Brian Elliott

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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Brian Elliott or Carter Hart? It might not matter as Flyers are seeing grim reality of their situation

Brian Elliott or Carter Hart? It might not matter as Flyers are seeing grim reality of their situation

While there was some debate over which game interim head coach Scott Gordon should have put Carter Hart in net, the fact is, it didn't matter who was between the pipes Thursday night.

None of the team's three goalies were slowing down the Capitals at the Wells Fargo Center, not with how the defending champions sliced and diced the Flyers in a 5-2 decision (see observations).

Hart saw his first game action since injuring his ankle Feb. 21. He actually made 27 saves and kept the Flyers within striking distance.

"He looked pretty sharp after getting settled in," Scott Laughton said. "Not too many rebounds coming off of him. I thought he did a good job for us, gave us a chance, but we made a couple of too many mistakes that ended up in the back of our net."

No, these were not ideal circumstances to ease your 20-year-old goalie back into action, but nothing is ideal right now for the Flyers. They are in no position to pick and choose spots for their goalies or to get too cute in decision-making.

Sure, you can look back at Monday night's 3-2 win and wonder if a matchup against the NHL-worst Senators would have been best for Hart to get a feel for things again before stiffer matchups ahead.

But a so-called tune-up wouldn't have made a difference against Washington, which has turned into the Flyers' biggest nightmare in 2018-19. The NHL schedule-makers did the Flyers no favors by giving them three matchups with the Capitals in March.

The Flyers also did themselves no favors by having a league-worst 38 points on the morning of Jan. 13, 45 games into their 82-game schedule.

And they've done themselves no favors by going a combined 0-5-2 against the Blue Jackets (0-2-2), who they're battling for the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot, and the Capitals (0-3-0), who they play once more on March 24 in Washington, D.C.

In the three matchups with the Capitals, the Flyers have been outscored 13-4 through the first and second periods. Overall, Washington has outscored the Flyers 15-8. All three games were lopsided as the Capitals look like they're on another level.

After all, Washington is in first place of the Metropolitan Division, while the Flyers are clinging to feeble playoff hopes. They're five points back of Columbus for the East's final playoff berth with 12 games remaining.

They must play the second game of a back-to-back set against the Maple Leafs Friday night in Toronto, where the Flyers were ambushed, 6-0, back on Nov. 24.

"Guys know what position we're in right now," Claude Giroux said. "Can't afford to lose two games in a row. I strongly believe that we're not out of it. We're playing two teams right now that were basically contenders this year, so it's going to be a good test for us. We need to challenge ourselves."

Through three meetings, the Capitals have posed too big of a challenge.

Now John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner await the Flyers in Toronto.

Brian Elliott will get the net. At least he'll be rested.

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Flyers' Carter Hart will make his first start in three weeks on Thursday

Flyers' Carter Hart will make his first start in three weeks on Thursday

VOORHEES, N.J. — Carter Hart was the last player off for Tuesday’s optional skate.

The rookie goaltender will be the first guy to take the ice when the Flyers host the Washington Capitals Thursday night.

Head coach Scott Gordon announced that Hart will make his first start since injuring his ankle on Feb. 21, exactly three weeks to the day of his last appearance.

Gordon made the decision not based on Brian Elliott’s last start against the Capitals, which may have been his worst since returning from injury, but which game made the most sense for Hart.

“I looked at what would be best for Carter routine-wise,” Gordon said. “As opposed to having to travel, no pregame skate the day of. I think just from a comfort standpoint, it would be easy to go through that routine than having to play his first game back on the road.”

With most of the team staying off the ice Tuesday, Hart got in a full workout with goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh and will have two more practices under his belt leading up to Thursday’s game.

“I’m just excited to get back into a game. I know it’s been a little while,” Hart said. “Last night was good to get back into the lineup even though I wasn’t playing, just to get back into the rhythm of warming up again.”

Now, just three points back of the wild card, the Flyers will need Hart to pick where he left off prior to his injury and before the two games where he was pulled early after allowing three goals in the first 10 minutes of the opening period. 

Hart will be the fourth different Flyers goaltender the Capitals have seen this season, and they don’t really seem to mind who’s in net. They ripped off five goals against Mike McKenna on Feb. 8 and then torched Elliott and Cam Talbot (who allowed just one goal in relief) for five more goals just a week ago.

Statistically, it seems to make sense as well. 

In 16 appearances against the Capitals, Brian Elliott has a 3.24 GAA with a .890 save percentage — the worst career numbers against any Eastern Conference opponent. Elliott will then pick up the start in the second game of the back-to-back on Friday in Toronto.

Where Gordon goes from there, with Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, hasn’t been determined. It appears Elliott is still Gordon’s go-to guy for now with a .923 save percentage in the 486-plus minutes he’s played since returning from injury.

At the very least, expect Hart to pick up a couple of more starts with a jam-packed calendar this month, as the Flyers play 10 games over an 18-day span, including two more back-to-backs. 

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