PHILADELPHIA – They’re back on track.
After a couple of losses that came as a result of uncharacteristic play rather than just the unfortunate result of a tough game, Flyers coach Craig Berube challenged his team to get back to playing the brand of hockey that is necessary to make the playoffs – and a run once they get there.
Once again it was the captain leading the way as Claude Giroux had a three-point night as the Flyers defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-2.
“I thought they had an extremely strong effort overall,” said goalie Steve Mason, who made 32 saves for his 31st win of the season. “From blocking shots to the pressure on the backcheck - things like that are going to be the key to us winning hockey games. Tonight was a great opportunity for us to get back in the win column. This was really a four-point night for us, considering we get the two and the Leafs lose out on two. So it’s good.”
With the win, the Flyers improved their record in this treacherous 12-game stretch to 6-2-0. The Boston Bruins are next up, paying a visit to the Flyers Sunday.
The Flyers (39-27-7, 85 points) moved five points ahead of four teams tied with 80 points and battling for the final two Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Vinny Lecavalier, Scott Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds joined Giroux on the scoring sheet as the Flyers moved to within a point of the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division – and still have two games in hand on their rival. The two appear headed for a first round playoff clash with home ice being so important, which is why the Flyers want to surpass them in the standings over the final two weeks.
As for the game against Toronto, it was pretty close throughout, as the Maple Leafs were a desperate team, having dropped six straight coming into the contest and having fallen out of a playoff spot for the first time in months.
And the first three goals came fast and furious… well, off faceoffs that is.
Lecavalier cranked home a vicious slapper three seconds into a Flyers two-man advantage to open the scoring.
After being moved down to the fourth line earlier in the day, Lecavalier was pumped to rocket one past Jonathan Bernier so quickly, and he seemed to feed off it as his fourth line along with Adam Hall and Zac Rinaldo was excellent throughout the game.
"Their center got kicked out so it was one of their defensemen taking the draw,” Lecavalier said. “Kimmo kind of gave me the nod that if the puck was coming back he would he would make a pass right away to me. It ended up being a perfect play by those two guys, Giroux for winning the draw and Kimmo for making a perfect pass."
The Leafs tied it though off the opening faceoff of the second period as James van Riemsdyk tied an NHL record for fastest goal to start a period, scoring four seconds into the second frame.
He became just the third player, and first since Denis Savard in 1986, to score so quickly. It obviously was also the fastest goal ever scored against the Flyers to start a period, breaking Bengt Gustafsson’s record of five seconds set in January, 1983 by the Washington forward.
However the Flyers answered with another set play called by Timonen.
On another power play in the second, the Flyers scored five seconds after the draw won by Giroux when Hartnell redirected a Timonen shot past Bernier for 2-1.
"We were on the power play and G obviously won the face off right to Kimmo,” Hartnell said. “Kimmo kind of said he was thinking about shooting it right away off the draw. He was able to get a good snap shot and I was able to get a backhand tip on it. I think the goalie was screened a little bit and the puck was able to slide past him."
Timonen wasn’t named one of the three stars, but probably should have been after that performance.
His work in those instances is often unheralded and if it wasn’t for Lecavalier and Hartnell pointing it out, it would have gone unnoticed. But Timonen, as he’s always been, has been quietly one of the most important players for the Flyers.
Since returning from the Olympics, Timonen has played in 13 games for the Flyers. He has two goals and nine assists for 11 points – not too shabby for a defenseman.
“He’s a smart player,” Giroux said of Timonen. “He moves the puck well. I hit him up top and he finds a way to get pucks through all the time. So it makes our job a lot easier.”
Giroux stretched it to 3-1 when a turnover forced by Andrew MacDonald sent Giroux into the offensive zone on a 2-on-1 and rather than pass it he snapped it past Bernier top shelf for his 25th goal of the season.
It was also Giroux’s third point of the game, giving him 78 points this season, moving him into third place in the NHL scoring race.
The Leafs answered with a quick goal by Dave Bolland, but Wayne Simmonds put the game away when he turned another Toronto turnover into a goal – also reaching the 25 goal plateau – to ice the win for the Flyers.
Zac Rinaldo picked up the primary assist on Simmonds’ goal. He played 11:32 in the contest, the most since seeing 13:30 of ice time in Calgary on New Year’s Eve.
“He’s been effective,” Berube said of Rinaldo. “[He’s] getting more minutes, and being real effective on the forecheck, and taking the body. He’s just playing smart. He was good with the puck tonight, skated well, and drew a couple penalties. He’s doing a good job for us.”
And he’ll have to continue to do a good job – as will everyone else – as the Flyers make this final push to the playoffs, starting with the Bruins Sunday.
“I think in the East they are the best team; top two in the league,” Giroux said. “It’s going to be a good challenge for us. Every time we have a good team come into town, we take that as a challenge and we start playing well. Obviously our last game against them wasn’t as planned but I think we need to be more responsible and just take that challenge and have fun with it.”
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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