years ago to the day: Nov. 9, 1996.

The Flyers’ top line did the damage with Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier all scoring goals.

Brian Elliott won for the sixth time in 10 starts as he stopped 38 of 39 shots.

• Much of the final 35 minutes were played in the Flyers’ end following the 3-0 lead. The ‘Hawks outshot the Flyers, 26-15, while applying constant pressure. Chicago just couldn’t rattle Elliott, who turned in a similar effort to Corey Crawford when these two teams played in Chicago eight days ago. 

• The Flyers were forced to kill off 1:44 of a 5-on-3 when Radko Gudas went off for tripping and then Ivan Provorov lofted the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty. The Flyers successfully killed off the two-man advantage with Chicago’s best scoring chance coming on a Duncan Keith wrist shot between the circles when Keith shot over the net. The Blackhawks were able to manage just one shot on net during that stretch. 

• Impressively, defenseman Robert Hagg was on the ice for 1:40 of that penalty kill. I couldn’t care less what Hagg’s Corsi numbers look like, he’s been an invaluable part of this defense.

• Elliott doesn’t usually make the highlight-reel save, but he was locked in against the Blackhawks. Elliott made a series of blocker saves in the opening period, and then had a gem when he robbed Brandon Saad with the glove. In the third, he denied Patrick Kane from close range and Saad once again. Elliott cut down just about every angle and his positioning was square to nearly every puck.  

• Matching top line against top line, the Flyers just abused the Blackhawks’ trio of Saad, Jonathan Toews and Kane — a line coach Joel Quenneville assembled prior to this game. The Flyers’ No. 1 line extended the lead to 3-0 on a beautiful tic-tac-toe play as Voracek found Giroux, who sent a backhand pass to Couturier as he came down the slot. The score was Couturier’s 10th of the season, which he’s never done before Jan. 1.

• Brandon Manning had a very solid opening 40 minutes to start this game. Manning tied up Saad to break up a Blackhawks’ opportunity down low. He was very active all over the ice. He separated his man from the puck and was the high man for the Flyers with 14:49 of ice time after two periods.

• Early in the second period, Travis Sanheim displayed his offensive awareness when he threaded another solid pass. This one went to Dale Weise, who clanked his shot off the post. Sanheim very easily could have had a pair of assists in this game.

• The Flyers looked very much like a team coming off a four-day layoff in the first four minutes of the game. Their breakouts were out of sync and coupled with some atrocious passing that forced them to regroup in their own end on a couple of occasions. 

• The Flyers jumped on the board first when Voracek and Couturier drew four Blackhawks defenders to the right side of the ice. Voracek fired a perfect pass to Giroux, who ripped off his patented one-timer from just outside the right circle that beat Crawford. Giroux was left wide open as Kane couldn’t make it on the backcheck.

• The Flyers had the Blackhawks’ defense completely spread out on their second goal. Giroux grabbed the puck out of the air and then fed Shayne Gostisbehere, who skated down low and had a four-lane highway of a passing lane. He fed Voracek, who blasted a one-timer of his own as the Flyers became just the second team this season to score two goals on Crawford in the opening period. 

• For “Ghost,” he became the fastest Flyers defenseman to score 100 points as he reached the mark in his first 155 career games. 

“It’s awesome, but of course I couldn’t do this without my teammates,” Gostisbehere said during the first intermission. “Just to do it with an organization like Philadelphia, it’s unbelievable. It’s a team with a lot of history, and again, I can’t thank my teammates and support staff enough.”

• Gostisbehere also had a terrific lead pass to Travis Konecny, who skated in behind the Blackhawks’ defense and deked Crawford for a wide-open net, but his backhand shot went wide.

• Early on, Gostisbehere held onto the puck a little too long, which produced a turnover and an early chance for Lance Bouma. That’s the second straight game when “Ghost” has committed a turnover in his own end. He had a similar play against the Avalanche when Gostisbehere had it stripped to lead to a Nail Yakupov third-period goal.

• Sanheim played a solid 6:21 in the first period with one memorable shift that showcased his potential. Sanheim broke up a potential pass at the defensive end in front of Elliott and then pushed the rush. Sanheim threaded a perfectly-timed pass to Valtteri Filppula just to the left of Crawford that could have been put in for a score.

Lines, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Jakub Voracek
Travis Konecny-Valtteri Filppula-Wayne Simmonds
Jordan Weal-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise        
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Michael Raffl

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Robert Hagg
Brandon Manning-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forward Matt Read (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

PITTSBURGH — When Dave Hakstol decided to push a few buttons prior to Game 5, the initial reaction was the noise that rings out when a toddler sits down at a piano for the first time.

Valtteri Filppula centering Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek? Dale Weise back in the lineup for the first time in 23 days? Starting a goalie that many feared would pull up with a groin injury midway through the second period? And of course, the only defense pairing that’s remained intact is Brandon Manning with Radko Gudas. 

