The Flyers will have to begin a difficult three-games-in-four-nights stretch without one of their top players, right winger Jake Voracek.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Wednesday upheld Voracek’s two-game suspension. The right winger appealed the decision and was trying to have it reduced to one game.
Voracek, who has 25 points in his last 22 games and has helped trigger the Flyers’ 18-4-2 surge, sat out Monday’s 3-2 win over Ottawa and he will miss Thursday’s home game against Washington, the defending Stanley Cup champion.
“Hopefully, the boys will find a way to win," Voracek said.
Voracek has been playing on the Flyers’ first or second line and their top power-play unit.
“We have guys who can step up and play bigger than their [usual] role,” defenseman Radko Gudas said after practice Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“When you lose a player, that’s what you need -- someone else to come to the forefront,” interim coach Scott Gordon said, noting that the Flyers got key goals from third-liners Scott Laughton and Michael Raffl in the victory over Ottawa.
With 13 games left, the Flyers are five points behind Columbus for the final Eastern Conference wild-card spot. The Flyers are also five points behind Montreal, and they have a game in hand on both the Blue Jackets and Canadiens.
Voracek, 29, was suspended for his interference on the Islanders’ Johnny Boychuk in the Flyers’ 5-2 win Sunday at Nassau Coliseum. It was the first suspension of his career.
With 14:19 left in that game, Boychuk skated into the back of a braced Voracek – who lifted his body slightly and leaned backward slightly as the 35-year-old Isles defenseman crashed into him.
After the game, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound Voracek said he saw the 6-2, 227-pound Boychuk was about to crash into him, and “I tried to protect myself, and to be honest, maybe the puck was a little further [ahead] than I thought.”
In its video explaining the suspension, the NHL said Voracek’s “substantial contact” with Boychuk’s head and the “force of the hit” were among the main reasons for the supplemental discipline, which cost the Flyers winger $88,708 in lost wages.
Said Bettman in his decision: “While I accept Mr. Voracek’s explanation that he thought Mr. Boychuk was going to initiate a check, the video make it clear that it was Mr. Voracek who initiated the contact." He added that the “onus” was on the Flyers winger “to avoid causing a significant blow to Mr. Boychuk’s head. The force was significant enough to cause Mr. Boychuk to require medical attention on the ice and he did not return for the balance of the game."
After he practiced with the team Wednesday, Voracek said that even if the suspension had occurred in the middle of the season and not in the home stretch, he still would have filed an appeal “because I don’t think [the infraction] was that harsh to get two games. ... With my history, I don’t think I deserved two.”
The Flyers will face Washington (Thursday), Toronto (Friday), and Pittsburgh (Sunday) in a four-night stretch, then host Montreal in a key game Tuesday.
On Thursday, rookie goalie Carter Hart will make his first appearance in three weeks when he faces Alex Ovechkin (league-high 46 goals) and the Metropolitan Division-leading Caps. Washington has won a pair of 5-3 decisions against the Flyers this season, beating goalies Mike McKenna and Brian Elliott, respectively.
In that latter loss on March 6, Voracek and Nolan Patrick missed the game with injuries.
The Caps have a potent offense (3.37 goals per game, seventh in the NHL) and power play (22.1 percent, ninth).
“They have a lot of great players who know where they are on the ice at all times,” Gudas said. “They know how to play different teams. They just have a feel and a chemistry from being together for so long.”
The Flyers have won four of their last five.
“For us to have success, we just need to be ourselves,” Gudas said. “We’re in our own building. ... We have to force them to play our game.”