The Flyers, a team that was among the NHL’s worst after a 10-game losing streak earlier in the season, punched their ticket into the Stanley Cup playoffs Saturday afternoon at the charged-up Wells Fargo Center.
Captain Claude Giroux scored his first regular-season, career hat trick and went over the 100-point mark as the Flyers trounced the New York Rangers, 5-0, and earned a playoff berth in their regular-season finale.
“This is just the start of the work. It’s not a celebration,” goalie Brian Elliott said after collecting his first shutout with the Flyers.”It’s not like baseball, where you’ve got champagne in the room. We know there’s a lot of tough games coming up, and we have to prepare mentally right from the get-go. You take it in a little bit and be proud of where we came from this season, but you have to put that in your back pocket and come back to work.”
The win, coupled with losses by Columbus and New Jersey, moved the Flyers (98 points) into third place in the final Metropolitan Division standings and put them in a first-round playoff matchup against arch-rival Pittsburgh (100 points). The first two games will be in Pittsburgh, but the NHL has yet to make the dates official.
The Flyers went 0-2-2 against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins this season, and blew leads in three of the games. They allowed five goals in all four games, losing twice in overtime in Pittsburgh by identical 5-4 scores, and being soundly beaten by the Penguins at the Wells Fargo Center, 5-1, and 5-2. Elliott was injured and didn’t play in the last two defeats, but he allowed nine goals over 101:44 in the other two losses.
“MVP….MVP….MVP,” fans chanted late in the second period after Giroux’s second goal of the game put the Flyers ahead, 4-0.
The chants became louder after Giroux scored on a breakaway to complete his hat trick with 9 minutes, 49 seconds left in the third.
“It feels great. The fans really made me feel special and I’m pretty happy about it,” said Giroux, who had 19 goals and 44 points in the last 29 games.
His final totals: 34 goals, 68 assists, 102 points, and a plus-28 rating.
The Flyers, who eliminated Florida, have several young players who will be making their playoff debuts. They aren’t satisfied to just be playing in the postseason.
“We’re not here just to get some experience,” second-year defenseman Ivan Provorov said. “We’re here to try to win and play hard and see what happens. It doesn’t matter in the playoffs how many points you had in the regular season. Everybody’s even. Everyone has the same opportunity to win the Cup.”
Elliott wasn’t tested much as his teammates kept the puck in the Rangers’ end most of the game. The Flyers outshot New York, 40-17.
The veteran goalie was much sharper, however, than in Thursday’s 4-3 win over Carolina, his first game since Feb. 10. He had missed nearly two months after undergoing core-muscle surgery.
“The guys in front of me did most of the work in that one, which was good,” Elliott said after Saturday’s victory. “…. The goal was to get this win and start feeling good going into the playoffs.”
With his second-period power-goal, which gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead, Giroux became the 11th player in NHL history to reach the 100-point mark for the first time at age 30 or older. He also became the first Flyer to reach the century mark since Eric Lindros in 1995-96.
The Flyers scored three goals — two by Giroux, the other by Michael Raffl — in a 5:35 span late in the second period to build a 4-0 lead. They had an 18-5 shots domination in the second, one of their best periods of the season.
“We’re playing some good hockey right now,” said Giroux, mindful the Flyers had points in 24 of their last 31 games (18-7-6).
Just six seconds after Raffl scored on a spin-around rebound, Giroux beat Henrik Lundqvist from the high slot, increasing the lead to 4-0 and igniting MVP chants. It was the quickest two goals in Flyers history; they had scored goals seven seconds apart three times, the last in 2013 (Matt Read and Oliver Lauridsen).
Provorov had given the Flyers a 1-0 lead when Sean Couturier’s pass bounced off his chest and into the net with 13:26 left in the first period. Provorov became the fifth defensemen in franchise history to reach the 17-goal mark, and it was his fourth goal in six games.
With a delayed penalty called on the Rangers, the Flyers controlled the puck in the offensive end for about 40 seconds before Couturier took a through-traffic pass from Jake Voracek and was denied by Lundqvist from the doorstep. Couturier then threw the rebound out front and it bounced off Provorov and into the empty net.
“I didn’t have much of an angle,” said Couturier, who had two assists and finished with 76 points — 37 more than his previous career high (39). “I was just trying to get it over him and hopefully have someone put it in.”
The Flyers controlled the game from start to finish.
“Our D were blocking pucks, jumping on guys quick,” Elliott said. “We played with that extra little bit of energy, for sure.”
The Flyers had two hat tricks all season — one in the opener (Wayne Simmonds) and Giroux’s in the season finale.. … Giroux, Couturier, and Raffl were each plus-4 in the game. … Nolan Patrick had a game-high seven shots. … Four minutes into the game, the Flyers committed a turnover and were fortunate Jimmy Vesey fired wide from close range while staring at an empty net.