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Flyers chase Niemi, beat Sharks

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- The Philadelphia Flyers trailed 2-1 after the second period Monday, and history told us they were in trouble against the San Jose Sharks.

The Flyers hadn't beaten the Sharks since Dec. 12, 2000, a 13-game winless skid, nor had they won in San Jose since Nov. 5, 1999.

Then the third period began at SAP Center.

Matt Read, Michael Raffl, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek scored consecutive goals, and the Flyers rallied to beat the Sharks 5-2.

Read, Raffl and Giroux scored their goals in a span of 2:45 to build a 4-2 lead with 16:04 left.

"This is the type of game for myself, going into the second period when it's 2-1, it was one of those games where I was just telling myself to keep it at two goals because of the way the guys were playing you knew it was only a matter of time before they found the back of the net," said Flyers goaltender Steve Mason, who made 20 saves to earn his 22nd victory of the season. "I didn't expect it to turn out the way it did in the third with the quick goals going in like that, but we'll take it. The guys deserved what they got."

Mark Streit also scored for the Flyers, who finished their California road trip with a 2-1 record after victories against the Los Angeles Kings and Sharks following a loss to the Anaheim Ducks.

"One of the players in L.A. referred to it as the Bermuda triangle coming into California," said Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, a former King. "I think we played pretty well, we had a pretty compete level all three games and I think four points out of the six is pretty nice. We’ll take that and go back home."

Sharks rookie Matt Nieto scored a career-high two goals.

San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi gave up four goals on 23 shots and was replaced by backup Alex Stalock at 3:56 of the third period.

Read scored at 1:11 of the third on a 2-on-2 rush with a shot from the right circle that deflected off of Matt Irwin's stick and fluttered past Niemi to the far side without the benefit of a screen.

"We came into the locker room after the second and said keep playing the same way and things will go our way," Read said. "The second period we played pretty good hockey, were in the offensive zone and had our chances. We looked for a bounce to get a goal. The first couple minutes of the third period we got a goal and were on our toes and got the momentum and played a full 20 minutes in the third to win the game."

Raffl ripped a rebound past Niemi from the slot 1:18 later, giving the Flyers a 3-2 lead. Niemi had stopped Erik Gustafsson's shot from the left point but couldn't control the puck, and Raffl scored his sixth goal of the season.

"I think we played well the whole game," Raffl said. "Sooner or later, the goals are going to come. We have to put pucks on net. That's what we kept on doing and it worked out for us tonight."

Giroux, who had two assists, made it 4-2 with an unassisted goal at 3:56. Giroux unleashed a shot from the left circle that went under Niemi's glove for his 18th goal of the season and fourth in his past five games.

"When you struggle and play good teams, that's when you get your confidence back," Giroux said. "You play against good teams, you have a good period, you start playing better. Now we got two big wins against L.A. and San Jose and we're going back home with a little more confidence than what we came with on the road trip."

After Giroux's goal, Sharks coach Todd McLellan pulled Niemi and replaced him with Stalock.

Voracek scored against Stalock from the slot at 17:44, increasing the Flyers' lead to 5-2.

"It’s a team-wide issue and yeah, [Niemi] has to stop some of those," McLellan said of the Flyers' three quick goals early in the third. "It’s as simple as that. Even in the second period, we weren't the better team. We were playing with fire. It was a matter of time. If we continued to play that way, we were going to get burnt and we did."

The Sharks were 26-1-2 when leading after two periods before losing to the Flyers, who outshot them 28-22. San Jose had its fewest shots in a home game this season. ¬¬¬

"They were pressing hard and they were forcing us to make plays and we weren't executing the forecheck," Irwin said. "You have to get the puck off the boards and get pucks out of our zone. They came at us hard, they made us turn the puck over. A lot of it was what they did well. At the same time, that's unacceptable."

The Flyers have 62 points after back-to-back victories, but they still have work to do to secure a playoff spot.

"We're fighting for our playoff lives right now," Simmonds said. "We got to get every single point. I think every guy in this room is aware of what we have to do."

The Flyers struck first on Streit's power play goal just 4:23 into the game with Nieto in the penalty box for hooking Braydon Coburn. With Simmonds providing a screen in front of the crease, Streit ripped a slap shot from the blue line past Niemi for his seventh goal of the season.

The Flyers extended their streak to seven games with at least one power-play goal.

San Jose quickly answered with Nieto's power-play goal at 7:33 of the first, snapping the Sharks' 0-for-16 skid with the man advantage. Nieto used his blazing speed to get behind defenseman Andrej Meszaros and redirected Tommy Wingels pass from the right circle past Mason.

Nieto gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead at 12:32 of the first with his sixth goal of the season. Brent Burns controlled the puck along the right boards, keeping it away Giroux, then threaded a pass through traffic to a wide-open Nieto in the slot. Nieto faked right, went left and beat Mason with a shot inside the left post.

"I was able to find some room and [Burns] made a great pass to me, and I had a little bit of time with it so I made a move," Nieto said. "It's good to get two goals, but it would have been better if we won. We couldn't establish the forecheck, and we didn't stay in their zone very long."

Burns and Joe Thornton earned the assists. Burns snapped his six-game pointless streak, while Thornton ended his four-game point drought with his 550th assist as a Shark.

During a scoreless second period, each team had great scoring chances but failed to capitalize.

Midway through the period, Flyers forward Scott Hartnell had an open net on a rebound, but fired the puck high. Then with under five minutes left in the period, Gustafsson took a cross-ice pass just left of the crease with Niemi out of position but sent the puck wide left.

Burns nearly scored on the power play late in the period, but his laser from the left circle hit the left post and bounced away.

"I believe that just got all post, but that's part of the equipment, too," Mason joked.

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