Flyers

NHL Playoffs: Tom Wilson scores OT game-winner as Capitals beat Maple Leafs

NHL Playoffs: Tom Wilson scores OT game-winner as Capitals beat Maple Leafs

WASHINGTON -- Toronto native Tom Wilson scored his first NHL playoff goal 5:15 into overtime and the Washington Capitals survived a scare to beat the Maple Leafs 3-2 on Thursday night in Game 1 of their first-round series.

The top-seeded Capitals came back from a two-goal deficit to take the early lead in the series and at least momentarily stop the panic about a slip-up. Justin Williams scored twice in regulation, and Washington showed it could handle the adversity of falling behind.

Braden Holtby was up to the task in goal, stopping 35 of the 37 shots he faced. Toronto counterpart Frederik Andersen was arguably the best player on the ice with 41 saves before being beaten by Wilson with an absurd shot on the winner.

Mitch Marner and Jake Gardiner scored in the first period for Toronto, back in the playoffs for the first time since 2013.

Game 2 is Saturday night in Washington (see full recap).

Pekka Rinne stones Blackhawks for shutout in Game 1
CHICAGO -- Pekka Rinne made 29 saves, Viktor Arvidsson scored in the first period and the Nashville Predators beat the Chicago Blackhawks 1-0 on Thursday night in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.

Rinne's second career postseason shutout sent Nashville to just its second playoff win in Chicago in seven tries. The Predators did not have a 1-0 victory during the regular season.

Game 2 is Saturday night at the United Center.

Corey Crawford had 19 saves for Chicago, which got center Artem Anisimov back from a leg injury that sidelined him for the last part of the season but struggled to find many good looks against a sound defensive performance by Nashville.

The Blackhawks, who won the Central Division this year with the most points in the Western Conference, are going for their fourth Stanley Cup championship in the last eight seasons. They eliminated Nashville during two of those title-winning runs, including in 2015 when the Predators blew leads of 3-0 in Game 1 and 3-1 in Game 6 of their first-round series (see full recap).

Ryan Getzlaf powers Ducks past Flames in series opener
ANAHEIM, Calif.-- Jakob Silfverberg scored the tiebreaking power-play goal late in the second period, and captain Ryan Getzlaf had a goal and an assist in the Anaheim Ducks' 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames in their first-round playoff series opener Thursday night.

Rickard Rakell scored the tying goal after Calgary made a horrendous line change in the second period, and John Gibson made 30 saves as the Ducks avoided a slow start to their latest Stanley Cup playoff campaign.

Sean Monahan and Sam Bennett scored and Brian Elliott stopped 38 shots for the wild-card Flames. Calgary is winless in Anaheim since April 25, 2006, when the Flames won a playoff game in a series won by the Ducks.

Game 2 is Saturday night at Honda Center (see full recap).

Add a stellar debut to Flyers' month to remember

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USA Today Images

Add a stellar debut to Flyers' month to remember

BOX SCORE

In his first start in a Flyers sweater, the newly acquired Petr Mrazek upstaged former Flyers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Mrazek turned back 19 shots as the Flyers held off the Blue Jackets, 2-1, Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center. 

The Flyers came back to win after trailing entering the third period. They improved to 3-14-3 in that situation. They have earned a point in 10 straight games with a record of 8-0-2.

Claude Giroux broke the ice with his 21st goal of the game and Nolan Patrick scored the game-winner on the power play with 10:11 remaining in regulation. 

Artemi Panarin scored the Blue Jackets’ lone goal, an unassisted marker just as the Flyers’ power play had expired.

The Flyers had to make due without Travis Konecny. The top-line winger took pregame warmups, but was scratched with a foot injury he suffered in Tuesday’s win over the Montreal Canadiens. 

• Roughly a minute after Mrazek came up with a five-star save on a shorthanded breakaway, Panarin broke a scoreless tie. Panarin popped out of the box just in time to intercept Ivan Provorov’s pass to Andrew MacDonald at the blue line, which led to a 2-on-1 the other way. The incredibly-skilled Panarin never looked at the net until the very last second and sniped a shot over Mrazek’s blocker side shoulder that he had very little chance at stopping. 

• Two goals on two spectacular snipes. Giroux matched Panarin’s effort with a pinpoint effort that tied the game at 1-1. With Bobrovsky electing to drop into the butterfly, Giroux went high to Bobrovsky’s glove with such a quick release. The play opened up as Sean Couturier caught the attention of three Blue Jacket defenders, which opened up a lane down the slot for Giroux to bury the shot.  

• Patrick seems to be fitting in quite well on that top power-play unit, filling the role occupied by Wayne Simmonds. Patrick was stationed down in front when he quickly backhanded Shayne Gostisbehere’s point shot to give the Flyers a 2-1 lead. 

• An interesting sequence saw Couturier break out of the box and then skate with the puck into the Columbus zone, but for some reason the officials blew the whistle as the Blue Jackets were caught with too many men on the ice. Two minutes later, Panarin broke out of the box and scored.

