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by Anthony SanFilippo / Philadelphia Flyers

EDMONTON, Alberta – The decisions are subtle, almost unnoticeable. And yet, they are winning hockey games.

It seems that with each passing game, the question marks that were written about Craig Berube’s coaching acumen have quietly been replaced by exclamation points.

Whether it was starting Ray Emery after the blowout loss against Washington, coaxing a shutout out of his backup goalie, or surprisingly turning to Emery again in a win over the first place Pittsburgh Penguins.

Or whether it was replacing Scott Hartnell on the top line with Michael Raffl, or balancing out his players' minutes so as not to overtax his best players with ice time; or change the system to concentrate more on defense, or not shuffling lines to get Vinny Lecavalier back in his normal spot so as to keep what’s working… working.

Most of the knobs Berube has turned have worked.

So, when you look back at the Flyers 4-3 shootout win in frigid Edmonton Saturday, a look at the stats – whether advanced or rudimentary – would tell you the Flyers simply won a game they deserved to win.

And that wouldn’t be incorrect, but it also wouldn’t tell the whole story.

The Flyers scored all three regulation goals on the power play, setting up the shootout dramatics.

It wouldn’t tell of the savvy decision by Berube to not tinker with his 5-on-3 power play unit when the team desperately needed to score to tie the game.

Rather than call on Wayne Simmonds in that spot considering he is so hot he could have personally thawed out the entire Province of Alberta after scoring two more goals Saturday, Berube stuck with his unit and kept both Hartnell and Lecavalier on the ice and Simmonds on the bench.

It resulted in a Hartnell goal to tie the score on a tip in in front, allowing the game to reach the extra sessions that ultimately begat the victory.

“Hartnell in the slot is a one-time option for Giroux and then you have a one-time option on the other side with [Jake] Voracek [and Lecavalier],” Berube said. It’s Giroux’s power play on a 5-on-3. He’s got the puck and there’s four lefties out there looking for shots.”

Sounds simple, but it’s harder than you think to stay the course, especially when you have a guy like Simmonds doing something that hasn’t been done in 32 years, and only by two players in franchise history before him.

With his two goals, Simmonds extended his point streak to five games (7-2-9), but more impressively, he became the first Flyer to score two or more goals in three consecutive games since Reggie Leach in 1981.

Leach also did it in 1976, as did Ross Lonsberry. But that’s it. Not Rick MacLeish or Bill Barber. Not Bobby Clarke or Tim Kerr. Not John LeClair. Not Mark Recchi. Not Eric Lindros. Not Jeff Carter or Simon Gagne.

Lonsberry. Leach. Simmonds.

“That’s pretty awesome,” Simmonds would say afterwards.

And it is. And yet, Berube didn’t get caught up in the excitement of Simmonds scoring ad nauseam. He stuck with his plan. He got the shot the setup from Giroux, the shot from Timonen and the redirect goal by Hartnell.

Four players had multi-point games, including Hartnell and Voracek, the latter of which extended his career-best point streak to nine games (6-9-15) with two helpers.

That’s coaching – and Berube wasn’t done.

When the game meandered to the dreaded shootout, Berube again made a couple quick-thinking decisions.

First, he decided to go with two shooters who were not teammates with Edmonton goalie and former Flyer Ilya Bryzgalov, meaning he didn’t have as good a book on the Flyers shooters.

And while guys like Matt Read and Sean Couturier, two recent regulars in the shootout, didn’t get a crack at their former teammate, Lecavalier and Raffl sure did.

Lecavalier made a fine move, but Bryzgalov made a pretty glove save, but it would be the last in his superb 35-save performance against his old team.

Because after Giroux sniped him through the five-hole to tie it before Bryzgalov even had a chance to react, Raffl made a deft move wide of the net and waited for Bryzgalov to go down before roofing it over his head for the game-winner.

It was Raffl’s first attempt at a shootout in the NHL. Something suggests it won’t be his last.

“Sometimes you just make decisions,” Berube said. “I had heard he is good at shootouts and I know he’s a confident kid, so I know going third the pressure wasn’t going to affect him.”

And it didn’t affect him as Raffl made Berube seem professorial with his goal.

“It’s nice to get the chance to score and to put it in was even nicer,” Raffl said. “They threw me out there once in awhile (in Sweden). So I had been in this situation before.”

It was later found out that he was being a bit facetious and that he was often used in shootouts in Sweden, which made his guarantee just before his attempt so perfect.

“He’s a funny guy,” said Giroux who extended his scoring streak to a career-best eight games (5-10-15) with a pair of assists . “Right before his attempt I [tried encouraging him] and said, ‘Let’s go Raff.’ He looked at us and said, ‘I got this boys.’ Just the way he said it, he’s a funny guy. He’s done so many good things for us since he’s been called up.”

It wasn’t completely ideal for the Flyers, as they fell behind 2-0 in the first four minutes of the game, marking the first time this season they allowed more than one goal in the first period. But, starting at the midway point of the opening frame, the Flyers took control of the game and never really let up.

Steve Mason wasn't tested often - he only faced 16 shots - but he had a handful of saves that proved to be the difference between two points and no points for the Flyers.

They outshot Edmonton 38-16, and actually, if you count all shots attempted, and not just the ones on goal it was 74-34.

Simmonds tipped a Giroux howitzer past Bryzgalov early in the second period to cut it to 2-1 and then tapped in a beauty of a tic-tac-toe passing effort on another power play later in the period.

The Flyers got a little casual on a few plays and took five penalties, and the last one cost them as David Perron banked a shot off of Nick Grossmann past Steve Mason to make it 3-2 with Timonen in the box.

But Hartnell tied it and Mason made a few beautiful saves, including stoning Perron on a breakaway late in the third period to force overtime and eventually a shootout.

Mason gave up a goal to Jordan Eberle in the shootout, but then stopped Perron a second time before Sam Gagner’s attempt went wide setting the stage for Raffl.

“I was actually glad Gagner didn’t pull out the one move he has,” Mason said. “If he did, he probably would have had me out of the net and an easy goal, but he didn’t do it and tried to beat me glove side and missed.”

With the win, the Flyers (18-16-4, 40 points)retained possession of third place in the Metropolitan Division and snapped a five-game road losing streak, setting up another crucial matchup with red-hot Vancouver (8-1-1 last 10) Monday.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers

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