PHILADELPHIA -- In case you haven't noticed, the Philadelphia Flyers suddenly are becoming an equal-opportunity employer.
That's because instead of relying on the usual suspects for much of the heavy lifting, others now are playing their part in a series that has become, well, a series.
The Flyers will look to generate yet another balanced attack against the Boston Bruins Wednesday at Wachovia Center (8 p.m., VERSUS, TSN, NESN, CSN-PH) in Game 6 in their pursuit to become only the third team in NHL history to rally from a 0-3 series deficit. A victory will give them that chance, as it will force a Game 7 Friday at TD Garden in Boston.
There's no question the absence of a few top players, including top scorer Jeff Carter (fractured foot) and penalty-killing specialist Ian Laperriere (brain contusion), have forced others to pick up the slack behind Mike Richards, Danny Briere and Claude Giroux.
But is there any coincidence that the Flyers have taken the last two games of this best-of-seven series as a result of workman-like performances by Scott Hartnell, Ville Leino, James van Riemsdyk, Darroll Powe and Arron Asham? After combining for 1 goal and a minus-10 rating in the opening three games of this Eastern Conference Semifinal series, those five players have accounted for 3 goals, 2 assists and a plus-7 rating over the last two.
That's the kind of effort coach Peter Laviolette needs once again, especially since Giroux still is feeling the effects of being drilled into the boards by Steve Begin with three minutes left in the second period of Game 5. On Monday, Laviolette had Giroux centering van Riemsdyk and Asham, Leino and Hartnell flanking Briere, and Blair Betts the middle man for Powe and Daniel Carcillo.
The Leino-Briere-Hartnell line scored 2 goals, 4 points and a plus-6 rating while generating nine shots on goal in Game 5.
"Lines seem to be changing a little bit every day based on injuries and things that are going on with our team," Laviolette said. "They've been put together and they've done a good job in the offensive zone. Danny's back at the middle, maybe he's more natural at that. Ville brings an element that he's a pretty good passer, he creates ice and space. You've got some guys on his line that can score goals, so it has been a good combination for us.
"They got into the offensive zone and they were cycling the puck and they were moving for each other. There seems to be a little bit of chemistry there."
It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that the return of forward Simon Gagne (in Game 4) has enabled Laviolette to offer a better balance among his forward lines, which he seems to work consistently throughout the course of each game. Since missing four playoff games after having two screws surgically implanted in his right big toe April 23, Gagne has produced 3 goals in two games.
A surprise addition to the top line Monday was 23-year-old Andreas Nodl, with center Mike Richards and Gagne.
"Through the first few years you get called up to the NHL, you find yourself on a third or a fourth line," Laviolette said. "The one thing you have to do first and foremost is be a positive player -- not allow goals to be scored. You have to check well, you have to defend well and I think you get taught that (in college or juniors). Andreas is a guy who is a skilled player who can skate, he's big (6-foot-1, 196 pounds), strong and certainly a physical presence. He's made an impact being strong on the puck and being strong on the body."
In his debut on the top line in Game 5, Nodl didn't disappoint in his 9:51 of ice time. He dished out one hit, didn't turn the puck over and was energetic when battling at even strength.
On Wednesday, goalie Michael Leighton will earn his chance to step into the spotlight for an in injured Brian Boucher (Grade 2 MCL sprain in left knee). He'll be making his first start in 23 games -- he just returned to the lineup Monday following recovery from a high ankle sprain that sidelined him almost two months.
Leighton made 14 saves in relief of Boucher (nine saves) in Game 5 as the Flyers rolled to a 4-0 victory and notched their second shutout of these playoffs. He'll be asked to make those timely stops once again as the Flyers look to stave off elimination for a third straight time.
"When Leighton came into the game (in the second period of Game 5), he had already been practicing for three weeks to a month," Laviolette said. "He joined the team a couple of weeks ago and he was actually ready to go (in Game 4). We decided to hold off one game and just make sure he was good. We knew we had a full practice coming up as team. We shut it down to two goaltenders to give him lots of work and to treat it like a game; try to make (Sunday's) practice his masterpiece. He really tried and dialed in on every shot and every rebound to prepare like he was going to play."
He did, and certainly was up to the challenge. But stepping to the challenge has been a recurring theme in Philadelphia these days.
By the way, have you happened to check out defenseman Matt Carle's numbers recently -- 5 assists and a plus-7 rating over the last two games. Not too shabby, eh?
It's a big reason the Flyers suddenly have given themselves and their fans a ray of hope in a series that didn't look too promising after three games.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org