Flyers

Flyers grind for ugly win over Sabres to push streak to 5

Flyers grind for ugly win over Sabres to push streak to 5

BOX SCORE

It was a Flyers’ win with a capital “U.” 

That’s “U” as in ugly.

However, it was still good enough to beat the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, as the Flyers skated away with a 2-1 victory at the Wells Fargo Center Thursday night (see observations).

It’s the type of game the Flyers lost earlier in the season during their previous homestead when they came out sloppy against the lowly Arizona Coyotes in an eventual 4-3 loss in overtime.  

“I thought this was a boring game,” Jakub Voracek said. “Honestly, I don’t think we played good today, but we got the win, which is really important. You’re not going to play great every night. We played well when we needed to, but we can play a lot better, which is positive.”

Nothing was uglier than the game’s first goal when Brian Elliott attempted to play the puck behind his net. Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons intercepted Elliott’s pass and fed the puck to Ryan O’Reilly, who had a wide-open, unattended net in front of him.

“They came hard and a little miscommunication,” Elliott said. “Bad play on my part and we did a heck of a job of coming back and tying that up. That can go sideways in a hurry. We sorted it out, but our first period was kind of sloppy.”

After Elliott nearly made the same mistake again in the opening period, the Flyers rebounded to the tie game at 1-1 as Travis Sanheim scored his first NHL goal off a feed from Dale Weise (see highlights). However, even Sanheim admitted, the goal was a silver lining from a dark cloud that was looming over him defensively with failed clears and breakdowns in coverage.  

“I don’t think we were very happy with our first period, especially me,” Sanheim said. “Minus the goal, I thought that might have been my worst period of the season, but I think we bounced back and battled hard in the final 40 and came through with the win.”

“He’s been pressing for a little while, so I was so happy to see him get a smile on his face,” Weise said of Sanheim’s goal. “That’s going to do wonders for his game. You see a shift after he gets another chance there. I’m so happy for him.”

Sanheim’s season in some ways has mirrored that of the Flyers’ schedule — a yo-yo performance with bouts of inconsistency. Coming off a 10-game winless stretch, the Flyers have now won five straight. Throughout both streaks, head coach Dave Hakstol has stuck with Sanheim when some coaches may have wavered. 

“There’s always lessons along the way, especially for a young defenseman,” Hakstol said. “He’s had some bumps in the road that every defenseman is going to go through. Tonight’s maybe a little indicative of that. Travis is always honest with himself and the evaluation of his own play, and for me, that always helps keep his feet on the ground and move on to the next challenge.”

“I want to make hard plays and I’ve got to make sure the puck gets over our blue line,” Sanheim said. “It’s easier to sit back and say I could have done this, I could have done that. Going forward, I’ve just got to try and limit those mistakes and try and play a harder game.” 

The Flyers eventually produced the breakthrough goal late in the second period on a tic-tac-toe play started by Michael Raffl, who fed a pass to Voracek and then onto Valtteri Filppula for the one-time goal.

“Those are the best wins,” said Raffl, who played in his 300th career game. “You’re pretty happy when you win 4-1 and you play your best game. It’s easy to laugh, but that was a war out there and the last period, especially, but we came together as a group.”

Of the 14 one-goal games the Flyers have played this season, this was just the third time they earned a victory. Many of those games when they failed to earn a winning decision came after regulation.

“It’s all about confidence,” Voracek said. “Two or three weeks ago when we went into the third period, we would lose that game. Now it’s about making sure those loose pucks get out of the zone and don’t make any dumb decisions.”

“I think it’s huge. When we were in that streak, we blew a lot of leads late in games,” Weise said. “Minus the last two minutes where I think we sat back a little, I thought we did a good job of moving the puck forward, forechecking and not sitting back too much. It’s more of a mental thing to win those type of games.”

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Flyers-Penguins Game 5 essentials

Here's everything you need to know Friday night for Game 5 of the Flyers-Penguins best-of-seven first-round playoff series.

Flyers at Penguins (Penguins lead series 3-1)
7 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia; Pregame Live at 6 p.m.

Live stream
Live stats
Social media
Series schedule

Projected lineups (without Sean Couturier; more on him here)

Flyers
Forwards
Claude Giroux-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Oskar Lindblom-Nolan Patrick-Travis Konecny
Matt Read-Jori-Lehtera-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Scott Laughton-Jordan Weal

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Michal Neuvirth

Scratches: Forwards Sean Couturier (injured), Taylor Leier and Dale Weise; defensemen Travis Sanheim and Johnny Oduya; goalie Petr Mrazek.

Penguins
Forwards
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Dominik Simon
Carl Hagelin-Evgeni Malkin-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Tom Kuhnhackl

Defensemen
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel

Goalies
Matt Murray
Casey DeSmith

Scratches: Forwards Patric Hornqvist (injured), Josh Jooris and Carter Rowney (injured); defenseman Matt Hunwick.

