Flyers flip switch in Western Canada, finish off rare sweep of trip

Flyers flip switch in Western Canada, finish off rare sweep of trip


VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Where else can the Flyers work in a game between now and Tuesday?

Medicine Hat? Red Deer? Saskatoon? 

Whatever the case, Western Canada has turned around the Flyers' fortunes as the team swept the Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver portion of its schedule all in regulation for the first time in 21 years. Thursday, the Flyers knocked off the Canucks in a convincing 4-1 victory at Rogers Arena, winning three games in a four-day span (see observations).

“Since I’ve been with the Flyers, I don’t think we’ve swept the West like that,” Claude Giroux said. “It’s good for our confidence. We changed a couple of things, the way we play and our identity as a team, and everybody’s bought into it.”

The Flyers have strung together their longest winning streak of the season off the heels of a 10-game winless streak, while working their record back to .500 at 11-11-7. 

Several key changes have benefited the Flyers greatly during their current run:

• Switching up all four lines, including pairing Jakub Voracek with Valtteri Filppula and Michael Raffl. 

• Utilizing a 1-2-2 zone at key moments, which has given the opposition trouble, especially late in games. 

• Shortening the bench by not putting late-game pressure on some of the younger players.

“We had to buy into something,” goaltender Brian Elliott said. “Everybody’s understanding their role and where they’re supposed to be on the ice, and simplifying things a little bit. Along with that we’re making the smart decisions and not turning pucks over at the blue line.”

Michael Raffl applied his golden touch, scoring his fifth goal, all in the last eight games (see highlights). In fact, Raffl scored the game-winner in each of the three games of the road trip and has found some chemistry with Voracek, who collected seven assists and now leads the NHL with 30.

“We knew it was going to come,” Voracek said. “We’ve played some good hockey the past three games. We could have scored more than one tonight, especially in the third, we had lot of chances.

“I think I’m more experienced now. I’m almost 30 years old. I’m making more simple plays than I used to, so that’s a good thing.”

Starting games on consecutive nights for the first time this season, Elliott bailed out his teammates in the opening seven minutes when the Canucks outshot the Flyers, 9-0, to start the game (see video)

“He did a great job,” said defenseman Andrew MacDonald, who passed the Ric Flair robe over to Elliott as the Flyers' Player of the Game. “It’s never easy for a goalie to be put in a back-to-back situation. We were a little slow out of the gate and they came out pretty hard, and he made some crucial saves early that let us just calm down. That’s the veteran goaltending presence that he brings.” 

Overall, Elliott stopped 36 of 37 shots, and 103 of the 108 shots he faced on the road trip for a .950 save percentage. He also earned his 200th career victory, becoming the 87th goalie in NHL history to reach that milestone.

“My goalie coach just sort of shook my hand and said 200,” Elliott, a ninth-round selection in 2003, said. “It’s pretty special for me. You get your first win and you just try and stay in the league and play your game and try and win a Stanley Cup. Reaching milestones like that means a lot. Hopefully, I can go for another 100.”

The Flyers' power play came to life, scoring two goals for the first time since Oct. 10 — a span of 25 games. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere opened the scoring when his slap shot from the point was deflected by Sam Gagner and past goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

“We have a lot of character in this room, and like I’ve said before, it’s one of the tightest groups I’ve been with," Giroux said. "We’re playing as a team and let’s keep rolling here."

Western Canada has been so good to the Flyers, they’re staying an extra day as they’ll enjoy a day off in Vancouver before flying back to Philadelphia Saturday morning. 

Whatever they’ve discovered, they need to bottle it up when they open a five-game homestand starting with the Maple Leafs on Tuesday.

Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

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Blue Jackets tighten grip for 10th straight win

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 33 shots for his fifth shutout of the season, Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, and the Columbus Blue Jackets shut out the Florida Panthers 4-0 on Thursday night for their 10th straight win.

Pierre-Luc Dubois had two assists for the Blue Jackets, who improved to 42-28-5 and joined Philadelphia (1984-86) and Pittsburgh (2010-13) as the only NHL franchises to record 10-game win streaks in consecutive seasons.

The shutout was the 24th of Bobrovsky's career and his seventh straight win. Sonny Milano, Seth Jones and Thomas Vanek -- into an empty net -- also scored for Columbus, which moved into a second-place tie in the Metropolitan Division with idle Pittsburgh, each with 89 points.

Florida dropped to 37-28-7. With 10 games left in the season, the Panthers remained a point behind the idle New Jersey Devils for a playoff spot (see full recap).

