Magical comeback for Flyers far from surprising

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Flyers7.jpgAs soon as James van Riemsdyk’s partially-blocked wrist shot
inexplicably found it’s way past Tuukka Rask, you could just feel that
this was something the Flyers could pull off. That was the goal they
needed; something, anything positive in a first period that was
everything the Flyers didn’t want in a crucial Game 7.

Too many
penalties, poor goaltending and surprisingly uninspired play. After
three straight games of putting the Bruins on the ropes and keeping them
there with jab after jab, body shot after body shot, they back off now
right when they needed the knockout punch most of all?

After all,
this was a team had been through as much late-season and playoffs
adversity as you could imagine. The Flyers, unable to secure a veteran
goaltender at the trade deadline, make a commitment to Michael Leighton
only to see him go down for nearly two months with an ankle injury.
Brian Boucher inexplicably leads the team to a shootout victory in the
final game of the season, past the New Jersey Devils until going down
with a brutal knee injury in both legs. They lost their lead goal
scorer, Jeff Carter, and Dan Carcillo wasn’t the hero from round one
after fighting through an injury of his own.

 So seeing this team
seemingly fall flat on its face in yet another “biggest game of the
year” was surprising. If nothing else, this Philadelphia Flyers team is
resilient in the face of overwhelming odds. They had come so far in this
series, scratching and clawing their way back from down 0-3 in the
series to force a Game 7; that in and of itself is historic.

Yet
there’s a reason that only two other teams in the history of the NHL
have completely pulled off the comeback. It’s nearly impossible to carry
the much momentum in a playoffs series, to get all the bounces you
would need, to have the goaltending, to be able to sustain that
emotional edge. In the first 14 minutes in Boston tonight, the Flyers
showed as much; keeping those emotions high and keeping the Bruins’
backs against the wall is tough when suddenly the pressure is completely
on you.

That’s why a break is all they needed.

Jame van
Riemsdyk didn’t score an extremely impressive goal. This wasn’t the
result of hard work on the forecheck or a dominant cycling of the puck
down low that tired the defense. Instead this was goal that was actually
blocked, a toe drag wrist shot that spun towards Rask and then bounced
off his pad and in. There’s a possibility that puck would have gone wide
had Rask not try and made the save.

This was blind luck and it gave the
Flyers the spark and the edge they needed. If the three straight goals
by the Bruins weren’t enough, this goal was the slap in the face that put
the Flyers in motion.

After that first goal, you just knew the
Flyers had a shot. After a timeout in the first period, the Flyers
outshot the Bruins 22-11 and while there were certainly some tense
moments (and a number of pipes getting hit) they never again allowed
Boston to have the great chances they enjoyed to start the game.

The
Flyers won this game as a team, blocking 18 shots and doing whatever it
took to keep the Bruins from retaking the lead once the Flyers tied it.
The Flyers fought hard to kill off a Dan Carcillo penalty that came
mere seconds after they tied the game, never taking another penalty in
the game. They were disciplined and hard working, riding the wave of
momentum they had built in three straight wins to get to this point.

Down
0-3 after 14 minutes in Game 7? Not a problem for a Philadelphia Flyers
team that had come so far already this season, a comeback victory that
should not have shocked a soul.

Eddie Lack expects to be released from hospital on Monday night

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As scary as the situation was for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Eddie Lack, the good news continues to pour in.

First, the Hurricanes provided an update that he had “full feeling in his extremities” while under observation at a hospital. This followed the promising sign that he was able to give a “thumbs up” gesture while being taken off the ice on a stretcher after the Hurricanes’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The best news came late on Monday night, however, as Lack himself tweeted that he expects to head back home as early as this late evening/early morning:

That’s fantastic news. Video of that scary collision with Andreas Athanasiou can be seen in the video above this post’s headline.

Blues, Flames take care of business (Islanders … do not)

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For a while there, it seemed like the idle Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs would be Monday’s “winners.” That changed when the Carolina Hurricanes salvaged a standings point and the Tampa Bay Lightning stormed back to beat the Blackhawks.

Still, there were some teams who came through (beyond the Lightning) and those who fell flat, so let’s cover some of the results in short.

West teams get it done

Unlike their counterparts out East, West teams jockeying for position avoided “unforced errors” in losing to non-playoff teams.

