Flyers

Maple Leafs 7, Flyers 6: On wrong end of wild game results in crushing loss

Maple Leafs 7, Flyers 6: On wrong end of wild game results in crushing loss

BOX SCORE

The Flyers held Auston Matthews scoreless until the final five minutes of Friday night's game.

And then boom.

Matthews, the Maple Leafs' 21-year-old star drafted first overall in 2016, firmly put his imprint on the evening by scoring back-to-back goals to break a 5-5 tie and deal the Flyers a crushing 7-6 loss at Scotiabank Arena.

The Flyers held a 5-2 lead late in the second period, but not many teams can pin down Matthews and the high-powered Maple Leafs.

Toronto ripped off five consecutive goals and the ridiculous finish very well may be the unofficial nail in the Flyers' coffin for 2018-19.

The Flyers (34-29-8) have lost two straight games and the road gets only tougher with 11 games remaining. To pour salt in the wound, the Blue Jackets took care of business by beating the Hurricanes, 3-0, giving the Flyers a seven-point deficit in the race for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

The Flyers came into Friday with a 3.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Hockey-Reference.com, while SportsClubStats.com gave them a 2.7 percent chance. Those percentages will sink even lower come Saturday morning (see story).

The Maple Leafs (43-23-5) avoided what would have been only their second three-game losing skid of the season.

• The Flyers always make things interesting. Give them credit, they didn't quit after falling behind 7-5. James van Riemsdyk scored his third goal of the game to trim the deficit with 1:14 left in regulation. 

Shayne Gostisbehere actually put a decent shot on goal with one second remaining but Frederik Andersen turned it away to seal the Flyers' fate.

• van Riemsdyk doesn't always score the most aesthetically pleasing goals, but he certainly doesn't luck his way into goals, either. You don't score 30-plus goals twice by accident and van Riemsdyk's net-front approach is actually a treat to watch.

His second trip back to Toronto turned out to be special as van Riemsdyk recorded a hat trick, giving him 18 goals in 28 games since Jan. 10. Over that span, only one NHL player has scored more: Leon Draisaitl (19).

His redirect early in the second period takes superb skill. The goal gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead before van Riemsdyk decided to balloon the advantage a little over seven minutes later by working hard right in the goal crease.

The Maple Leafs landed John Tavares in free agency last summer as van Riemsdyk departed Toronto to come back home for a Flyers reunion. Not one person would blame the Maple Leafs for focusing on reeling in Tavares (it obviously has paid off), but the hatty had to feel good for JVR in his old stomping grounds.

• Toronto came out blazing and never let up, with its offensive firepower on full display. The Maple Leafs' bevy of weapons had Brian Elliott under siege all first period, putting 19 shots on the Flyers' goalie. 

Elliott quickly realized this was not the NHL-worst Senators from Monday night, when he had to make only 20 saves on 22 shots in a 3-2 victory.

Overall, Elliott finished with 44 saves on 51 shots. Blowing a 5-2 lead hurts, but he wasn't a serious problem. Toronto looked scary good. Tavares was held scoreless while Mitch Marner had just one assist, and the Maple Leafs still dropped seven on the Flyers.

• If you're a hockey fan, you loved this game, especially the second and third periods. The middle stanza featured seven goals — four from the Flyers, three from the Maple Leafs.

After JVR netted his two, defensemen Radko Gudas and Gostisbehere each lit the lamp, handing the Flyers a rather surprising three-goal lead.

But the Flyers likely weren't going to blow out this Toronto team. Jake Muzzin made it a game by scoring two goals in the final four minutes of the second period, setting up a fun third period — and a disappointing one for the Flyers.

• The Flyers' power play has fallen back into a funk. The man advantage is 2 for its last 21 and never got anything going on a third-period opportunity when the game was 5-5.

• Now, the Flyers must travel to Pittsburgh for a Sunday night matchup with the Penguins (7:30 p.m./NBCSN).

