Calendar flip remains unkind to Flyers

Calendar flip remains unkind to Flyers


The Flyers missed a prime opportunity to overtake the Pittsburgh Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division with a 5-2 loss to their cross-state rival at the Wells Fargo Center.

Just like the previous game here on Jan. 2, the Pens scored three unanswered goals during the second period Wednesday. That outburst came after the Flyers took a 2-1 lead on Travis Konecny’s 18th goal of the season.

Conor Sheary scored two goals in just under five minutes — his second goal gave Pittsburgh a two-goal lead in the final minute of the second period.

Playing his first game since Feb. 18, Wayne Simmonds returned to the Flyers' lineup and finished with a minus-4.

The Flyers’ power play finished the game 0 for 5 and is now 3 for 27 over the last 10 games. 

Sidney Crosby had three assists to pace the Penguins.

The Flyers and Penguins will meet one final time in the regular season, March 25 in Pittsburgh. 

• Interesting and yet frustrating how the first two penalties — Jori Lehtera for holding and Robert Hagg for boarding — called on the Flyers were by the referee who was 80 feet away from the play and not the referee up close near the play.

• Credit the Flyers’ penalty kill for doing an outstanding job of limiting the NHL’s No. 1 power play that was on the ice for nearly six minutes of the opening period. Pittsburgh managed five shots on Petr Mrazek, but not one from the high-danger area. Not only that, but the Flyers’ penalty killers also drew a pair of penalties. Part of the strategy early on was to get out high near the points and not allow rebound opportunities.  

• The Penguins were finally able to strike on their fourth power play as the Flyers were unable to clear the zone. Pittsburgh caught the Flyers out of position, which opened up a clear passing lane underneath the coverage. Evgeni Malkin set up Phil Kessel for an easy tap-in goal, and an early 1-0 lead.

• The Flyers never got into rhythm as four penalties completely zapped any pace and energy that would have been generated at even strength.

• The Flyers opened up the second period in attack mode, which is what Dave Hakstol was preaching he wanted to see from his team. Jakub Voracek scored inadvertently when Nolan Patrick stripped Derick Brassard from behind and fed him a pass on the left wing. Voracek’s attempted centering pass went off Brassard’s stick, but it was all set up by Patrick’s backcheck.

• You have to admire Konecny’s never-quit attitude and tenacity toward attacking the net. The Flyers' winger scored a goal earlier this season when he alertly caught the puck underneath the goalie and pushed it across the line. Konecny’s relentlessness was on display again as his backhand attempt was denied by Tristan Jarry but he somehow had the wrist strength to stay with it and flip it up over the goalie’s pads. It was a tremendous effort to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead.

• Mrazek struggled securing the puck and that appeared to be the case on the Penguins’ second goal. With a lot of traffic in front of him, Mrazek wasn’t able to glove Jamie Oleksiak’s shot from the point, which led to Pittsburgh’s tying goal. The Flyers challenged the marker on the basis of goalie interference, but it was a good no-call. Mrazek didn’t plead for interference, which sometimes can be persuasive in overturning those calls.

• Pittsburgh proceeded to score three unanswered goals in the second period. Rookie Hagg picked the wrong time to step up and pinch in the offensive zone and it cost the Flyers dearly. Hagg’s gaffe led to a 2-on-1 with Crosby taking the shot. Mrazek made the initial save, but Andrew MacDonald left his feet and Hagg couldn’t get back in time to clear the rebound as Sheary scored the first of his two goals for a 3-2 Penguins’ lead. 

• Sheary’s second goal that put the Penguins ahead 4-2 was just sheer luck, or better yet, Sheary luck. Brandon Manning’s skate redirected a shot that came from just inside the blue line and went right to Sheary on the right wing. A bang-bang play that Mrazek didn’t have enough time to react and cover the angle from Sheary’s shot.

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.