Michael Raffl

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.

No 2nd chances for Flyers against NHL-best Lightning

No 2nd chances for Flyers against NHL-best Lightning

BOX SCORE

The Flyers discovered Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center why the Tampa Bay Lightning have the best record in the entire NHL.

The Lightning scored three of their goals in the second period to defeat the Flyers, 5-1. Vladislav Namestnikov scored twice for Tampa Bay. Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Ryan Callahan also scored for the Bolts. Callahan’s goal came shorthanded, the eighth goal the Flyers have surrendered on their power play.

Red-hot Travis Konecny lit the lamp once again. The Flyers’ second-year winger now has a goal in four straight games and also reached the double-digit mark with his 10th of the season. Konecny is one goal shy of last season’s total of 11.

Michal Neuvirth made 17 saves on 22 shots. Andrei Vasilevskiy, the NHL’s best goaltender in the first half of the season, stopped 36 of 37 shots. 

Despite the loss, the Flyers enter the All-Star Break having won eight of their last 10 games.

The Flyers will open the post-All-Star break portion of their schedule next Wednesday with back-to-back road games against the Capitals and Devils.

• I didn’t like how the Flyers came out to start the second period. Just seconds after killing off a Lightning power play, Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux couldn’t corral a centering pass that led to a chain reaction in the Flyers’ coverage. 

Robert Hagg vacated his spot in front of the net, which left a wide-open passing lane to Point. Giroux couldn’t get between Point and the net and Andrew MacDonald positioned himself perhaps a little too high to allow for an easy goal that should’ve never happened.

Two Lightning players outworked four Flyers to grab a 1-0 lead. Tampa came into this game with a 22-4-0 record when scoring first.

• Point was flying around the Flyers’ zone for much of the second period. Defensively, the Flyers gave Point too much freedom and space with the puck.

• The Lightning took advantage of the Flyers’ fourth line and their third defense pair, in particular Brandon Manning, who was stationed on the right side (which is typically Gudas). Manning, for whatever reason, glided over and left the right side of Neuvirth completely unmanned as the rookie Gourde capitalized and flipped the puck over Neuvirth for a 2-0 Tampa Bay lead.

• The disastrous second period continued as the Flyers’ power play coughed up its eighth shorthanded goal of the season. Jakub Voracek came up from near the blue line to keep the puck in the offensive zone. Once it got past Voracek, Couturier raced back to take away the pass, which left Shayne Gostisbehere to play Callahan 1-on-1. Callahan, with one goal in 38 games this season, completely wheeled around Gostisbehere and beat Neuvirth for the score and a 3-0 Lightning lead.  

• The Flyers’ power play not only surrendered a goal, but failed to score for the fifth time in the last six games. The possession time is there and it has moved the puck, but it hasn't moved personnel around. Sometimes we’ve seen Giroux operate behind the net or “Ghost” position himself in the right circle. The power play also hasn't generated any quality scoring chances from in, around and below the hash marks. The Flyers’ PP has converted just once in the last 17 opportunities.

• Late in the third period, the Flyers finally found that open seam as Konecny worked his way into the slot in the middle of the Lightning’s four-man box. Voracek hit Konecny for a one-timer that beat Vasilevskiy. When you’re hot, you’re hot. Good to see Dave Hakstol reward Konecny with power-play time with that top unit. 

• The Flyers held the Lightning without a shot for the first 7:06 of the game. While on the surface it would appear the Flyers were solid defensively, they were actually sloppy to start with early icings, sloppy puck play in the neutral zone and a failure to work the puck deep into the Lightning zone. 

• However, I liked how the defense communicated and won the 1-on-1 battles. Hagg made a switch with MacDonald, who had the angle on Gourde and stripped him of the puck. After Ivan Provorov had a pass picked off, Gostisbehere erased Callahan with a solid individual effort. In both instances, the Lightning could have had quality scoring chances, but the defense stepped up.

• Michael Raffl committed the only penalty in the first period on a holding penalty he telegraphed to the referees after he raised his arms, which served as a dead giveaway. Tampa’s power play wasn’t able to generate a shot with the Flyers’ PK nearly creating a chance of its own, but Jori Lehtera simply couldn’t make anything happen that included a 2-on-1 with Gostisbehere. 

• The Lightning look noticeably different without All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman with his 6-6 frame and long stick. In the final two minutes of the first period, the Flyers’ top line had sustained time in the offensive zone, cycling the puck and outworking Tampa’s defense.

Lineups, pairings & scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Travis Konecny
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Wayne Simmonds
Tyrell Goulbourne-Scott Laughton-Jori Lehtera

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere
Robert Hagg-Andrew MacDonald
Brandon Manning-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Michal Neuvirth
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forwards Taylor Leier (healthy) and Dale Weise (healthy), defenseman Mark Alt (healthy) and goalie Brian Elliott (lower body).

Fights and a flurry of goals in a snow-day win

Fights and a flurry of goals in a snow-day win

BOX SCORE

The Flyers like to score goals in bunches against the New York Islanders.