None of it sounded all that good, but desperate times apparently call for unconventional coaching decisions. Hakstol found a way to string a few notes on a sheet of music, and while he may not be considered the NHL’s Beethoven behind the bench, Friday's game at least left you tapping your foot to the beat.

And somehow it all came together.

Consider: How may teams can cycle through three different goaltenders and three different No. 1 centers five games into a playoff series against the two-time champions and still live to see another day?

Even Claude Giroux, the franchise’s No. 1 center for most of the past decade, was singing Filppula’s praises. 

“He’s a smart player and he’s in great position all the time,” Giroux said. “We did some nice plays. I think it’s probably the first time I’ve played with him. He’s easy to play with. It was fun.”

But ultimately the Flyers needed a showstopper in net. General manager Ron Hextall pointed that out Thursday before the team charter departed for Pittsburgh. 

Brian Elliott had been pulled in two of his four starts in this series, and while it was a mere footnote of a dreadful 5-0 shutout loss in Game 4, the decision to give Michal Neuvirth the nod over Petr Mrazek as Elliott’s backup could very well be the single biggest reason the Wells Fargo Center is hosting a Game 6 Sunday.

“We just felt Neuvy looked sharp in practice,” Hakstol said. “He went in the other night and got some game action. Just talking it through with Kim Dillabaugh, our goaltending coach, he was the right choice.”

Sidney Crosby would agree. The Penguins superstar had scored at will in this series, and the only time he had been denied on the doorstep was the result of some sort of stick malfunction in Game 2 that saw his shot miss the net completely.

But with 50 seconds remaining Neuvirth’s glove was better than Crosby’s stick. He not only saved the game but the Flyers' season as well.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Neuvirth now has a 3-1 record with a .960 save percentage in five career postseason games with the Flyers.

Giroux also referred to the Flyers' Game 5 win as the team’s best overall game in this series.

Of course, this time of the season it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, it just has to be good enough that it doesn’t leave your ears bleeding.

Sean Couturier pulls a Chris Pronger as Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins

Sean Couturier pulls a Chris Pronger as Flyers force Game 6 with Penguins

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH — Whatever qualifies as the writing on the wall should probably be ignored when it comes to Flyers hockey.

A team that was humiliated and booed off home ice after it was outscored 10-1 in Games 3 and 4 had just about everything working against it during Friday night’s elimination game in Pittsburgh.

The eulogy had been drafted and all it needed was Sidney Crosby’s finishing touches in front of a sellout crowd of screaming, yellow towel-waving fans. The Penguins were ready to bury the bodies and move on to the next round.

“There’s a lot of commotions,” Sean Couturier said. “When s--- hits the fan and things start not going our way, you've got to kind of focus and stick together.”

Couturier was the catalyst in Friday’s 4-2 Game 5 victory (see observations). The Flyers' center knew not long after the morning skate, that regardless of his health, he was determined to play. Claude Giroux even conjured up the memory of an old teammate as additional incentive.

“I told him the story of (Chris) Pronger in Game 6 in Buffalo (2011), and he surprised us at 3:30 after our naps that he was going to be in,” Giroux said. “Before he went on the ice, I said, ‘You gonna pull a Prongs or what?’ And I told him the story and he texted me right after the morning skate and said, ‘I’m pulling a Prongs.’ So it was pretty funny.” 

Despite playing seven and a half minutes below his playoff average, Couturier gutted out nearly 17 minutes of ice time (nearly seven minutes on the penalty kill alone) and scored the game-winning goal with 1:15 remaining in regulation.

“Coots, what he did, he’s a warrior tonight and obviously our MVP,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “Just him being out there, it’s huge for us. I think the penalty kill was phenomenal. I think they’re the real reason why he won that game.”

Valtteri Filppula’s shorthanded goal was arguably the turning point with the Penguins threatening to take a two-goal lead late in the second period. While one was left wondering about the Flyers' line combinations, head coach Dave Hakstol trusted Filppula enough to center the top line with Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

It was the 34-year-old center, not Crosby, Evgeni Malkin or Giroux, who stepped up offensively in Game 5 with his most productive game as a Flyer, posting a goal and two assists.

“I don’t want to start ranking games and stuff like that, but Fil was good,” Hakstol said. “You've got to do that, especially at playoff time, when injuries are part of it. When your roll changes a little bit, you've got to step forward.”

And before the opening puck drop, it was Michal Neuvirth, not Brian Elliott, who led the team onto the ice. Neuvirth’s last start came in Colorado on March 28 and he hadn’t played a game in net from start to finish in over two months.

His glove save on Crosby inside the final minute sealed the Penguins' fate. 

“He looked great and looked really comfortable in there,” Couturier said. “He had to fight hard for a lot of pucks, and he made some big saves at the end and you can’t ask more from a goalie in the playoffs.”

The Flyers are now 60 minutes (and possibly more) away from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7. 

Two days ago, that was a scenario nobody could draw up.