Flyers

Granlund's 3 goals do the trick in Wild win over Preds

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Granlund's 3 goals do the trick in Wild win over Preds

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Mikael Granlund had the second three-goal game of his career and Devan Dubnyk made 41 saves in his first start since Dec. 12 to help the Minnesota Wild beat the Nashville Predators 4-2 on Friday night.

Matt Dumba had a goal and assist for Minnesota, which has won two in a row coming out of the league's holiday break. Dumba scored the go-ahead goal, his seventh of the season, midway through the second period in the first game of a back-to-back, home-and-home series between the two teams.

Pekka Rinne made 34 saves, but Nashville lost for the fourth time in five games. P.K. Subban and Kyle Turris scored for the Predators.

Dubnyk made his return after missing six games with a lower-body injury. He wasn't tested much early as Nashville went the first 7:57 without a shot.

The Wild had the first 11 shots and Granlund scored 7:34 into the game to give Minnesota the early lead. Turris made a quick play to save a loose puck behind Rinne. But the errant pass went out to Dumba, who fed Granlund for a one-timer.

Rinne made several big saves to keep the game close before Subban tied the game with his eighth goal of the year in the first. Granlund added his 10th goal of the season less than a minute later on the power play for his third multi-goal game of the season.

Granlund scored an empty-net goal with 50.3 seconds for the hat trick (see full recap).

Hurricanes beat Penguins for 4th straight win
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Sebastian Aho scored the go-ahead goal with 1:55 left in the second period and the Carolina Hurricanes earned their season-best fourth straight win by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-1 on Friday night.

Derek Ryan had a goal earlier in the second for Carolina, which improved to 7-0-1 in its last eight games.

Brian Dumoulin scored for the short-handed Penguins, who were down a season-high five injured players -- including top goalie Matt Murray and defenseman Kris Letang.

The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions have lost six of nine to slip to seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. They have just one regulation victory since Dec. 2.

Backup Tristan Jarry made 31 saves for the Penguins, who had won their previous seven meetings with the Hurricanes.

Cam Ward stopped 27 shots in his fourth straight start for Carolina, which entered tied with Pittsburgh for sixth place in the division race (see full recap).

Compher, Avalanche knock off Maple Leafs in OT
DENVER -- J.T. Compher scored a power-play goal 3:25 into overtime to give the Colorado Avalanche a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday night.

Nathan MacKinnon had a goal and two assists, Alexander Kerfoot and Mikko Rantanen also scored for Colorado.

Semyon Varlamov had 31 saves for the Avalanche, who bounced back from losing to Arizona on Wednesday to beat another Eastern Conference power. Colorado swept two-time reigning champion Pittsburgh and split the season series with Washington.

Matt Martin, Roman Polak and James Van Riemsdyk had goals and Calvin Pickard stopped 24 shots for Toronto.

The Avalanche got a break in overtime when Connor Brown was given a minor for interference. Colorado had several chances, including MacKinnon hitting a post, before Compher beat Pickard with 9 seconds left on the power play (see full recap).

Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

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Michal Neuvirth gives the Flyers hope against Penguins

VOORHEES, N.J. — And now comes the real test.

Watch the Flyers one night and they may look unbeatable. The next night they’ll come out flatter than Kyrie Irving’s view of Earth.  

The Flyers, maddeningly inconsistent at times — OK, most of the time — will need to build off of Friday’s Game 5 win to keep the series alive with a win in Sunday’s Game 6.

It’s now or never for these Flyers.

After steamrolling the Penguins in Game 2 in Pittsburgh, the Flyers returned to home ice with all the momentum in the world. And we all know what happened next. A 5-1 drubbing in Game 3, a loss seemingly dolled out before the horn sounded after the first period.

This time around, though, the orange and black will have a huge upgrade they were dearly missing in Games 3 and 4.

Goalie Michal Neuvirth. Yes, that’s right, the oft-injured Neuvirth is the Flyers’ best and only hope of forcing a Game 7. That’s not a hot take, either. Just check out the numbers.