The St. Louis Blues beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 while the Calgary Flames topped the Colorado Avalanche 4-2. Johnny Gaudreau generated his 200th point (and 201st) in Calgary’s win, while Alex Steen generated four assists. (Vladimir Tarasenko also enjoyed a three-point night.)

This keeps the Blues and Flames in position to advance. St. Louis is one point behind the Nashville Predators for third in the Central while the Flames are a point behind both the Sharks and Oilers for second and third in the Pacific (while remaining in shouting distance of the division title).

East teams stumble, some get over it

Again, the Lightning fought through hurdles to win and the Hurricanes managed that “charity point.”

Overall, East teams struggled. The New York Islanders fell to the Predators by a score of 3-1. Your mileage may vary on the Florida Panthers’ chances, especially after they fell 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

Brian Gionta scored in his 1,000th game as Buffalo won, by the way.

Here’s what the race for the final spot in the East looks like after tonight:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Victor Hedman might just force his way into the Norris argument

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For quite some time this season, the Norris Trophy race felt a bit like “Brent Burns, Erik Karlsson and [insert token finalist].” As it turns out, Victor Hedman is making it a pretty interesting three-horse race.

With Burns and Karlsson idle on Monday, Hedman continued to go on the best offensive tear of his already-impressive career, contributing three assists to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 5-4 overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks.

As much credit as forwards Nikita Kucherov and Jonathan Drouin deserve in pushing Tampa Bay in Steven Stamkos‘ absence, Hedman has been an all-world blueliner for a Lightning team with a defense that isn’t really surrounding him with great talent.

He’s serving as a workhorse when his team needs him the most:

Now, when you look at the numbers, it’s probably fair to say that Hedman comes in third among the likely finalists in simple categories:

Brent Burns: 27 goals (!), 72 points in 75 games, +16 rating, 24:52 time-on-ice average

Erik Karlsson: 14 goals, 67 points in 74 games, +7, 26:53 minutes per game (fourth highest average in the NHL)

Victor Hedman: 15 goals, 65 points in 72 games, +2 rating, came into Monday with average of 24:15 minutes per game.

Looking at those breakdowns, you might wonder why someone wouldn’t just flippantly hand Hedman the “bronze medal” and a pat on the back … but things get more interesting if you ponder the all-around impact of those three.

Now, traditional-thinkers who slam risky defensemen for their mistakes often overstate such arguments. Both Burns and Karlsson tilt the ice in their teams’ favors, usually to profound degrees.

Still … Hedman locks opponents down to a truly elite degree and scores at a similar rate. Hedman could very well own the “two-way” argument; you could perhaps see his case most clearly when you compare his “HERO” chart to those of Burns and Karlsson, especially from the perspective of conceding shots.

Again, Burns remains the likely winner, and he would be a deserving one. You could make a solid Hart Trophy argument for Burns, in addition to tabbing him as the Norris frontrunner.

Even so, voters would be wise to take Hedman’s case seriously, especially as the Lightning continue their improbable playoff push.

Lightning storm back against Blackhawks, finish one point out of playoffs

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Who would have thought that the Tampa Bay Lightning would rally back from a 4-1 deficit tonight? Then again, who expected them to be so close to a playoff spot mere weeks ago, when they were sellers at the trade deadline?

The Lightning continue to show that they won’t just roll over and die, scoring four unanswered goals to beat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-4 in overtime on Monday.

While Jonathan Drouin was a catalyst for the second-period rally, it was an unlikely scorer who clinched the victory, as Yanni Gourde ended a thrilling run of 3-on-3 chances with the overtime-winner.

Really, it might have been fitting. Things looked glum when Tomas Jurco scored his first goal of the season against the Lightning, then the mood was totally flipped when Gourde’s second tally of 2016-17 grabbed a huge win.

With the Islanders losing to the Predators, the Hurricanes only managing a “loser point” against the Red Wings and the Bruins idle, Tampa Bay is a breath away from a playoff berth:

Final wild card: Bruins – 84 points in 75 games played

Lightning – 83 points in 75 GP
Islanders – 82 points in 75 GP
Hurricanes – 80 points in 74 GP

Yes, all of a sudden, a long-shot postseason run seems quite attainable.

Maybe the Lightning would prefer it if we kept counting them out, though?