Flyers

Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington

Flyers cap off crucial weekend with win over Washington

BOX SCORE

A three-goal second period highlighted by Oskar Lindblom's first career NHL goal propelled the Flyers past the Capitals, 6-3, Sunday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Lindblom's first career goal came one night after picking up his first NHL point, an assist in Carolina.

The Flyers have regained their scoring touch with 13 goals over their last three games after managing just 11 in the five previous games.

Claude Giroux picked up an assist, tying him with Eric Lindros for fifth place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list.

Petr Mrazek stopped 25 shots, winning his fifth game since joining the Flyers. If the Flyers reach the postseason, then the conditional pick to Detroit would become a third-round selection.

In a potential first-round playoff preview, the Flyers won their season series against the Capitals, improving to 3-1-0.

• The Flyers struck first after winning a key offensive-zone faceoff. Giroux pushed the puck behind him to Shayne Gostisbehere, who ripped a perfectly placed slapper about two feet off the ice, forcing Philipp Grubauer to change the angle of his glove.

• Alex Ovechkin can sneak up on you at a moment’s notice and he doesn’t always need to uncork that 100-mph slap shot as evidenced by his 43rd goal of the season. Ovechkin snuck behind the Flyers' defense and redirected a puck past Mrazek. It was just his second goal in his last eight games against the Flyers, and he was unnoticeable until that moment.

• The Flyers quickly responded just 3 minutes, 11 seconds after Ovechkin's goal. In his 14th game, Lindblom ripped a shot high blocker side from the right circle. Credit Lindblom for applying a good forecheck that led to Michal Kempny’s errant pass that led to a 2-1 Flyers lead.

“The kid is getting some confidence right now and you can really tell,” Gostisbehere said. “He’s really going and Jake’s (Voracek) been really building him up there.”

• Interesting to see rookie Robert Hagg paired with Radko Gudas in his first game back from injury. I expected Hagg to be back with Andrew MacDonald, who he’s been with for much of the season. For the most part, Hagg looked good with Gudas, although he pinched and no forward picked him up on the back side leading to another Capitals odd-man rush. 

• Sean Couturier can’t buy a goal right now. He’s been stuck on 29 goals for over a month and he had a pair of prime chances in the same sequence Sunday. His first attempt came on a backhand pass from MacDonald that he tried to slide under Grubauer’s five hole. However, over the past three games he’s been contributing offensively with an assist in all three games. I feel it’s only a matter of time before Couturier gets No. 30.   

• The Flyers' three-goal second period was one of the best all around 20 minutes in a while. Constant pressure offensively with a flurry of prime scoring chances. They were also able to eliminate some of the defensive breakdowns from the first period as Mrazek didn’t have to produce any top-notch saves.

• Coming off a disappointing game in Carolina, Gostisbehere was bumped off the puck at the Caps' blue line and as he stumbled to the ice, it led to a 3-on-2 and a nice sprawling save from Mrazek to keep the game scoreless. If you’ve watched him closely, Ghost’s performance has dipped a little over the past several games.

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 CapFriendly.com. 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.

Flyers' result shouldn't impact how Couturier's heroic effort is remembered

Flyers' result shouldn't impact how Couturier's heroic effort is remembered

Sean Couturier was still standing, somehow, when he let it slip.

Torn MCL, right knee, no surgery needed but normally a four-week healing period (see story).

“It wasn’t the ideal situation,” Couturier said. “I didn’t really feel a whole lot. I was just giving everything I got and not really thinking about it. But there were times I could feel it pretty bad.”

Most of the time, this story comes with a happy ending, after a month-long triumph. It’s the type grandparents tell their grandchildren, and it’s what makes the Stanley Cup Playoffs so great.

That’s not what this is. There is no grand finale here. The Flyers’ season is over. It ended Sunday night bitterly with a sour-tasting 8-5 loss to the Penguins in Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center.

It’s a story, though, to remember, an all-time great individual effort on one leg that wasn’t enough. The Flyers’ result should not impact how we tell Couturier’s story going forward.

“He’s a warrior,” Wayne Simmonds said. “The things he’s done this year and the way he handled himself after missing a game there, he came back and was the best player on the ice.”

Couturier delivered his second career postseason hat trick and became just the fifth Flyer in franchise history to register a five-point playoff game with three goals and two assists.

With the Flyers’ back up against the wall, Couturier, nursing a “lower-body” injury far more severe than initially believed, put his teammates on his back and carried the weight.

The 25-year-old finished with 20 minutes and 5 seconds of ice time, not nearly where he was in the first three games of the series but four more minutes than Game 5, his first game back.

“He gave us a chance to win that game,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “I know I said it before; I have a lot of respect for that guy. He’s one of our leaders. Our season is on the line, and he played a great game.”

On Friday, Couturier’s heroics forced the series back to Philly when he scored the game-winner in the final minutes of regulation. To the naked eye, it was hard to notice anything different.

There were limitations, but he had an impact. Then on Sunday, he raised his level of compete and almost single-handedly beat the two-time defending champs in a do-or-die situation.

“With Coots, there’s a real mental toughness there in terms of being able to focus on the job at hand,” coach Dave Hakstol said. “He had to change the way he went about his job a little bit.”

The torn MCL limited Couturier’s mobility and he said he let his wingers do the work when they had the puck. But it was Couturier who scored his first by crashing the net, and it was Couturier who showcased a power move to score on a breakaway.

After his five-point game Sunday, Couturier now has 13 career playoff points against Pittsburgh in 11 games with two hat tricks.

Last spring, Couturier asked for a larger role offensively and the Flyers rewarded him with one. He paid them back with a 31-goal, 76-point season.

“I think I showed I can produce in this league offensively,” he said. “I don’t think I really changed the type of game I play. I still take pride in defense. It’s just about getting more opportunities.”

And on Sunday, Couturier demonstrated one more thing.

He can produce in this league, on one leg, with his team on life alert.