jakub voracek

5 keys for Flyers to beat Penguins in playoffs

5 keys for Flyers to beat Penguins in playoffs

Nobody said it would be easy, right?

From start to finish, the regular season sure wasn't for the Flyers.

It took 82 games to seal their playoff fate. The reward? A first-round date with the Penguins, who are looking to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup, a feat no NHL team has accomplished since the Islanders won four straight from 1980-83.

Not only do the Flyers hold the task of ruining history, but they'll also have to beat Pittsburgh four times after failing to do so once during the regular season, going 0-2-2 against the Penguins.

So can they reverse some forceful trends? Don't count them out, but here are five musts for the Flyers to win their first postseason series since 2011-12.

1. Avoid that box
Give Pittsburgh an extra man and it'll eat you alive.

The Penguins finished with the NHL's second-best power-play percentage (26.2) since 1990-91, behind only the 2012-13 Capitals (26.8).

They possess three of the league's top-four man-advantage producers in Phil Kessel, who leads all of hockey with 42 power-play points, while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are tied for third with 38.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have the 29th-ranked penalty kill (75.8 percent) and allowed Pittsburgh to score 20 goals, the most they surrendered to any team this season, as the Penguins went 5 for 13 (38.5 percent) on the man advantage.

Players always talk about the intensity that goes with the first five or 10 minutes of a playoff game. The Flyers would be wise to stay composed and disciplined during that juncture, not to mention the course of each game.

2. Crosby, Malkin, oh my
Keep an eye on how the Flyers try to combat Crosby's top line and Malkin's second unit.

It would seem most sensible to size up Sean Couturier's group with Crosby's bunch, putting Oskar Lindblom, Nolan Patrick and Jakub Voracek against Malkin and company, creating a fascinating matchup. That's two rookies with 96 combined games of NHL experience facing an accomplished Malkin, the owner of 784 games and three Stanley Cup titles.

If you're the Flyers, one thing you don't want to do is overuse your fourth line. It's time to ride your best players, especially against Pittsburgh.

3. Total (playoff) G
The last time Claude Giroux was in the playoffs, he had just one point (an assist) over six games during the Flyers' first-round exit to the Capitals in 2016.

It was the lowest point total ever in his 11 career postseason series. Less than a month later, Giroux underwent right hip and bilateral lower abdominal surgeries.

Safe to say he's a different player right now (see story).

Can Giroux take his special season into the postseason? The captain is a game-changing facilitator, but the Flyers go to another level when he puts the puck in the net. Giroux did not score a goal in the four regular-season losses to the Penguins, but the Flyers went 21-5-4 this season when he lit the lamp.

4. 'Moose' sighting
The Flyers can't rely on outscoring the Penguins.

They couldn't win those types of games against Pittsburgh during the regular season.

So they need a steady and confident Brian Elliott to give them a chance (see story).

Elliott will head into the playoffs with just two games under his belt since Feb. 11. Goaltending could make or break the Flyers' chances.

5. Let the kids play
The Flyers' youth will see playoff hockey for the first time.

The Game 1 lineup will feature three rookies and two second-year players, all 22 years old or younger.

And that's a great thing (see story).

But jitters and inexperience can sometimes result in trying to do too much, which can lead to penalties or mistakes — a no-no against the Penguins.

The Flyers' kids, though, certainly don't lack pedigree or gumption.

Appropriately, it all comes down to this for the Flyers

Appropriately, it all comes down to this for the Flyers

BOX SCORE

While the playoff push boiled, the Flyers said it like it was their mission statement.

We control our destiny.

Here we are, Game 82 next on the docket, and the Flyers remarkably still do.

Ironically yet fittingly, though, their fate remains up in the air just as much as they control it heading into the final hurrah of the 2017-18 regular season.

Would the Flyers have it any other way?

"We knew it was going to come down to that," Jakub Voracek said.

It didn't have to, but the Flyers needed assistance Thursday and couldn't get the helping hand. They picked up a heart-racing, stomach-turning 4-3 win over the Hurricanes at the Wells Fargo Center in the season's penultimate game (see observations). That was step No. 1 to punching their playoff ticket Thursday. They also required a Panthers' loss to go with it and Florida didn't cooperate, beating the Bruins, 3-2.

As players one by one trickled into the dressing room, they didn't seem too concerned about scoreboard watching with the Panthers and Bruins still duking it out, tied at 2-2 in the third period. In fact, the Flyers were quite emotionless.

"I don't think anyone was really paying attention," Travis Konecny said. "I think we've got our own business to worry about."

This season, they haven't been fortunate enough to relax much anyway.

"We're not trying to get up, get down," Konecny said at the time. "We know that there's still another game being played right now."

For them now, too — one more coming up, gushing with importance.

The Flyers (41-26-14, 96 points), grasping to the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot, lead the Panthers (42-30-8, 92 points) by four points for that final berth. They're also just one point behind both the Devils and Blue Jackets, so plenty can change (see standings).

