Flyers

Hagg nets 1st goal as Flyers hone killer instinct

Hagg nets 1st goal as Flyers hone killer instinct

BOX SCORE

He’s been hitting anything that moves all season. However, for the first time Wednesday night, Robert Hagg finally struck the most elusive target on his hit list.

The back of the net.

Coming into the Flyers’ game with the Red Wings, Hagg had attempted 79 shots - 37 of those were saved and the other 42 hit the opponent’s body or just missed everything altogether.

“It’s fun, especially with a win,” Hagg said following the Flyers’ 4-3 victory over the Red Wings (see observations). “I was just closing my eyes and hoping for the best. When I looked up and saw the puck go in, there was a lot of emotion coming out. I had few chances earlier this season, so to see that one go in feels pretty damn good.”

While Hagg may have wondered when that first goal would eventually go his way, goaltender Brian Elliott started to sense something different in the practices leading up to this game.

“Actually, the last couple of days I’ve noticed his shot has had a little more zip on it,” Elliott said. “It doesn’t go unnoticed on my end, but that was awesome.

“You saw up and down on the bench the guys celebrating really hard for that one. When a guy with his kind of grit brings it every night and takes the cream in the corner, it’s awesome to see those type of guys get goals.”

Hagg’s second-period, game-tying goal came just two minutes after the Red Wings had taken a 3-2 lead. The marker allowed the Flyers to make a strong third-period push against a Detroit team that had played the night before.

“It’s kinda funny,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “He had to answer a bunch of questions about not scoring goals over the past couple of days. I wished you guys would have asked him about it a month or two ago, but his game has been the same as its been over the last month, month and a half.”

Hagg has been a defensive staple since earning his roster spot straight out of training camp. He hasn’t missed a game or a chance to nail an opponent. Hagg’s 117 hits rank second in the NHL, while he’s also helped stabilize the Flyers’ second defense pairing in his tandem with Shayne Gostisbehere.

Perhaps what made the night complete for Hagg was his late-game assignment with the Flyers clinging to a third-period lead. Throughout the final period, Hagg was matched up against fellow Swede and Red Wings captain, Henrik Zetterberg, who Hagg admired while learning the game of hockey in Uppsala, Sweden.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Hagg said. “When I grew up, he was a big star over here. To get a chance to play against him was pretty awesome.”  

“That’s a matchup we changed as we went through the game,” Hakstol said. “That wasn’t our initial matchup on the back end, but those two (Hagg and Gostisbehere), as we went into the middle part of the game we made that change.”

Hagg and the Flyers were able to offset another sluggish, inconsistent first period with a tightly-played, defensive-minded third period when they limited the Red Wings to just four shots on net. Locking down leads over the past few weeks has contributed to the Flyers’ turnaround, which has allowed the team to go from dropping 10 straight to now having won seven of the last eight games.

“You saw the guys putting their bodies on the line,” Elliott said. “Gudy (Radko Gudas) probably had more stops than I did tonight. Provy (Ivan Provorov) took one in the second period that looked like it took him down a little bit. Putting their bodies on the line, and we know that these points are big. Every little play means a lot, especially when you’re trying to close out games in the third period.”

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.

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

Another home nightmare has Flyers walking the plank

BOX SCORE

After watching what transpired over the last two games, there’s a strong feeling the Flyers played their final game on South Broad Street this season.

And for those who forked over postseason prices for Stanley Cup Playoff hockey, those fans certainly didn’t receive face value for what they paid.

For the first time in nearly 30 years, the Flyers dropped Games 3 and 4 on home ice, and neither game was even remotely competitive. After the Flyers lost, 5-1, in Game 3, the Penguins dimmed the lights at the Wells Fargo Center and shut off any electricity the crowd was hoping to generate in Game 4 with a 5-0 shutout (see observations).

Simply put, the Flyers looked deflated and dejected knowing they would be forced to play without Sean Couturier, who was a game-time decision but officially ruled out 40 minutes before the opening faceoff.

“They came out hard,” Andrew MacDonald said. “We kind of looked a bit flustered and I don’t know if it was attributed to the lines or what, but it certainly wasn’t a great start for us.”

Whatever rivalry existed between the Flyers and Penguins coming into this season was hardly recognizable in the four games played in Philadelphia (two regular season, two playoff), where the home team was outscored 20-4 (see story).

Just the mere presence of the Penguins in this building is expected to bring out the best in the Flyers. Instead, we saw them at their worst, and nothing irks Flyers fans more than watching Sidney Crosby walk out of the City of Brotherly Love with six points and two victories in a pair of playoff games. 

“It’s disappointing,” Dave Hakstol said. “You take that upon yourself. Bluntly, we’re not happy about it. It wasn’t good enough.”

The Flyers may have fed off the home crowd for one period on Sunday afternoon, but even as they barraged the Penguins with constant pressure, they still found themselves down 1-0 after the opening 20 minutes. After a slew of penalties in the second period, the Flyers were never the same.

Disapproval poured down Wednesday when the Flyers flopped on their power play, which finished 0 for 10 in the two games on home ice, and the crowd of 19,644 booed unmercifully as the horn sounded after each period.

With the Wells Fargo Center half empty midway through the third period, the postseason frenzy felt more like a preseason yawner. 

“Fire Hakstol” chants could be heard from the upper deck — the first time that phrase echoed throughout the building since the 10-game winless streak in November.

Prior to this week, the lasting memory of a playoff series against Pittsburgh was Claude Giroux decking Crosby on the opening shift of Game 6 in 2012 and then proceeding to score the first goal as the Flyers eliminated their cross-state rival.

For whatever reason, the Flyers never evolved into a dominant team on home ice this season. The Flyers' 22 wins were the fewest of the 16 teams to reach the postseason and even three non-playoff teams finished with better records at home.  

At times, the Flyers played too cute or tried to execute too perfectly in their building, but in this series, it was just too ugly.

“Earn Tomorrow” was the Flyers' playoff slogan coming into this series.

After what the Wells Fargo Center witnessed this week, a chance at tomorrow may be too much to bear.