What to watch for …

John Boruk
Keep an eye on: 
Flyers' energy level
The Penguins would love nothing more than to close out the series on home ice and rest up as they await the winner of the Capitals-Blue Jackets series. Sometimes that can force a team with a chance to close out a series to take its foot off the gas ever so slightly. The crowd at PPG Paints Arena will be roaring and the key for the Flyers is to survive the initial first 10 minutes of the opening period as the Penguins will come out strong in attack mode. Falling behind early could lead to the Flyers accepting their fate and the Penguins closing out the series in five games. 

Bold prediction: The Flyers will extend the series to a Game 6. They have performed admirably in closeout games when facing elimination. Claude Giroux stuck out his neck a little bit when he told reporters “we’ll be back for Game 6.” Giroux’s made similar statements not regarded as bold guarantees, but he usually backs up his words and doesn’t back down from a challenge. The captain also held a brief meeting with teammates on the ice Thursday near the conclusion of practice. A handful of the Flyers can recall falling down to the Capitals 3-0 in 2015-16 before the Flyers rallied to win the next two games before losing, 1-0, in Game 6. We should see a much more defensive-minded effort similar to Game 2.

Tom Dougherty
Keep an eye on: 
Robert Hagg
We have a pretty good feel for how this game will go. Brandon Manning will fall a few times, turn it over a bunch. The Pens will be all over the Flyers. The only thing we don't know is how Hagg plays in his first career playoff game. Should have been sooner, much, much sooner. Should have been Manning who came out and not Travis Sanheim. Anyways, how does Hagg fare against the big, bad Penguins?

Bold prediction: "It's Close Until It Isn't." Mothers, a four-piece indie rock band from Athens, Georgia, has a song titled "It Hurts Until It Doesn't." Pretty accurate description of these Flyers right now. It hurts until you realize they were never really in it. Then comes acceptance. Tonight will be close until it isn't. Pittsburgh blows this open in the second period and series over.

Jordan Hall
Keep an eye on: Which team scores first
If the Penguins take an early 1-0 lead, it will be a death blow to these Flyers. They've been dreadful at recovering from Pittsburgh goals, showing no ability to redirect momentum. Given how this series has transpired, the Penguins striking first might crush any confidence the Flyers have left in the tank. However, if the Flyers can jump out with a statement, the belief that this series can meet a Game 6 in Philadelphia will only grow.

Bold prediction: Sidney Crosby lights the lamp first, matching the Flyers' goal output for the series and signaling the unofficial end of the first-round matchup. Crosby's been so darn good this series that it seems only fitting he gets things started in front of the home crowd. The Flyers will score but Crosby's tone-setting marker will be the beginning of the end for the 2017-18 Flyers.

Recommended reading
• Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

• What are Flyers made of? We're about to find out

• Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

• Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

Sean Couturier warms up during Flyers' morning skate before Game 5

PITTSBURGH — With general manager Ron Hextall looking on from the tunnel to the bench, Sean Couturier took faceoffs against assistant coach Ian Laperriere during Friday’s morning skate. 

Putting pressure on his injured right leg while gaining leverage in the faceoff circle was part of determining the pain tolerance and whether Couturier could play in Game 5 against the Penguins.

“I don’t know. Trying to get a test but Lappy wasn’t so good on faceoffs,” Couturier said rather jokingly. “It was kinda tough to test it out. I was just trying to simulate game situations.”

Of course, morning skates are nothing resembling the speed and intensity of a playoff game, but Friday marked the third straight day Couturier has skated.

“I felt pretty good. I felt better than yesterday,” Couturier said. “Still hoping. I guess I’ll take warm-ups and see how that goes. More movement, more skating than the last two times. It was a good day. It’s one thing to play but you’ve got to be able to help the team as well.”

Two years ago, playing without Couturier, the Flyers fought off elimination twice in their six-game series against the Capitals after falling behind 3-0 in their best-of-seven series. Head coach Dave Hakstol believes that experience is something the veterans can impart on the younger, more experienced Flyers.

“This is a very different team — a lot of different personnel,” Hakstol said. “There were some guys that were part of that series, and some other guys who have different playoff experiences. So, I think you draw off your veterans’ experience.”

Historically, the Flyers have succumbed to the opponent when trailing 3-1 in a seven-game series with a 1-16 record when facing elimination entering Game 5. The only exception came during the Flyers remarkable 3-0 comeback against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. 

At this point, Hakstol doesn’t feel the need to motivate by stressing the importance of a must-win game. 

“We didn’t do a whole lot of talking yesterday,” Hakstol said. “We went out and had a good practice and took 24 hours as we traveled here to Pittsburgh. We talked a little bit in the morning just to get our focus in place. For the most part, we know where we’re at, so there’s no need to go into a bunch of clichés.”

Interestingly, Hakstol would not confirm his starting goaltender, but Brian Elliott is expected to make his seventh straight start despite a 4.75 goals against with a .856 save percentage in the first five games. Elliott, who was not on the ice for the morning skate, was stretching and going through his typical game-day rituals.

“We need a big performance from our goalie, yes, that’s fair to say,” said Hextall. “We’re going into their building and they’re going to be hungry, so we need a big performance from our goalie.”