Maple Leafs top Predators in Matthews’ return
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Auston Matthews had a goal in his return from a shoulder injury that sidelined him for 10 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Nashville Predators 5-2 on Thursday night.

The Predators had been 14-0-1 since their previous regulation loss on Feb. 17.

James van Riemsdyk and Mitchell Marner each had a goal and an assist, and William Nylander and Jake Gardiner also scored for Toronto, which has won five of six.

Morgan Rielly had three assists for the Maple Leafs, and Tyler Bozak had two. Frederik Andersen stopped 23 shots.

Viktor Arvidsson and Scott Hartnell scored for Nashville. Pekka Rinne had 23 saves (see full recap).

Grubauer, Capitals shut out Red Wings
DETROIT -- Philipp Grubauer made 39 saves for his third shutout of the season, and Brett Connolly scored the game's only goal on a third-period breakaway to lift the Washington Capitals to a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday night.

The Capitals have won six of seven and lead Pittsburgh and Columbus by four points atop the Metropolitan Division as the regular season winds down. Washington has turned increasingly to Grubauer of late after Braden Holtby struggled in February and at the beginning of March. Holtby wasn't available Thursday because of an injury coach Barry Trotz described as a tweak.

The Capitals took the lead with 13:19 remaining in the game after Detroit defenseman Xavier Ouellet couldn't control the puck near Washington's blue line. Connolly and teammate Jakub Vrana went the other way on a two-man breakaway, and Connolly beat Jimmy Howard with a wrist shot to the glove side. It was his 15th goal of the season.

The Red Wings had a goal called back for goalie interference in the first period -- replays showed Tyler Bertuzzi appearing to make contact with Grubauer in front of the net. Detroit squandered a great opportunity in the second when the Red Wings had a two-man advantage for the full 2:00.

Andreas Athanasiou had a breakaway in the third, but couldn't beat Grubauer. Athanasiou had another chance in the final minutes, but his shot deflected wide as Grubauer tried unsuccessfully to grab it with his glove.

Detroit has lost 11 of 12 (see full recap).

Dave Hakstol shows who he can trust in Flyers' win over Rangers

Dave Hakstol shows who he can trust in Flyers' win over Rangers


Who can I trust?

That’s the underlying question Dave Hakstol is attempting to answer almost nightly as the Flyers inch their way toward a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

It was no different in the Flyers' frantic 4-3 win over the Rangers Thursday at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

“We were sporadic. The first three or four minutes of the game, we weren’t sharp or crisp,” Hakstol said. “Honestly, we got back on our heels in the last part of the third period. There are things that we obviously have to clean up.”

The cleanup crew Hakstol is looking for must possess a trustworthiness factor that makes each player dependable during crunch time. Against the Rangers, the Flyers' coach was forced to lean heavily on a handful of guys who weren’t even on Hakstol’s roster during the first half of the season.

Matt Read replaced Travis Konecny (who scored two goals) on the top line, and was counted on defensively where Konecny came up short in the previous two periods. Read played 13:52 to Konecny’s 12:29.

“He wasn’t taking care of the puck very well,” Hakstol said of Konecny. “Individuals have got to be better at this time of year and how we manage the puck and the mentality that we’re going to do things with.”

“It’s just part of buying in and doing things for the team” Konecny said. “I have no problem with it. It’s a matter of getting the two points. If that’s the way we’ve got to win, then we’ve got to do that every time.”

The 21-year-old Oskar Lindblom scored the eventual game-winning goal on the opening shift of the third period, and the second-line winger was consistently shifted until the final four minutes of regulation.  

“Everybody’s different. It depends on the player,” Hakstol said. “Oskar is a guy that has come in and fit into the structural part of our game very well if you watch Oskar’s game. He’s just very intelligent in terms of playing within a system. He always finds a way to be on the right side of the puck.”

And then there’s goaltender Alex Lyon, who stepped up following his strong performance in relief of Petr Mrazek Tuesday night in Detroit. 

When the defense in front of him broke down, Lyon answered the call and preserved the Flyers' lead throughout times in the second period and even during a spotty third period.

“I was actually thinking about it before the game today,” Lyon said. “Every game is so different, and you feel different. Circumstances are different, the team is different every day, so I think the best guys are those who can adjust to that, so I try and take a page out of their book.”

And with his 33-save performance, Lyon has put himself in position to start Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh.

If there’s a doghouse for those who perform poorly, then consider this to be Hakstol’s safe house. They may not be the Flyers' best guys, but as of now, they’re the reliable ones.

Or as Hakstol is looking for — those who play on the right side of the puck.