Flyers' late surge powers badly-needed win

Flyers' late surge powers badly-needed win


RALEIGH, N.C. – The Flyers showed the energy they conserved by skipping a pregame skate and fought and scraped together a critical 4-2 road win over the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena on Saturday.

Starting in a wild-card spot as the result of the Devils' 3-0 win over the Kings, the Flyers (36-25-11) took advantage of an exceptional effort from goaltender Alex Lyon.

Goals from Travis Konecny, Jakub Voracek, Valtteri Filppula, and Michael Raffl all scored in the third period helped stage the thrilling comeback that supported the goaltender’s efforts.

A 23-save performance was the “rock-solid performance” head coach Dave Hakstol expected of the young netminder who posted his third win of the season.

Goalkeeper Cam Ward finished with 23 stops for the Hurricanes (30-30-11).

• Looking to keep pace with a well-rested opposing squad that also hit a recent rough patch, having lost two in a row and winning just once in its last five games, the Flyers had a chance to light the lamp early just 30 seconds in.

However, Ivan Provorov’s backhander hit the post to Wards’ right.

• The Flyers’ forecheck was effective early on and slowed Carolina’s transition during the opening half of the period.

Wayne Simmonds assumed his presence in the low slot and kept Ward and his defense busy, but it was Jordan Staal’s tip-in from the point that made it past Lyon at the 15:12 mark.

• Though trailing 1-0 after the first period, the Flyers’ tenacious effort continued to create opportunities in the second, but Ward kept making exceptional stops, including a glove save on Konecny’s breakaway that maintained Carolina’s advantage.

• Special teams play was critical, particularly on the penalty kill as the Hurricanes were unable to convert on a four-minute high-sticking penalty to defenseman Andrew MacDonald late in the second.

• The Flyers finally broke past Ward as Konecny redirected Travis Sanheim’s shot from the point and evened the score 1-1 with 11:41 remaining. The celebration was short-lived as Carolina defenseman Jaccob Slavin carried the puck in from the blue line with enough space between him and Raffl to let a wrist shot go that found the short side over Lyon’s shoulder.

Once again, the Flyers had to battle back to even the score.

• Left all alone in front of Ward, Voracek took a feed from the left corner off Oskar Lindblom’s stick and deked the keeper and scored on the backhand as he fell to the ice.

• Maintaining their offensive pressure, a clear up the boards from the defensive zone from Simmonds put Filppula alone on a breakaway.

A backhand-forehand dangle and a quick shot to Ward’s blocker side put the Flyers ahead 3-2 with 5:49 to play.

• Raffl launched the puck from center-ice and scored the insurance empty-netter with 1:50 left.

• Walking away with a hard-earned two points, the Flyers travel home to face the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals on Sunday.

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

USA Today Images

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.