Of their three four-goal periods this season, two of those have come against the Isles, as the Flyers bounced back from a lackluster performance against the Penguins to beat New York, 6-4, at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.

Three of the Flyers’ goals in the second period came during a span of 4:48.

Travis Konecny, Michael Raffl and Wayne Simmonds all scored even-strength goals. Sean Couturier and Ivan Provorov tallied on the power play.

Twelve different Flyers registered at least one point.

Starting his 15th consecutive game, Brian Elliott turned aside 27 of 31 shots. He’s 9-5-1 in those 15 starts. 

The Flyers and Islanders will meet one final time, April 3 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

• It was a good, solid shift in the opening minutes from Nolan Patrick as he kept the puck in the offensive zone and made a play that you can see from the press box but not sure if the guys on the ice have the same visual. 

Patrick’s pass to Robert Hagg resulted in a good scoring chance. If Hagg had quicker release, it may have resulted in a goal. Patrick’s vision reminds me a little of Joe Thornton’s. He definitely appears to be more of a setup guy, or at least, that’s what he’s comfortable with at this point. 

• The Flyers held the Islanders without a shot for the first five minutes of the game. Isles defenseman Ryan Pulock finally got New York’s first shot from just inside the blue line that Elliott easily snagged.

• There was another good shift from the Patrick line that resulted in a Provorov shot that went high and wide. On a delayed penalty, the Flyers pulled Elliott. With Provorov floating in the high slot, the Flyers' defenseman attempted to redirect a shot that just went wide.

• Couturier continued his magical season as he opened up the scoring during the first period with a redirect on Jakub Voracek’s pass into the slot.

• A couple of middleweights dropped the gloves as Konecny exchanged blows with New York’s Shane Prince. It was good to see that side of Konecny as he never connected any good right hands but he was able to body slam Prince for the takedown.

• For some reason, the Islanders’ checking line turns into a scoring line against the Flyers. Fourth-line winger Cal Clutterbuck scored his second goal against the Flyers this season when he deflected Nick Leddy’s entry shot from the blue line off his knee in the first period. Clutterbuck had an earlier shot in the game when he went high glove side on Elliott but rang it off the post.

The Flyers came out really strong in the opening minutes of the second period. First, Raffl did an excellent job of playing keep-away from Islanders captain John Tavares. His ability to control the puck and shield it with his body allowed the Flyers to cycle the puck and work it around to Provorov, who fired a shot that deflected off Raffl and past Thomas Greiss for the goal and 2-1 lead.

• Patrick’s line, which was buzzing all night, finally received its due when Jordan Weal gained control along the boards and sent it out to the point. With Simmonds in front of the net, he was able to circle around the defense and beat Greiss low to the glove.

• The Flyers earned a four-minute double minor as defenseman Andrew MacDonald drew a high-stick to the face. On the ensuing power play, Provorov found a shooting lane with a line of at least four bodies standing in front of Greiss. All Provorov had to do was snap a shot between everyone’s legs to score a goal and extend the advantage to 4-1. Provorov followed up a bad game against Pittsburgh with one of his best against the Islanders. He also tallied a second marker with an empty-netter.

• Konecny got in the scoring act on a breakaway. Couturier flipped a perfect pass over the Islanders’ defense, which sprung Konecny, who made sure he picked a side of the net instead of the corner. He snapped a shot over Greiss’ blocker for his fifth goal of the season. Konecny now has points in three of his last four games.

• With Anders Lee serving as a screen directly in front of Elliott, John Tavares sniped a shot that barely saw Elliott flinch. The Flyers’ PK can’t allow a superstar like Tavares to get that kind of open look no matter where he is on the ice.

• Pulock, the Islanders’ defenseman taken four spots after Samuel Morin in the 2013 draft, came up with a solid individual effort. When Hagg tried to flip the puck from his blue line into the Islanders’ zone, Pulock stepped up, snagged it and skated in all alone on Elliott before snapping a shot high glove to pull the Isles within a goal, 5-4, in the third period.

• There were three fights in the game. Along with Konecny, Couturier and Scott Laughton also dropped the gloves, while Simmonds and Clutterbuck had plenty of words.

• The Flyers called up Tyrell Goulbourne from Lehigh Valley Wednesday night, but he couldn’t make it to the Wells Fargo Center from Toronto (where the Phantoms practiced prior to their game with the Marlies) in time for Thursday’s game.

General manager Ron Hextall described Goulbourne’s game and what he brings to the Flyers, as the 2013 third-round pick is expected to make his NHL debut Saturday against the St. Louis Blues. 

“I think he’s a hard-nosed player,” Hextall said. “I think you see that in what he’s done in Lehigh Valley. He’s done everything asked of him there. He’s a hard-nosed, two-way player. He’s been going to those dirty areas. Because of that, he’s had a couple of scraps. You look at his last couple games here and he has a couple points. Playing good, consistent hockey and when need be, he’s answering the call there.”