Since the Feb. 23 Stadium Series loss to the Flyers, Pittsburgh has gone 7-1-1. The Penguins will be on the second game of a back-to-back set after playing Saturday afternoon against the Blues.

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If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

If Alain Vigneault can't work his magic with Flyers' roster, pressure mounts for Chuck Fletcher

Chuck Fletcher was brought in because things weren't going well enough and quickly enough for the Flyers.

The predicament he inherited required eventual change.

After all, sitting alongside team president Paul Holmgren back in November, Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott said the Flyers were eyeing a general manager with a "bias for action," among other qualities.

With time and evaluation, Fletcher has begun providing the desired action.

A new head coach is on board, bringing extensive experience and outside perspective, while two new assistants with strong pedigrees have been hired.

But perhaps the most influential part in shifting the Flyers' course has remained mostly intact: the roster. That could drastically change this upcoming offseason with free agency and potential trades. However, Fletcher, facing his first offseason as the Flyers' GM, doesn't see an exodus needed with the current roster — or at least not yet.

"The Flyers are a great opportunity. You guys are in this market, for me coming in from the outside, I know when Paul Holmgren approached me about being the general manager of the Flyers, I'm like, 'Wow.' This is a premium job in the National Hockey League and we're set up where we should have an opportunity to get better quickly," Fletcher said April 18. "I know we need more good players, but we have a lot of good players. It's not like you have to gut this thing — we have cap space, we have picks. We have really good staff, really good staff. On the scouting and management side, I've added one person, I haven't subtracted anything. There's a good group here and we have the ability to get better quickly if we all do our job."

Therein lies a poignant and undeniable pressure on Fletcher in Year 1 with the Flyers under Alain Vigneault's watch.

Aside from Wayne Simmonds, who became an inevitable piece to move given the circumstances, the Flyers' core has survived. So, too, has the overall makeup of the roster.

Fletcher, Vigneault and the Flyers believe this team can win with a refined system and different guidance. They don't exactly see a team that has missed the playoffs every other season since 2012-13, a stretch consisting of three first-round exits.

Will Fletcher add this summer? Of course — the ability to do so is one of the reasons why Vigneault found the Flyers as an attractive destination. When Fletcher was hiring Vigneault, the two established a list of areas in which the Flyers can improve.

"We're looking at some options and if we can put the right things in place," Vigneault said at his introduction, "it's going to be a lot of fun."

Significant subtraction was not featured on the list.

"There's some solid youth with a lot of upside here that is coming into its own," Vigneault said. "There's great goaltending, being one of those youth pieces. There's a solid core group that, in my mind, needs the right direction. And you've got the combination, also, of some solid veteran players that have been in the league a few years, that can still contribute at a high level in this league. … After discussing it with a lot of people that I respect their opinion in the NHL, I feel that the Flyers are a very good team that with the proper direction, proper mindset, proper culture and people working together, will be a very good team in the near future."

That's why Year 1 will be so telling.

Vigneault is a coach with a tremendous track record of winning during his first season on the job. He did so at three separate stops (see story). Michel Therrien has 38 postseason victories under his belt as a head coach and took a team to the Stanley Cup Final. Mike Yeo owns three playoff series victories as a head coach and has a ring as an assistant.

If this group can't produce the results with the Flyers' roster, Fletcher will have to take a longer, much more serious look at the players in place and make his hardest decisions yet.

At that point, it may be the only action left.

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

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2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs schedule, live stream: More drama ahead for Sharks-Blues Western Conference Final?

There has been a ton of drama only three games into the Western Conference Final between the Sharks and Blues.

Game 3 was won by the Sharks, 5-4, in overtime, but not without controversy. San Jose may have gotten away with a hand pass on the game-winning goal.

The series will shift one way or the other Friday night with Game 4.

Below is the schedule for Day 37 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. You can watch the entire playoffs on the networks of NBC. 

San Jose Sharks at St. Louis Blues (SJS 2-1)
Game 4, Western Conference Final
8 p.m. ET | TV: NBCSN | Live stream here