But as the playoff picture remains a bit cloudy, what's crystal clear is the Flyers' simplest way into the bracket.

Just win.

That will be the team's obvious goal Saturday afternoon when it hosts the Rangers, the Metropolitan Division's last-place club, which has gone 9-18-4 since Feb. 1.

"I mean, before the season starts, if you tell us we've got one game to win to make the playoffs, I think anybody would take it," Sean Couturier said. "So it's kind of a huge challenge, big game coming up, exciting and we'll be ready."

If the Flyers happen to lose in regulation, then the whole control-our-destiny message goes out the window and into the Panthers' lap. Florida has two games left — Saturday night vs. the Sabres and Sunday night at the Bruins. Those two will mean everything or nothing depending on the Flyers' final result beforehand.

"The game is in our hands on Saturday," Voracek said.

Right where they want to be.

"We control our own destiny," Shayne Gostisbehere said. "We don't have to worry about anyone else."

The Flyers almost had to worry until they pulled out a roller-coaster victory in the final six minutes of regulation Thursday against a non-playoff team.

"Tonight was right down to the wire," Dave Hakstol said.

So is the regular season — and why not?

Flyers put themselves on cusp of playoff berth with comeback

Flyers put themselves on cusp of playoff berth with comeback

BOX SCORE

The Flyers did their part … barely.

In Game 81 and with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot Thursday night, Dave Hakstol's team dusted itself off from the Islanders letdown by beating the Hurricanes, 4-3, in a wild, back-and-forth contest at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers (41-26-14) had to get some help, though, to secure a postseason bid before Saturday's regular-season finale.

Holding the Eastern Conference's second wild-card position, the Flyers came into Thursday two points behind the Penguins and Blue Jackets, one back of the Devils and four ahead of the Panthers.

All four teams were in action (see scoreboard).

To punch their ticket Thursday, the Flyers needed a win (in any fashion) and a Panthers’ loss to the Bruins (in any fashion), or to gain one point and the Panthers lose in regulation.

Florida beat Boston, 3-2, and has two more games remaining to the Flyers' one. While the Flyers finish the regular season Saturday at home against the Rangers, the Panthers host the Sabres Saturday and travel to the Bruins Sunday.

For the Flyers, it's win and they're in (see story).

They haven't missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since the 1992-93 and 1993-94 campaigns. The last time they won a postseason series was 2011-12.

The 96 points and 41 wins match Hakstol's career bests set in 2015-16, his first season leading the Flyers.

• Jakub Voracek made a terrific play up ice before sniping the game-winner late in the third period just after the Hurricanes scored the equalizer. The Wells Fargo Center went from dead quiet to elation.

• Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux teamed up for a dandy go-ahead goal midway through the third period. Surrounded by two Hurricanes skaters, Couturier snatched the puck out of midair, put it to the ice and then spun to feed Giroux for a nasty wrist shot. Giroux's 31st goal and 98th point of his career season elicited a standing ovation from fans.

• Ivan Provorov has turned up the offense in a big way. With just over five minutes left in the second period and the Flyers trailing, 2-1, Provorov went to the net and batted home a pass from Couturier to knot the score. Couturier stayed patient with the puck before finding Provorov, who has three goals and three assists in the last five games. The Flyers desperately needed that tally before second intermission. 

• The Flyers put together a more than adequate first period. In the opening 12 minutes, they sustained pressure and were all over the Hurricanes. However, at first intermission, the Flyers found themselves down, 2-1. Brian Elliott allowed a pair of preventable goals to Klas Dahlbeck and Sebastian Aho.

• Michael Raffl did what he always does, going straight to the net to punch home a loose puck for the 1-1 equalizer at 14:38 of the first. That's when Aho scored his goal 14 seconds later, sneaking the puck past Elliott to erase any momentum the Flyers had gained at the time.

• The Flyers entered Thursday allowing 3.53 goals per game since March 1. Elliott's return from core muscle surgery on Feb. 13 was warmly welcomed, but he struggled mightily. All three goals allowed were considerably weak, the worst being Jordan Staal's third-period marker to tie the game at 3-3. He flung an innocuous shot along the goal line that somehow squeaked between the post and Elliott's pad. Voracek saved him 34 seconds later.

Hurricanes goalie Scott Darling was under pressure from start to finish, making 30 saves.

• Andrew MacDonald did not have his best night. He whiffed on a puck near the Hurricanes' blue line and also appeared to skate into the Flyers' goal post while trying to break up a Carolina scoring chance.

• The recipients of the Flyers' annual end-of-the-season awards:

Bobby Clarke Trophy (MVP) — Claude Giroux

Barry Ashbee Trophy (Best defenseman) — Shayne Gostisbehere

Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award (Best character) — Sean Couturier

Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy (Most improved) — Sean Couturier

Gene Hart Memorial Award (Most heart) — Sean Couturier 

• The Flyers close the regular season when they host the Rangers Saturday (3 p.m./NBC). New York is playing for nothing. The Flyers, for plenty.