Flyers

Flyers hope win over NHL's best isn't lightning in a bottle

Flyers hope win over NHL's best isn't lightning in a bottle

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TAMPA, Fla. — The busiest man in December wasn’t the guy wearing a red suit and black boots with a low-hanging, long, grey beard. 

And his work certainly didn’t come to an end after Dec. 25.

Instead, the workhorse of the month was undoubtedly goaltender Brian Elliott, who was called upon to deliver the Flyers with their most impressive victory this season, a 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning (see observations). The Lightning lost a regulation game on home ice for just the third time in 20 games.

Desperate for a win following the Flyers’ lackluster effort one night earlier against the Panthers, head coach Dave Hakstol felt he had nowhere else to turn and informed Elliott Friday morning that he was the go-to guy yet again.

Elliott completed the month of December starting every game in net, a stretch of 13 games with a record of 8-4-1 that included three pairs of back-to-backs. None seemingly tougher than the two games here in Florida.

“A little tired,” Elliott said when asked how he felt afterwards. “It’s a couple of hot buildings, so you lose a lot of liquids. It’s a big win for us. I’m feeling dehydrated, but feeling really good.”

As impressive as it was to see the Flyers’ power play finally show some life with a 2-for-6 performance, the most critical juncture of this game came in the final eight minutes of the second period when the Lightning made their strongest push. Tampa Bay appeared ready to take over after Brayden Point scored a goal with 4:23 remaining in the second period.

Then Elliott stopped a series of shots before Sean Couturier delivered a back-breaking goal with 11 seconds remaining in the period that gave the Flyers a much needed 3-2 lead heading into the third.  

“It’s tough for any team to get scored on late in the period,” said Couturier, who had his third three-point night of the season. “It was tough for us with four, five minutes left [in the second period] to get scored on, but we responded well and we came with a big goal. It gave use momentum and from there we took over.”

Elliott has been the one constant in a season of mind-boggling inconsistency. The same season when the Flyers can appear uninspired against an inferior Florida Panthers team, and then proceed to play with the necessary intensity and inspiration against the NHL’s best just 24 hours later.

Perhaps the only other aspect of this game that was more surprising than the outcome was the game-winning goal off the stick of defenseman Brandon Manning, who was playing for the first time since Dec. 4 and could only start shooting pucks a few days ago after recovering from a hand injury.

“Just kind of a lucky bounce that settled right on my stick with the goalie overcommitted on the other side,” said Manning, who now has as many goals as Travis Konecny and one more than Jordan Weal.

Manning also admitted that Elliott is the stabilizing presence that hasn’t existed in previous seasons.

“It’s something that maybe the last couple of years that’s kinda been hit and miss. Now when he’s in there, there’s a lot of confidence for our defensemen back there,” Manning said of Elliott.

“It’s a big win,” Elliott said. “It’s a measuring stick for us and we know we can compete against any team. We’ve just got to do it consistently on a nightly basis.”

“The [Lightning] have been on fire all season and it’s kinda good for us to see where we stand,” Valtteri Filppula said. “It’s good to know we’ve got a chance against anybody. If we play like this, we’re going to have a good chance to win against a lot of teams.”

Undoubtedly, the Flyers can enter the new year on the heels of one very impressive win. One can only wonder if it was a case of lightning in a bottle.

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

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

VOORHEES, N.J. — The Penguins have the Flyers on the canvas in a headlock.

The faces of the guys who wear orange and black are turning purple, and unless they put up a courageous fight as they did in Game 2, they will tap out of this best-of-seven series after just five games (see story).

General manager Ron Hextall spoke to the media for the first time since the series started and believes the Flyers have displayed a lack of mental fortitude through the first four games.

“A lot of it is mentality,” Hextall said. “We need to be stronger if a bump goes the other way. We need to be stronger and bounce back and create energy going back our way. The playoffs are a series of momentum (swings) — within a period and within a game. We need to do a better job of bringing the momentum back our way."

So where exactly does that start? The return of Sean Couturier would help considerably.

After sitting out Game 4’s 5-0 loss, the Selke Trophy finalist hasn’t ruled out playing in Game 5 after skating Wednesday and Thursday on his own. Hextall said Couturier would travel to Pittsburgh and nothing more than that.

