When Simmonds slipped a bad-angle shot past Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Justin Peters at PNC Arena for his third of the night, the roars were immediate. So were the hats. More than two dozen littered the ice, and Simmonds made sure to tuck some souvenirs in his equipment bag.
"The two best ones I kept," Simmonds said. "One is a cowboy hat with the Flyers’ symbol on it, the other is a bear hat with Flyers’ colors on it, so it's pretty cool."
Simmonds' best offensive night in the NHL -- four points in all -- was the engine that drove the Flyers’ offense in a 5-3 win that was more dominant than the score suggests. Philadelphia came out ready to test the Hurricanes, with eight attempted shots in the first two minutes. They played a strong puck possession game, moved the puck well in transition and turned in several odd-man rushes. Not bad for a team playing its first game since being eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoff contention.
After Jakub Voracek had a near miss in the crease in the opening seconds, he took a stretch pass from Claude Giroux and beat Peters on a breakaway for his 20th goal of the season, the first time he has reached that milestone.
"I would trade one of those goals for the seventh spot in the East," Voracek said. "It was kind of a crazy game, a lot of odd-man rushes. A lot of pucks went in, which is good. I don't think we played our best defensive hockey, but we didn't need it."
All the Flyers needed, it turns out, was Simmonds. The last time the 24-year-old popped for three goals came in his final season of junior hockey with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. His first of the night came in the second period on a 2-on-1. Matt Read reached past Hurricanes defenseman Jamie McBain to slide a pass across the slot to Simmonds, who buried a short wrister. After Carolina's Justin Faulk tied the game at 2-2, Flyers forward Sean Couturier won a battle in the corner to set up Simmonds for a hard slap shot over Peters' blocker.
"I haven't been scoring too many goals, but I've been trying to do other things to help the team," said Simmonds, who had gone eight games without a goal. "It's just nice to get those three goals."
Simmonds big night wasn't over. With the Flyers holding onto a 4-3 lead early in the third period, he set up Read for the final goal of the night. Read also added two assists. If there was any concern the Flyers would be flat in their first game after elimination from playoff contention, they erased it with a complete game.
"We didn't even speak about being eliminated from the playoffs," Simmonds said. "We're trying to build and we want to keep going. We've got a great young core in here and we've got to play strong for each other down the stretch."
Recently acquired goaltender Steve Mason earned his second win for the Flyers. While he did not face many flurries around his net, he made a handful of big stops. He was especially sharp in the final two minutes, when the Hurricanes skated 6-on-4 after pulling the goaltender during a power play.
"These are the types of games you have to get up for, no matter the position you're in," Mason said. "The guys came out with an unbelievable effort tonight. We carried the play for the majority of the hockey game tonight. When the guys are playing the way they did tonight, the goals are going to come."
Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette was glad to see his team playing with intensity, even though the playoffs are no longer at stake.
"I think it was good for confidence," he said. "We have to finish the season, and we need to play every game and make it count, make it matter. The guys did that tonight. They put a lot of pucks in the net and they scored a lot of goals."
For the Hurricanes, their second half of the season has been a continuing nightmare. With just two wins in the past 19 games (2-15-2), there was very little positive.
"We were just a step behind on a lot of plays, taking time and space away from them, disallowing that type of stuff," said Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller. "We let them come through the neutral zone too easy, which is not our trait recently."
Muller has defended Carolina's effort through much of the second half of the season, saying his club has deserved better results for its work. Not this time.
"We have to learn how to be ready to go every night," he said. "It doesn't matter. Every night, you have to come ready to play in the NHL. Tonight, I didn't think we had that tempo that we should."
While the Flyers (20-22-3) can't parlay the win into anything more than a confidence booster, they're glad to have something to build on. The fact that they had plenty of fans in tow on the road only makes it better.
"We saw quite a few of them in the warm up, so it wasn't too surprising," Mason said. "After our first goal, it was pretty loud in here. It's nice having that support, especially on the road."
Simmonds noticed the vocal support, too.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "It seemed like there were more Flyer fans than there were Cane fans. We were PKing at one point, and they were chanting, 'Let's go Flyers.' So that was pretty neat to hear."
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