PHILADELPHIA -- Third-period play was one of the Philadelphia Flyers' biggest problems during their early-season struggles.
They've repaired things quite nicely in their past seven games, and that strong closing kick was on display again Saturday in their 5-2 defeat of the visiting New York Islanders.
The Flyers scored three times in the first 3:48 of the second period, but Eric Boulton's goal 2:39 into the third made it a one-goal game.
"A couple weeks ago when they would have scored that second goal we'd still be up 3-2 but we'd still [fall apart]," forward Jakub Voracek said
The Flyers were outscored 19-6 in their first 15 third periods, and the team's record was 4-10-1. But in their past seven games they've turned it around, outscoring teams 11-3. In the process they've gone 6-0-1 to move within two points of third place in the Metropolitan Division.
"We have a lot of confidence," Voracek said. "We knew that game, it's ours and we should win it."
Voracek played a big role in the Flyers snatching the momentum and the victory. He won a puck battle deep in the Islanders' zone and put a sharp-angled shot on net that goalie Anders Nilsson stopped, but the rebound went into the slot to Brayden Schenn, who one-timed it past Nilsson at 12:21 to make it a 4-2 game.
They survived a pair of penalty kills later and a 15-shot Islanders barrage before Matt Read sealed the win with an empty-netter in the final minute.
"They believe they can win," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "We killed off two big penalties there in the third period; huge kills. I thought they did a real good job, that's important. We've been giving up power-play goals the last four or five games and we did a real good job against a real good power play. I thought overall the third period we were on our heels but we did what we had to do to win the games."
Boulton and John Tavares scored for the Islanders, who were swept in back-to-back games in Pennsylvania after losing 4-3 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday. New York, last in the Metropolitan Division, has dropped seven consecutive road games, all in regulation, and is 2-8-0 overall in its past 10 games.
"As coaches, if we were looking at it and it was structurally or systematically, we would change it for sure," coach Jack Capuano said. "But when you talk about battle level or when you talk about protecting the wall and not protecting the danger area, that to me, you don't change that, that's hockey. There's nothing you can do about that. You have to win your battles. We've played many systems since I've been here, but systems don't work unless you battle. I'm not faulting on the battle level [Saturday], but a couple of plays we broke down because we were on the wrong side of the puck."
After a scoreless first period, the Flyers got goals from Read, Simmonds and Giroux in the first 3:48 of the second.
Read opened the scoring 46 seconds into the period on a play that started when the Islanders turned over the puck deep in their zone. Sean Couturier had a chance from the slot that Islanders goalie Kevin Poulin lunged to get his blocker on. The rebound went to Read in the left circle and he fired it past Poulin for his seventh of the season.
Simmonds scored his fourth of the season 59 seconds later. Vincent Lecavalier carried the puck through the center of the ice and dished it to Simmonds in the right circle. Lecavalier continued to the net, with Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic following him and creating enough of a screen for Simmonds to get a shot past Poulin to make it 2-0.
The Flyers then took advantage of an offensive-zone penalty against Thomas Vanek by scoring a power-play goal against the NHL's 30th-ranked penalty-killing unit. Poulin got a piece of Voracek's shot from a sharp angle on right side. Simmonds pounced on the rebound and tried backhanding a pass through the slot to Scott Hartnell, but the puck went past him to Giroux, and the Flyers captain rifled a shot past Poulin for his third of the season at 3:48.
That was the end of Poulin's night; he was replaced by Nilsson after allowing three goals on six shots in the period.
"We had to change something up," Capuano said. "It's either a timeout or a change of goaltending. To me, you have to give the kid [Nilsson] an opportunity and I thought he played well."
Nilsson stopped 12 of 13 shots in his first NHL action this season.
The Islanders cut into the Flyers lead on Tavares' 10th goal of the season. Matt Donovan had the puck deep in his zone and sent a long pass up the left side of the ice to Vanek, catching the Flyers on a line change. Vanek threw a pretty saucer pass to a cutting Tavares, who had a step on Brayden Schenn and tipped the pass behind Mason at 14:04.
New York made it a one-goal game early in the third on Boulton's first goal in 72 games. Casey Cizikas beat Adam Hall on a faceoff in the left circle in the Philadelphia end, pushing the puck between Hall's skates to Boulton at the right post. He lifted a shot over Mason for his first goal since April 7, 2011.
Earlier in the season, that could have been enough to push the Flyers over the cliff. Instead, they buckled down and rather than get pushed out of the game, they pushed back, with Schenn's goal and the back-to-back penalty kills.
"I think confidence comes into play," Read said. "We know when we're up a goal or tied going into the third period, we know we're going to win a game."
Read's empty-net goal with 48.6 seconds left closed the scoring and sends the Flyers off on a two-game road trip to Florida in a positive frame of mind.
"It's definitely a good spot to be considering the position we were in, but there's lots of work to be done," Mason said. "Good homestand overall and we'll just have to hopefully take that onto the road for a few big games here."
The Islanders head home for four straight with the hopes of turning around their suddenly teetering season.
"We've got to figure out a way to win some hockey games and turn some of the breaks our way and find a way to get it done," Tavares said. "Especially against all these teams in our division, big points and a lot at stake. So for us it's obviously been a tough go, and we've got to find our way out of it."
The Islanders played most of the final two periods without defenseman Thomas Hickey, who left the game four minutes into the second period with a lower-body injury. The Islanders had no update on his condition after the game.
|Matt Read (7) ASST: Sean Couturier (7), Steve Downie (12)|
1 - 0 PHI
|Wayne Simmonds (4) ASST: Vincent Lecavalier (5), Erik Gustafsson (4)|
2 - 0 PHI
|PPG - Claude Giroux (3) ASST: Wayne Simmonds (7), Jakub Voracek (8)|
3 - 0 PHI
|John Tavares (10) ASST: Thomas Vanek (8), Matt Donovan (4)|
3 - 1 PHI
|Eric Boulton (1) ASST: Casey Cizikas (3)|
3 - 2 PHI
|Brayden Schenn (7) ASST: Jakub Voracek (9), Claude Giroux (12)|
4 - 2 PHI
|EN - Matt Read (8) ASST: NONE|
5 - 2 PHI
|Thomas Hickey Interference against Steve Downie|
|Thomas Vanek Hooking against Sean Couturier|
|Andrew MacDonald Unsportsmanlike conduct|
|Erik Gustafsson Interference against Colin McDonald|
|Steve Mason Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Claude Giroux Delay Gm - Face-off Violation|