“I’m feeling better every day, and we’ll see how I feel tomorrow,” Couturier said. “It’s really on me to see how I feel every day and hopefully, it keeps getting better. It’s really up to my body to see how it keeps progressing.”

Dave Hakstol switched up his lines once again Thursday, most notably installing Valtteri Filppula onto the top line with Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek and breaking up the top defense pairing of Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere.

Robert Hagg is also expected to make his series debut, playing alongside Andrew MacDonald as fellow rookie Travis Sanheim will serve as the healthy scratch.

“About time,” Hagg said. “I’m looking forward to it tomorrow. Hopefully, I can bring something to the team, some energy. I think it’s perfect and I can’t wait to go in and show what I can bring to the team.”

“He brings a different element than a couple of guys in the lineup if we’re so inclined to make that change,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t generated very much over the last five periods, but at the same time, we’ve given up quite a bit in some of the harder areas.”

Toward the end of Thursday’s 45-minute practice, Giroux gathered his teammates around and delivered a speech he hopes can galvanize the Flyers for Game 5 and bring the series back to Philadelphia for Game 6.

“I think it’s believing in ourselves," Giroux said. "All year we’ve done that, and we’ve talked about it before. You lose 10 in a row and find a way to make the playoffs. Tomorrow’s a big game for us, and if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down swinging.”

Quick hits
• Speaking on the collision with Radko Gudas, Couturier said, "We've done this drill all year. It was bad timing and a fluke accident. There's no one to really blame, and I should have maybe had my head up there."

• Hextall believes Couturier should be the Selke Trophy frontrunner based on his outstanding 2017-18 season.

"I think he should win it," Hextall said. "I know those other players fairly well, and yes, I watch Coots on a daily basis, but the two-way game that he brings to our team is in my mind, the best in the league this year."

• Penguins forward Patric Hornqvist will miss his second straight game.

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Ding dong, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is gone

Michal Neuvirth stood by his locker Wednesday night dejected, like the rest of his teammates, after the Flyers’ latest blunder, an embarrassing 5-0 loss on home ice to the Penguins in Game 4.

The Flyers are on the brink of elimination to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, and Wednesday's defeat was the latest reminder of their current state of affairs.

"Definitely good to get in the mix," said Neuvirth, who replaced Brian Elliott in the second period for his first game action since March 28. "But tough outcome tonight. We lost it to a better team tonight."

With that, Neuvirth perfectly encapsulated exactly where the Flyers stand in this first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh. It's definitely good to be in the mix, and they lost to the better team.

We've heard that before and we'll hear it again, but it doesn't make it any easier to swallow. This Flyers team isn't quite there yet, to compete with the Penguins or in the playoffs.

There are encouraging signs. The postseason experience will pay off in the long run — it's better than not being there. Nolan Patrick, 19, has perhaps been the Flyers' most consistent forward in the series. He was the only player who competed Wednesday.

But goaltending remains an eyesore and rookie mistakes are consistently being made by veterans, and some appear immune to accountability. Game 4 was as ugly as it gets (see story), and that's counting a series that included a 7-0 loss in Game 1.

The Flyers were never really in Wednesday's game outside of about a two-minute stretch in the first period, when they were buzzing in the Pittsburgh zone until a Scott Laughton centering pass turned into a Penguins odd-man rush.

Bang, 2-0 Pittsburgh. Ballgame.

"From our standpoint," Dave Hakstol said, "we have to look from within. There's going to be momentum swings, there are going to be pushes, but we haven't been able to reestablish our game quick enough to give ourselves an opportunity."

Wednesday served as another grim reminder. This Flyers-Penguins rivalry, well, isn't much of a rivalry and hasn't been one in quite some time now.

Coming into this series, we heard the old storylines, about how much these two teams hate each other, how close games are, but the hate hasn't been there for a while and the games, they haven't been close, either.

The Penguins have dominated the Flyers, this season especially. With the 5-0 win Wednesday, the Pens have outscored the Flyers, 38-17, in eight total games and 20-4 in games played at the Wells Fargo Center.

The hype machine was on full blast and we all bought into it. It's the playoffs, different animal, but some things never change no matter the environment.

At some point, it's time to bury the hatchet.

It was fun while it lasted, but for now, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry is no more.