• Thirty seconds into the game, Michael Raffl, who was playing on the top line, took a hooking penalty to give the Flyers an early power play. Playing Raffl on that top line seemed to be the obvious choice with Konecny unable to play. Raffl brings a different brand of game. While he doesn’t possess Konecny’s speed, Raffl makes the No. 1 line tougher to defend in the cycle game. That was a heavy line defensively for Columbus to contain.  

• It was a tale of two first-period power plays. On their first opportunity, the Flyers committed unforced errors and never had a quality shot on net. In their second attempt, they were buzzing around the net. Giroux lasered a cross-ice pass to Jakub Voracek, who tried to score on a one-timer. Against 98 percent of the other goaltenders in the league, that shot gets through.

• Jordan Weal was whistled for interference with 5:19 remaining in the first period — the first penalty called against the Flyers since Feb. 13 against the Devils. That snapped the Flyers’ streak of not having to kill a penalty at nearly 230 minutes. An underworked Flyers’ PK did not allow Columbus a SOG in killing off the Jackets’ power play. 

• Defensively, the Flyers gave up very, very little. They held Columbus without a shot on net for 14:23 of the first period. 

• Robert Hagg had a horrific turnover playing the puck from along the left boards in his own zone. Hagg’s errant pass to the middle of ice was intercepted by fourth-line call-up Zac Dalpe, who got a shot on net. Had that been Panarin or one of the Jackets’ skilled players, the Flyers could have easily trailed, 1-0, after the first period.

• Twenty-two seconds into the second period, Mrazek faced his first real shot from the slot as Zach Werenski cut in from the blue line. Early on, Mrazek was very quick at resetting himself and positioning his body to cut down the angle. In the first 25 minutes, Mrazek appeared locked in and focused.

Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

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USA Today Images

Flyers in uncharted territory with lack of penalties

To the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970s, today’s brand of hockey is simply unrecognizable, and perhaps to some, even unacceptable.

When the Flyers take the ice Thursday against the Blue Jackets, the clock will be ticking on one of the most un-Bully-esque streaks in franchise history. 

The Flyers have somehow managed to play their last 215 minutes and 14 seconds without having to kill off a single penalty — a stretch of hockey that extends to the second period of a game against the Devils on Feb. 13 when Sean Couturier was whistled for tripping. 

Not only is the box an uninhabited area for the Flyers recently, but it’s also uncharted territory. They’re just the second team in NHL history to exhibit that kind of discipline since the league began keeping penalty records in 1977-78.

If this somehow continues, the guys at Comcast-Spectacor’s premium seating division could be looking at a prime opportunity to add a luxury suite at ice level. Fast food restaurant chain Jack in the Box would be the perfect sponsor.

The Flyers' penalty kill has also improved slightly by virtue of not having to kill penalties, from 30th in the league to now ranked 28th, still holding steady at 75 percent, but more importantly, their commitment to steer clear of the sin bin now has them ranked seventh in the NHL in the number of times they’ve been shorthanded.

The reasons behind their whistle-free work ethic can be attributed to a number of areas. 

For one, the Flyers have made the necessary adjustments to the league’s new slashing penalty, where a stick anywhere near the hands has resulted in a two-minute minor. Secondly, the entire team, and especially rookie Nolan Patrick, who went through a tough stretch earlier this month, has been very mindful of not committing high-sticking, hooking and other lazy infractions when chasing down the puck carrier.  

“I don’t think we’ve dominated puck possession over the last couple of games,” head coach Dave Hakstol said. “But when we haven’t had it, we’ve worked hard to get it back the right way. At this time of year, it’s moving your feet, trying to get above plays and trying to check the right way.”

Secondly, as the season enters the drive towards the playoffs, NHL referees have shown a tendency to allow players to decide the outcome and not enforce the game as tightly as they did over the first three months of the season. In the first 30 games, the Flyers were forced to kill off an average of 3.4 power play opportunities per game. Over their last 30 contests, the number has been reduced significantly to 2.33.

More importantly, Dave Hakstol’s team is better equipped this season to play more effectively 5-on-5 and in all even strength situations, which was a point of emphasis after missing the playoffs a year ago. The Flyers' goal differential this season is plus-11 at even strength, whereas last season it was a minus-19.

“I think we’re doing a pretty good job 5-on-5,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “I think you have to realize that most of the game is going to be played 5-on-5 and at even strength, and you have to generate in those situations throughout the rest of the year and into the playoffs.”

Even if the Flyers can’t maintain this unimaginable penalty-free pace, they clearly have more success and their penalty kill is much more efficient when they’re forced to kill off just a handful of penalties, as the chart below illustrates.

PK Attempts   Record     Kill %
2 or fewer        18-8-1        87.5%

3-4                      9-9-5         68.0%

5 or more          4-2-4         75.0%

In the 27 games where the Flyers have killed two or fewer power play opportunities, the success rate is nearly 88 percent, and they’re winning 67 percent of their games. They’ve been able to extend their energy throughout the 60-plus minutes while rolling four lines more consistently.

“If you have to kill three or more minor penalties, you’re at a little bit of risk, but you can get the job done,” Hakstol said. “When you get in the five, six range now you’re draining the bench, you’re draining energy, and you’re taking guys out of rhythm who aren’t killing penalties. There’s a lot of things that domino off of that.”

All of which conserves energy and creates good habits as the Flyers inch closer towards the postseason.