Philadelphia continued its playoff push with a pair of victories against top-ranked Nashville and Washington, the current six seed in the Eastern Conference.
By Josh Kaz
The Philadelphia Flyers are starting to find their game.
With just one regulation loss in their last 10 games, the team had pulled to within two points of the second wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference by Sunday afternoon.
The Flyers rallied from a devastating shootout loss to the league-worst Buffalo Sabres on Thursday to pull off consecutive wins in consecutive days against teams in playoff contention, with home-ice victories over the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals.
Head coach Craig Berube made some changes to his lineup in an attempt to get a better effort from the squad, and each of his lines was restructured Saturday.
Berube split up linemates Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek and replaced Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn in favor of Andrew MacDonald (out one game due to personal reasons and three more from healthy scratches) and Zac Rinaldo (suspended eight games and benched for two more).
The shakeup appeared to work right out of the gates. Philadelphia had outshot Nashville 13-1 at one point in the opening period, and took an early lead on a nice deflection by Wayne Simmonds.
Simmonds, who has been on fire, picking up points in a career-best seven straight, tipped in Michael Del Zotto’s shot from the point past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne for the all-important first goal of the game.
On just their second shot of the period, and with just over a minute to go, Nashville found the equalizer. Del Zotto made a poor pass through the neutral zone that sent Nashville in on a two-on-two, and winger Colin Wilson handcuffed goalie Rob Zepp on a harmless-looking shot. Despite Philadelphia dominating the first period, the score was tied at its end.
Philadelphia continued to work hard in the middle stanza, and it finally payed off. Ryan White, riding a career-high four-game point streak, forced a turnover behind Nashville’s net, nabbed the puck in the slot, and buried his second goal of the season. At the end of the period, the Flyers led 2-1.
That lead quickly evaporated in the third period: Nashville’s Craig Smith beat Zepp just 23 seconds in, knotting the score. Neither team was able to break the tie in regulation nor overtime, and so the Flyers went to their fourth shootout in the last 12 games (seventh overtime). Voracek and Simmonds potted a pair, Zepp stood tall, and the skills contest was over after just two rounds.
Conquering the Caps
After jumping out to a 2-0 lead on the strength of power-play goals from Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds, the Flyers coughed up their advantage over the visiting Washington Capitals early in the third period, and fans’ knuckles started to whiten.
The final period was full of gritty play, with Jakub Voracek double-shifting on the fourth line, the Flyers killing off two penalties–five in total–against the second-best power-play team in the league.
In the final five minutes of the game, Michael Del Zotto snapped the 2-2 tie, ripping a shot past Braden Holtby while Pierre-Edouard Bellemare screened the Capitals goalie.
Special-teams play uncharacteristically carried the day for Philadelphia, with Giroux snapping his 11-game goalless drought on the man advantage 4:39 into the game.
Simmonds batted in a rebound on the second power play for his team-leading 24th goal, extending his personal best point streak to eight games.
The Flyers now have gone three straight games without surrendering a power-play goal, and have killed off 34 of the last 38 penalties (90 percent) in their last 13 games.
Flyers goalie Rob Zepp continued his veteran rookie story, stopping 21 of 23 attempts en route to back-to-back wins on back-to-back starts, his first since January 17. He is now 5-1 since being called up.
Next up, the Flyers have two must-win games against the bottom-dwelling Hurricanes and Maple Leafs. If they are to continue their late-season push, those are vital points; six of the eight games that follow come against teams that are in playoff contention.
Read more from Josh Kaz at dropthepuck.org.