Later Tuesday night, Simmonds let his play do the talking with a hat trick that led the Flyers to a series-tying 5-2 win against the New York Rangers in Game 6.
Simmonds recorded a hat trick as the Flyers surged back from a 3-2 series deficit to force a Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night. It was yet another one of the Flyers' remarkable displays of resilience this season.
The 25-year-old winger, arguably the team’s most threatening net-front player, made his presence known in front of Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. He vowed before the game to get in Lundqvist’s face, and he did just that, boosting the Flyers in the first period with his power-play goal.
After bungling a glorious chance at the left post on the Flyers’ first power play of the game, Simmonds atoned for the miss when he jammed home a rebound for a 1-0 lead at 7:08 in the first. He notched his second of the night less than two minutes into the middle frame, sparking a three-goal period for the Flyers that had the Wells Fargo Center crowd absolutely buzzing.
Consequently, the fans were more than happy to part with their hats when Simmonds extended the Flyers lead to 4-0 with another man-up marker at 4:41 remaining in the second period. It was the first postseason hat trick of Simmonds career.
"Just a matter of time, as well," Flyers right wing Jakub Voracek said of Simmonds. “He’s a good player, especially around the net. He finds that soft spot on the side of the posts. He buried the big goals tonight."
While Simmonds did a yeoman’s work for the Flyers, the true turning point of the game came on a goal from depth defenseman Erik Gustafsson, who made his series debut for the Flyers in place of an injured Nicklas Grossmann. Gustafsson went to the penalty box on a phantom high-sticking call only to emerge and score the biggest goal of the night. His momentum-wresting marker came after a triumphant Flyers penalty-killing performance, in which Philly killed off their 18th straight power-play against the Rangers. Highlighting that kill was a spectacular glove save from Steve Mason to stop Benoit Pouliot on a left wing rush.
The wheels really came off for the Rangers at that point and they never recovered. Game 7 already seemed to be an accepted inevitability when New York yanked Lundqvist and replaced him with backup Cam Talbot to start the third period. Lundqvist surrendered four goals on 23 shots in nearly 40 minutes of play.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux, criticized for his lack of production all series, finished with three points on the night. He scored his second goal of the series, an empty-netter, during the third period.
It was Simmonds’ night, however, as the rangy winger came up huge for a Flyers squad that was yearning for more from its top players.
"He was all over the puck, he was jumping everywhere, he was strong on the puck. And I think when Wayne wants to win the battle, he wins it and kind of gives everybody in the room a little bit of motivation to do the same,” Giroux said of Simmonds.
After the team’s morning skate, Simmonds was thrown a rare curveball in his pregame press briefing, asked to share his thoughts about Sterling, whose racist remarks about minorities became public this past week and created a media firestorm throughout the NBA and the rest of the sporting world.
Simmonds, who is one of the few black players in the NHL, was passionate in sharing his thoughts, condemning Sterling and saying he should be made to sell the team for his ugly actions.
That same sort of passion was evident on the ice Tuesday night, as he lifted his team for a vital win against their division rivals, setting up a do-or-die Game 7 and tilting momentum in his Flyers’ favor.
Simmonds entered Game 6 with just one goal and one assist, an underwhelming showing following a breakout year during which he set career highs with 29 goals and 60 points in 82 games for the Flyers this season.
But he stepped up when it mattered most on Tuesday, and the Flyers have a chance to advance to the second round as a result.
‘We have the momentum now,” Simmonds said. “We just have to keep our foot on the pedal and keep pushing for it.”