Dave Hakstol wasn’t taking any chances.
Wells Fargo Center was being transformed into Cellblock W. Lockdown.
The Flyers make sure to emphasize defense with a two-goal lead in the third period. No stragglers.
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Hakstol even deployed two defensemen on a revised first-unit power play.
“On the power play we had two defensemen and wanted to make sure we had an opportunity to score a goal, stay aggressive, but not give anything up,” Hakstol said. Then he paused and laughed before saying, “That didn’t work.”
The Flyers had a couple turnovers there, but everything else worked. Shuffling lines to buttress defense, sitting flashy rookie Travis Konecny and relying on goalie Steve Mason to make the two critical saves the Flyers needed to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 5-2 (see Instant Replay).
“We got some good saves from Mase, came out with a good push [that period] to score the first goal of the period and play a pretty confident period throughout to close out the game,” Hakstol said.
It was something the Flyers couldn’t do on Tuesday, wasting 58 minutes of solid play from Mason only to see him wilt in the final two minutes of regulation to squander a lead and then lose in a shootout.
Mason didn’t wilt this time. Instead, he made two enormous saves that period. One was a chest knockdown on Mark Scheifele, the NHL’s top scorer (21 points), followed later by a glove save on Nikolaj Ehlers with the Flyers clutching a 3-2 lead.
That was the Peg’s best shot right there.
“They’re big saves and then we come back to get a goal shortly after,” Mason said. “Those two points are huge. The glove save prevents it from being a tie game and then the [Wayne Simmonds] goal puts us up by two. A little bit of breathing room.”
Hakstol mixed up all four of his lines in the third period, benching Konecny, who played just two shifts. Jets coach Paul Maurice stacked Scheifele and Ehlers with bulky Blake Wheeler that period, removing rookie Patric Laine (minus-4).
“We had Dale Weise on the left side with Coots (Sean Couturier) for the third period and he did a good job there,” Hakstol said. “They loaded up a big line and it was tough to play against.
“Just to take a little workload off TK, a young guy, Weiser went into that spot and did a good job. Then we had three, four shifts in a row with one winger out of sorts.”
Konecny was healthy but struggling, Hakstol said.
“Things weren’t going all that well for him,” he said. “He was working hard, competing hard, got caught on the wrong side of a goal in the second period. You’re going to have those nights as a young kid.”
The strategy worked against a big, fast team that twice cut a deficit to a single goal and wouldn’t go quietly.
“This game was the toughest so far this season,” offered Michael Raffl, one of the Flyers' goal scorers. “They really took it to us. They were coming hard. An absolute grind like the playoffs to me.”
The Flyers scored two goals on two shots just 34 ticks apart midway into the opening period to give them a 2-0 lead.
Outstanding puck pursuit and hustle from Couturier’s line resulted in his fifth goal at 9:13 with a cut move to the slot off a crisp pass from Konecny. Couturier wristed the puck high under the bar on goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
Scheifele correctly argued the goal should not have counted since Jakub Voracek tripped him before the goal, but none of the officials saw it.
Raffl’s second goal in as many games made it 2-0 as Matt Read made a sensational, diving, outstretched pass along the right boards to spring him across the middle for an uncontested wrister.
“It was a chip out, I made sure we got it out and then it was kind of a two-on-one foot race to the puck,” Read said. “I just dove and tried to swing the puck over to Raffy. Luckily, it made it over to him and was a great finish by him.”
To that point, the Flyers were being outshot, 6-2. They were outshot 32-22 overall.
“I just jumped on the puck and shot as hard as I could,” Raffl said.
Dustin “Big Buf” Byfuglien halved the deficit for the Jets in the second period, taking a cross-ice feed from Nic Petan and shooting under the crossbar on Mason at 6:57.
The Flyers had no defensive coverage anywhere in the slot. Uncontested, wide-open shots have been an issue all season thus far. Mason was left to fend for himself again and finished with 30 saves.
“Unbelievable,” Simmonds said. “He had some huge saves for us. Allowed us to get a W.”
Mark Streit’s first goal in seven games made it 3-1 in the second period as his point drive came in like a knuckleball and glanced off Hellebuyck’s glove into the net.
Yet the Flyers’ defensive lapses continued later in the period as the Jets out-dazzled them with pinpoint passing up the ice, culminating with an odd-man rush at the net and Wheeler making it a one-goal game again.
“There were still a few breakdowns, and against a team like that you have to play well defensively and have good structure. But we can still be better,” Streit said.
“Mase made some huge saves for us. He can’t do that every game.”