Simmonds sparks Flyers' Game 6 victory with hat trick
Flyers extend series to a decisive Game 7 against the Rangers with a thrilling, 5-2 victory.
THE PUCK traveled no more than 10 feet combined on Wayne Simmonds' three goals.
Fourteen garbage bags later, filled with 639 hats and one pair of sneakers celebrating Simmonds' first career playoff hat trick, the team that has always believed once again captured the imagination of this playoff-starved city.
There was no need to cancel the Flyers' pending Amtrak reservation at 30th Street Station last night.
On the back of the Wayne Train, the Flyers staved off elimination and improbably got back to level ground in their best-of-seven, Metropolitan Division semifinal with a 5-2 thrashing of the Rangers to force a deciding Game 7.
"He was all over the puck," captain Claude Giroux said of Simmonds. "He was jumping everywhere. He was strong on the puck. When Wayne wants to win the puck, he wins it. I think he gives everyone in the room motivation to do the same thing."
There will be three Game 7s in the NHL tonight. The puck will drop on the Flyers-vs.-Rangers death struggle at 7 o'clock at Madison Square Garden - the winner to face Pittsburgh in Round 2. The Flyers are 9-6 all-time in Game 7s; they are 3-3 in franchise history in Game 7s played on the road.
"I think it's great that we're having a back-to-back [games]," Simmonds said. "The other games, we had a couple days off, and I think that's kind of why you saw this series go 1-1-1-1, teams had time to regroup. Now, we've got the momentum. We've just got to keep our foot on the pedal and keep pushing forward."
New York has now lost an NHL-record 12 consecutive games when holding a lead in a playoff series. After the blowout, in which Cam Talbot relieved Henrik Lundqvist to start the third period, the pressure would appear to be squarely on the Rangers' shoulders - where they were only 20-17-4 at home during this regular season.
The Flyers, of course, have completed the comeback from trailing, 3-2, twice in their last four playoff years. They have won three Game 7s in a row - two of which came on the road (2010 in Boston, 2008 in Washington).
If Simmonds was the Flyers' locomotive last night, goalie Steve Mason was the Business Class car. He was all business. With their season in the balance, Mason put together arguably his best game since joining the Flyers last April, stopping 34 of 36 shots. He now has two wins in three games this series.
With 2 minutes left, after turning aside Rangers chance after chance, the 20,137 in attendance chanted "Ma-son, Ma-son." He finally waved his stick in the air in appreciation.
"Those were moments that send chills down your spine," Mason said. "Those type of moments don't happen too often, so you just kind of take it in."
Suddenly, a bland and boring divisional series with little intrigue has been flipped on its head. Aside from the absence of overtime, Game 6 was just about everything the first five games of this series was not - gritty, fast-paced and filled with scoring chances.
Game 6 was played in a much more wide-open style - from the very drop of the puck - and it was all to the Flyers' benefit. The Rangers enjoyed a shooting gallery on Mason early, but then the Flyers were able to introduce their aggressive, net-centered offense for really the first time.
Consider: The Flyers did not have a single shot off a rebound in all of Game 5 Sunday in New York.Simmonds scored his first goal of the night on the power play by swatting in his own rebound, with his skates nearly on Lundqvist's blue paint. His second came after Brayden Schenn flubbed a shot to his stick, and the hair-raising hat trick tally was a tip-in from just outside the crease.
"I thought we did a good job of avoiding their shot-blockers," Simmonds said. "We had layered screens, we kept the pressure up, we had second chances, third chances, fourth chances. We didn't quit on plays."
Sandwiched in between those last two goals was Erik Gustafsson's breakaway strike out of the box, providing a karmic answer to a phantom high-sticking call.
The Flyers have now netted a hat trick in four of their last five playoff series against New York: Tim Kerr (1986), John LeClair (1995), Eric Lindros (1997) and Simmonds. Before last night, Simmonds had never even netted two goals in one playoff game.
Strangely, Kerr was the last Flyer to score a playoff hat trick in the first two periods. The last time that happened was April 19, 1989, against Pittsburgh - one of the three series in which the Flyers have completed a comeback from a 3-2 series deficit.
"We want to keep feeling good about how we played [last night]," Giroux said. "For us, we need to have the same attitude that we're going to play hard. When we have the attitude that we're not going to lose, we're a hard team to beat."
This Flyers team, which started at the bottom - and climbed back from a 1-7 start with a 104-point pace for the right to face the Rangers - is now here, alive and carrying the momentum. Only they can decide whether New York's Penn Station will be the final stop on their route.
"I don't think it matters how you get there," coach Craig Berube said of Game 7. "We're here."
The Flyers have killed off 20 consecutive shorthanded situations, dating back to Game 2. This is the Flyers' first series to go six games without overtime since the 2000 Eastern Conference final vs. New Jersey . . . New York outshot the Flyers, 36-29, marking the fifth straight game this series the winning team has been outshot. Craig Berube is expected to stick with the same lineup in Game 7. Michael Raffl skated with Claude Giroux on the top line, and Scott Hartnell was alongside Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn.