On Saturday afternoon, Wayne Simmonds added to his career-high goal-scoring total with his 31st and 32nd tallies of the season.
As things turned out, the Flyers would need every single one his goals this year as his two markers against the Penguins helped power the Flyers to victory and into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
It should come as no surprise that Simmonds lit the spark during the most important game of the season because he set the tone for the Flyers and was the face of the team’s take-no-guff attitude it etched out during a 15-6-2 end-of-season surge since Feb. 25.
“I thought we came together a lot better this year and we’re a lot calmer on the bench,” Simmonds said after Saturday’s win over Pittsburgh. “We stuck to our systems and it didn’t matter if we were having a good game or bad game, we stuck with it. We just kept trying to improve and improve on our systems. It’s worked.”
It’s especially worked for Simmonds this season as the Flyers’ power forward finished with a career-high tying 60 points in 81 games, with the only game he missed being the meaningless season-finale win against the Islanders in Brooklyn on Sunday. Known for his work around the net on the power play, Simmonds actually finished with a career-high 19 even-strength goals this season.
But he’s more than on-the-ice stats for this group of Flyers.
He’s an emotional catalyst that this team feeds off of. Just ask the NBC TV crew, which might have to get itself a new bench camera after Simmonds clubbed it from its perch with his stick while celebrating Pierre-Edouard Bellemare’s empty-net insurance tally late in Saturday’s third period.
Let’s just say it’s no secret the 27-year-old forward has worn an “A” on his chest the last two seasons.
“We want everyone to be working as hard as they can and that’s what our team did,” Simmonds said.
“We’re not going to play 82 perfect games a year, but if we stay consistent, more often or not, we’re going to win. I think we started getting that around December and we stuck with it.”
By now, you probably know the story of this Flyers season.
They stumbled out of the gate with just six wins in their first 20 games. The early struggles were real for Simmonds, too, as he deposited just three goals in those first 20 contest after scoring 28 times in 2014-15.
After being in a perpetual state of inconsistency for the next month or so, something clicked for the Flyers when they returned home from an ugly 0-3 West Coast swing after the holiday break. Since coming home and topping Montreal on Jan. 2, the Flyers ended the season on a 25-12-7 tear.
Simmonds himself went on a rampage with 23 goals and 16 assists for 39 points in that span. So roughly 72 percent of his goals and 65 percent of his points came during that stretch. That includes seven goals in his last seven games of the regular season.
Talk about coming through when it means the most.
“He does the same things time and time again,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said of Simmonds. “I think that is what leads to success as a player.
“He didn’t start off the year the way he wanted to. He had some tough luck the first month of the season. But he’s been a very consistent high-level player for us throughout the majority of the season.”
Now Simmonds and the Flyers have the tall task of keeping the momentum going against the loaded, President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in a first-round playoff series that gets underway on Thursday at the Verizon Center in D.C.
The teams split four meetings this season with each taking one at home and one in the opponent’s building. Simmonds recorded just three assists in those meetings.
But the regular season is history now and the playoffs are a clean slate. And at least one of Simmonds’ teammates feels “Simmer" will be a huge key to the series.
“Simmonds is a streaky goal scorer, so he’s very good around the net,” linemate Jake Voracek said. “He’s going to be huge in the playoffs for us. He can put a couple goals in.”
In 28 career games against Washington, Simmonds has five goals and eight assists.
When asked on Saturday about the series with the Caps, Simmonds had just the kind of answer you would expect from an emotional leader.
“We’re going to play our asses off.”