Neuvirth’s playoff numbers are staggering. His .930 career playoff save percentage and 2.00 goals-against average rank third and fourth, respectively, among active goalies. 

“I just enjoy playing in the playoffs,” Neuvirth said of his ability to ramp up his play in the postseason. “Crowds been unreal in Pittsburgh and at home so it’s just so fun playing in the playoffs. I had success in the past, even in the AHL so I believe in myself that I can bring my A-game on the big stage.”

The fact is, Neuvirth — when healthy — is the only goalie on the Flyers’ roster capable of delivering that brick-wall, game-stealing performance for the team.

Playing his first full game since Feb. 16, Neuvirth stopped 30 of 32 shots in Game 5, including the ones that mattered most. 

The 30-year-old stoned the Pens’ blazing powerplay, as the penalty kill went a perfect 5 for 5. The Pens came into the game 5 for 19 with the man advantage, but the stability of Neuvirth, as well as the return of Sean Couturier, stifled the attack.

“We knew Neuvy was gonna come in and play big for us,” Shayne Gostisbehere said. “He’s a playoff goaltender.”

And he did just that in Game 5. With the extra attacker, Neuvirth robbed Sidney Crosby of a soul-crushing, game-tying goal in the waning seconds of the game to send the series back to Philly.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said after the 4-2 win. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Of course, that was all just one game. 

But with the Flyers facing elimination, one more game is all the team can ask for. 

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

Dave Hakstol's unconventional decisions do the trick for Flyers

PITTSBURGH — When Dave Hakstol decided to push a few buttons prior to Game 5, the initial reaction was the noise that rings out when a toddler sits down at a piano for the first time.

Valtteri Filppula centering Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek? Dale Weise back in the lineup for the first time in 23 days? Starting a goalie that many feared would pull up with a groin injury midway through the second period? And of course, the only defense pairing that’s remained intact is Brandon Manning with Radko Gudas. 

None of it sounded all that good, but desperate times apparently call for unconventional coaching decisions. Hakstol found a way to string a few notes on a sheet of music, and while he may not be considered the NHL’s Beethoven behind the bench, Friday's game at least left you tapping your foot to the beat.

And somehow it all came together.

Consider: How may teams can cycle through three different goaltenders and three different No. 1 centers five games into a playoff series against the two-time champions and still live to see another day?

Even Claude Giroux, the franchise’s No. 1 center for most of the past decade, was singing Filppula’s praises. 

“He’s a smart player and he’s in great position all the time,” Giroux said. “We did some nice plays. I think it’s probably the first time I’ve played with him. He’s easy to play with. It was fun.”

But ultimately the Flyers needed a showstopper in net. General manager Ron Hextall pointed that out Thursday before the team charter departed for Pittsburgh. 

Brian Elliott had been pulled in two of his four starts in this series, and while it was a mere footnote of a dreadful 5-0 shutout loss in Game 4, the decision to give Michal Neuvirth the nod over Petr Mrazek as Elliott’s backup could very well be the single biggest reason the Wells Fargo Center is hosting a Game 6 Sunday.

“We just felt Neuvy looked sharp in practice,” Hakstol said. “He went in the other night and got some game action. Just talking it through with Kim Dillabaugh, our goaltending coach, he was the right choice.”

Sidney Crosby would agree. The Penguins superstar had scored at will in this series, and the only time he had been denied on the doorstep was the result of some sort of stick malfunction in Game 2 that saw his shot miss the net completely.

But with 50 seconds remaining Neuvirth’s glove was better than Crosby’s stick. He not only saved the game but the Flyers' season as well.

“He made some huge saves the end of the third period there to able to go across (robbing Crosby)," Giroux said. "When he plays cocky, he’s pretty good.”

Neuvirth now has a 3-1 record with a .960 save percentage in five career postseason games with the Flyers.

Giroux also referred to the Flyers' Game 5 win as the team’s best overall game in this series.

Of course, this time of the season it doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, it just has to be good enough that it doesn’t leave your ears bleeding.