By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA—On a whirlwind day in sports where the commissioner of the NBA banned the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers for life for some ugly racist remarks, Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers excelled for his team in a sport in which few Black athletes play.
With his team facing elimination from the Stanley Cup playoffs, Simmonds helped the Flyers prolong their season for at least one more game by scoring three goals in a 5-2 beat down of the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night.
“(Simmonds) was all over the puck,” said Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who scored on an empty-net goal in the third period. “I think when Wayne wants to win the battle, he wins it and kind of gives everybody in the room the motivation to do the same.”
Simmonds became the second Black player in the history of the NHL to score a hat trick in a playoff game. Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien accomplished the feat back in a playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.
More important than the social or societal significance of his accomplishment, Simmonds’ performance propelled the Flyers to a victory in an elimination game and pushed the opening round series to a seventh and deciding Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“We’re all the same color on the inside and we all have a common goal and that’s to go out there and get wins and that’s what we’re going to do,” Simmonds said. “That’s what we do every day.”
Equally as good as Simmonds’ performance was that of goalie Steve Mason, who kept New York from scoring until the game was way out of reach. He had 34 saves against 36 shots. His tenacity along with his teammates scoring has the Flyers one win away from advancing to the next round of the playoffs.
“Obviously, he played real well. He had a real good period in the first,” said Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault. “He gave his team a chance to come out of there a goal ahead. He’s a good goal tender.”
Giroux said Mason’s good start in goal got the Flyers going and set the tone for the entire game.
“It was impressive to see Mason play the way he played tonight. He’s been doing it all year,” Giroux said. “For him to do it in Game 6, it’s great. He was our leader tonight with the way he played tonight and his attitude. It was great to watch him work hard.”
Mason, who stopped 13 shots on goal in the first period, said getting the feel for the puck coming at him early was important for his overall confidence throughout the game. He a had a couple of early glove saves.
“It’s always important to feel the puck early I find,” Mason said. “If you’re getting some big saves early in the game, it’s something to build off of for the rest of the game. I was able to make a couple of timely saves to start off the game. … It was nice to be busy early in the game.”
The Flyers got on the board first with a power-play goal by Simmonds who got a pass from Scott Hartnell. Simmonds rebounded his own shot and put it past Rangers goalie Henrik Lindqvist to give his team a 1-0 lead.
In the second period, the Flyers took command and punched their ticket to the Big Apple by scoring three goals in the period. Simmonds second goal of the game came off teammate Brayden Schenn’s stick. He then shot the puck past Lindqvist. That score put the Flyers up 2-0.
After the Flyers penalty kill squad and a g00d glove save by Mason stopped a Rangers power-play opportunity, Erik Gustaffsson, who committed a high-sticking penalty, jumped out of the penalty box, took a pass from Braydon Coburn and scored on wrist-shot beneath Lunqvist’s pads to give his team a 3-0 lead.
Simmonds’ third goal of the game came on a power-play when he followed in a shot by Jakub Voracek to give his team an insurmountable 4-0 stranglehold that basically punched their ticket to New York for Game 7. The game was delayed for a few minutes to clear the hats off the ice.
“Obviously, it’s do or die, we win or we go home,” Simmonds said. “I think everybody in the dressing room did a good job preparing for the game. We’re not ready to go home yet. We want to move onto the second round. I thought we played a game good, but we gotta carry it over to (Wednesday) night.”
Flyer’s head coach Craig Berube is hoping to bottle his team’s Game 6 performance for Game 7. He likes his team’s chances despite being on the Rangers home ice for Game 7.
“Going back two or three years ago, we hadn’t won there,” Berube said. “Winning that game up there (in Game 2), we know we can win up there. It’s confidence. Our guys realize we can do it.”