Wrap: Flyers Handle Florida, 6-2
Wrap: Flyers Handle Florida, 6-2
Putting an agonizing 4-3 loss in Brooklyn immediately in the rearview mirror, the Philadelphia Flyers cranked out a strong all-around effort in defeating the host Florida Panthers, 6-2, at the BB&T Center on Thursday night.
Philly opened up a 4-0 lead over two dominant periods. In the third period, Florida took the play to the Flyers for the first 10 minutes, and rapidly cut the deficit to two goals. The Flyers then regained their equilibrium and then pulled away again late.
James van Riemsdyk (17th goal of the season), Tyler Pitlick (6th) and Nicolas Aube-Kubel (4th) built a 3-0 lead for the Flyers in the first period. Scott Laughton (10th) opened a 4-0 lead late in the second period.
The Panthers got quick goals in the third period from Jonathan Huberdeau (20th) and Aleksander Barkov (17th). Sean Couturier (17th) restored some breathing room and then Robert Hägg (3rd) puncuated it with a late power play goal.
JVR finished with a three-point game (1g, 2a). So did Justin Braun. In addition to playing a very strong defensive game, Braun collected three assists. The Flyers had to play a portion of the second period and the entire third period with five defensemen after Travis Sanheim (who remained on the bench) went down with a lower-body injury in the middle stanza.
Carter Hart was outstanding in goal for the Flyers. He earned the win with 26 saves on 28 shots. Florida starter Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled after the first period (three goals against on nine shots). Sam Montembeault took over the rest of the way, stopping 16 of 19 shots.
Philly came out strong. The Flyers fourth line did a nice job creating the game's first power play. Michael Raffl got open over the middle and Nicolas Aube-Kubel hit him with the pass on the tape. Josh Brown was forced to take a holding penalty.
On the ensuing power play, an Ivan Provorov turnover led to a shorthanded breakaway for Frank Vatrano and a follow-up attempt by Aaron Ekblad. Finally, moments after the power play expired, JVR potted a Matt Niskanen rebound for a 1-0 lead at 4:24. Travis Sanheim collected the secondary assist. Tampa defenseman Anton Strålman did not do a very good job at netfront, and had lost a puck battle to a forechecking Joel Farabee at the start of the eventual goal sequence.
Later in the first period, Hart stepped up twice more to stop Vatrano, including one chance in close to the net. In the meanwhile,after Farabee was unable to finish a point-blank chance off the rush, Pitlick beat Bobrovsky short side high with a nicely placed shot over his left shoulder from just outside the right dot at 17:37.
Fifty-five seconds later, a Raffl shot produced a fat rebound and Aube-Kubel pounded it home for a 3-0 lead. First period shots were 11-9 in Florida's favor.
Early in the second period, Florida made a push and hemmed the Flyers in a bit but Philly did a good containment job and then resumed control of the game. Hart erased a few miscues in front with clean saves.
At the other end, the Flyers' got their forechecking cranked up again -- especially the likes of Pitlick, Laughton, Aube-Kubel and Michael Raffl. Finally, with 1:02 left the period, van Riemsdyk made a gorgeous set-up pass to Laughton, who buried it from the slot for a four-goal cushion. Braun, who made a good play on the wall to retain possession, earned his second assist of the game.
The third period started ominously for Philly, despite the big lead.
A defensive assignment was missed by the Flyers in the opening minute of the third period, leading to a backdoor goal by the deadly Huberdeau off a great pass from MacKenzie Weegar. Then Barkov sniped a goal upstairs to make it a 4-2 game with 15:04 left.
Florida very nearly got back to within a goal. Hart's 10-bell save on Dadonov gave the Flyers a huge lift and started the team back toward righting the ship; which they did over the final 10 minutes of the game.
First, the Flyers got back to forcing Florida to the perimeer. Then Couturier took a lead pass from Giroux, fought off the checking, and beat Montembeault to the glove side at 14:52.
Typically, van Riemsdyk is one of the slowest-to-anger players in the NHL but he understandably took major exception to a dirty hit from behind by Huberdeau in the final minute. The Flyers got a power play, and Hägg scored from close range to seal a four-goal margin of victory. The assists went to Raffl and Braun.
The Flyers got some help on the out-of-town scoreboard on Thursday night:
New York Islanders 0 @ Nashville Predators 5
Columbus Blue Jackets 3 @ Buffalo Sabres 4 (OT)
Dallas Stars 3 @ Toronto Maple Leafs 2
As a result, the Flyers moved four points ahead if the idle Carolina Hurricanes (who play New Jersey on Friday) in the race for the lower wildcard. The Flyers currently have a 23-22 RW tiebreaker edge on Carolina, although the Hurricanes hold two games in hand.
The Flyers are in a points tie with Columbus in the race for the upper wildcard. Both teams have played 58 games and both have 23 regulation wins. The Blue Jackers are currently ahead, 30-27 in the secondary tiebreaker category of regulation plus OT wins (ROW).
Philadelphia is one point behind the Islanders for third place in the Metro but the Islanders hold three games in hand. Likewise, the Flyers are three points behind second-place Pittsburgh but the Penguins have three games in hand. First-place Washington is six points ahead of the Flyers with two games in hand.
Meanwhile, the Flyers now have a five-point lead on Florida (Panthers have one game in hand) and three points on Toronto. Whichever team does not finish third in the Atlantic is going to have an increasingly tough time getting into the playoffs via wildcard. Philly is now done its season series with both the Maple Leafs (2-0-1) and Panthers (2-1-0).
On Saturday, the Flyers face another tall order. The Tampa Bay Lightning may have several key injuries right now but they've been on a roll for two months and are now within a single point of Boston for the top spot both in the Atlantic and the entire Eastern Conference.