WRAPUP: FLYERS HIT MIDPOINT WITH 3-2 WIN VS. BRUINS
The Philadelphia Flyers reached the statistical midpoint of their 2015-16 regular season by earning their fourth victory of the season when trailing after two periods. The Flyers have done it twice against the Boston Bruins, and pulled out a win in regulation as they skated off with 3-2 win at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night.
On a night where Boston was the better team for the majority of the night in terms of winning puck battles, the Flyers' top line carried the day along with their goaltending.
"I think that a night like tonight where we’re not at our best, through most of this game we lost more of the puck battles, the 50/50 pucks and we won, but there’s still a confidence within the group just to stay with it. The group did that tonight and ultimately at the end of the night we were rewarded for it. It’s a positive step," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said.
Jakub Voracek finished with a goal and two assists, Claude Giroux had three helpers and Wayne Simmonds notched the game-tying goal in the third period. Defenseman Mark Streit, joining the rush, potted the game-winning goal with 8:28 left in regulation.
"I think the team is playing well," Streit said.
"We play the system well. We don’t panic. It doesn’t matter if we score a goal or if we get score on, we keep plugging away and I think that’s a really good sign. That atmosphere in the locker room is great. I think we have a great time and it’s a lot of fun to come to the rink. We’re going in the right direction. But a lot of teams are playing really good hockey now and the standings are really tight. We got to keep going and keep working hard, just grind out those points.”
Winning goaltender Steve Mason was strong in stopping 28 of 30 shots. Philly took a 1-0 lead to the first intermission largely because Mason erased mistakes in front of him. Along the way in the game, he thwarted multiple odd-man rushes and two shorthanded scoring bids for the Bruins. His only blemish was a turnover that led to Boston's first goal of the game; on a sequence where the Flyers had only four skaters on the ice in a five-on-five situation.
Kevan Miller and Loui Eriksson (power play) scored for Boston. Tuukka Rask yielded three goals on 21 shots and was extremely fortunate that a late second period Chris VandeVelde tip of a Radko Gudas slap pass went just wide of the long side with a gaping net staring at him.
All three Philadelphia goals were rebound goals. With three Bruins nearby, Voracek steered home the game-opening goal on a Giroux rebound after a pinching Streit helped force a turnover on the half-boards. The game-tying and game-winning goals, spaced just 1:32 apart midway through the period were own-rebound followups by Simmonds and Streit off the rush.
"G [Giroux] broke up a play near the blue line there. I saw Chara kind of inching towards G [Giroux]. I just took off, he gave me the puck, I gave it to Jake, and he gave it back to me. I just went in. I saw a far side, I kind of shanked him into five whole and the rebound went right up to me. I was lucky for that to happen," Simmonds said.
Miller's goal started with Mason turning the puck over trying to go around the wall with the puck. The Flyers had a bad line change and ended up with four skaters rather than five on the ice; and all five were flushed to the side of the ice where ex-Flyers forwqard Max Talbot claimed the puck and found a wide-open Mller with a cross-ice pass. From the top of the right circle, Miller fired a tracer to the top long-side corner to tie the game at 1-1 at the 8:38 mark of the second period.
At 16:26 of the second period, Boston went ahead as their NHL top-ranked power play worked the puck at will around a passive Philadelphia penalty killing box. Loui Eriksson immediately pounced on a Ryan Spooner rebound and, from his forehand, swept it past Mason. Torey Krug got the secondary assist.
Special teams nearly cost the Flyers the game. They went 0-for-3 on the power play and 1-for-2 on the penalty kill. However, Philly's second PK, executed emphatically, was a momentum spark leading up to the Simmonds and Streit goals.
"It was exciting. A great finish for us in the third period. Some huge goals. Had key opportunities. That’s we needed in the third period and more importantly two points against them and that’s what we need," Mason said.
The game featured one early fight. Brayden Schenn leveled Krug with a heavy hit and was immediately challenged by Miller. Schenn wasted no time casting away the gloves.
Boston decidedly had the better of the play along the walls for much of the game but the Flyers were more opportunistic. Late in the game, both Sean Couturier and Matt Read had good cracks at empty net with Rask pulled for an extra attacker, but both were unable to convert. The Flyers did not end up regretful, as they killed off the rest of the clock.
"I think that there’s less hesitation," Giroux said of the team's play since mid-November. "The coaches do a good job of letting us know what we’re doing right and what we’re doing wrong between games, and when it becomes game times they let us play so we don’t have to think too much. I think by now the hesitation is not really in our game."
The Flyers are 19-15-7 at the midpoint of the regular season. They started out the year 5-8-3 through their first 16 games but have gone 14-7-4 in the 25 games since then. An underrated key to their resurgence has been their relative stinginess at 5-on-5. Through 41 games, the Flyers have given up just 61 five-on-five goals; that puts them in the top five in the league in terms of lowest 5-on-5 GAA per game. If they can get their penalty killing going more consistently, they'll really be onto something.
With the win, the Flyers inched within two points of an Eastern Conference wildcard spot. They are within six points of the two teams -- the New York Rangers and Islanders -- currently holding the guaranteed playoff spot that comes with finishing second or third in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers and Islanders clash head to head in Brooklyn on Thursday. On Saturday afternoon, the Flyers host the Rangers.
"It’s up to us to manage the time that we have off properly," Mason said. "Make sure that when you need the rest you get the rest. Practice days, Hak’s done a great job of making off skates so guys can decide how their body’s been feeling. The all-star break is coming up so it might be 4 days you have off but at the same time everybody else is in the same position. You just have to make sure you get your rest, keep the mind focused, and get ready for the second half here.”
SCHULTZ HITS 1,000-GAME MILESTONE
On Wednesday, Flyers defenseman Nick Schultz became just the 301st player in NHL history -- and the 101st defenseman -- to reach the coveted 1,000 games played milestone in his career. That is out of over 7,000 players (per the Elias Sports Bureau) to suit up in the league over the course of it's history. Put another way, Schultz accomplished something that less than four percent of players throughout NHL history have done.
"I feel fortunate to be able to play that long and to be healthy for a majority of my career. I got a chance to play that long and stick around. It feels good, feels very fortunate to be able to play that long for sure," Schultz said.
"It is something I am very proud of. I want to keep playing as long as I can. I feel good and you know it is nice to get a win with a big game to make you feel a whole lot better."