NHL playoffs – Habs v. Flyers Game 5: Destinies derailed and fulfilled, Flyers win 4-2

richards-flyerswin.jpgThe Flyers are headed for a date in the Stanley Cup finals after beating Montreal 4-2 and taking the Eastern Conference finals four games to one.

The Flyers were in full control of this game from the moment Mike Richards scored in the first period to tie it. Richards finished the game with three points and showing why he’s the captain of the Flyers by stepping up big in an elimination game.

While the Canadiens were able to make the game a bit more interesting after a Scott Gomez goal in the third period, the Flyers work on the penalty kill and their tenaciousness on the forecheck all game long are the reasons why they were able to dismantle Montreal efficiently. Montreal’s power play went just 1-21 in the series and they were 0-5 tonight, including not scoring on a four minute power play after a double-minor by Chris Pronger.

Montreal’s puck luck and defensive pressure waned throughout the series, Game 3 not withstanding, and while Jacques Martin was able to pull a rabbit from his hat with personnel decisions and game plans against both Washington and Pittsburgh, what they couldn’t do against Philadelphia was find a way to combat a team rolling four lines that brought the same kind of pressure all game long.  Shutting down Washington was made easier by shadowing Alex Ovechkin heavily and locking down the trap. The trap again helped beat the Penguins and frustrated Sidney Crosby to no end, but against the Flyers it did nothing.

The Flyers, after all, warmed up against teams playing similar styles in New Jersey and Boston. Philly’s style feeds off of teams playing them physically and not being afraid to get down and dirty and their own run of destiny continues on because of it. Good thing for them is that they’ll be facing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals. The Hawks are a team that likes to play things the same way, albeit with talent that is a bit scarier than anything the Flyers have seen in the postseason.

As for Montreal, in a battle of teams trying to claim “destiny” as their own and the way it turns out, the only “destiny” the Montreal Canadiens will be able to take home with them will have to be an exotic dancer on St. Catherine’s Street.

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals will be Saturday night at 8 pm Eastern at the United Center in Chicago.

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    Oilers ink Draisaitl to monster eight-year, $68 million deal

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    The Edmonton Oilers have locked up their cornerstone players for the foreseeable future.

    They didn’t come cheap.

    Just weeks after signing Connor McDavid to a eight-year, $100 million deal, the Oilers signed fellow forward Leon Draisaitl to an eight-year, $68 million deal. The contract carries a $8.5M average annual cap hit and, combined with McDavid’s $12.5M, will now cost the Oilers $21M annually through 2025.

    McDavid certainly warranted his payday. The same can be said of Draisaitl.

    The 21-year-old just wrapped his three-year, entry-level deal, and couldn’t have done so in finer fashion. Draisaitl enjoyed a terrific season, platooning between the second-line center position and the wing alongside McDavid, and finished with 29 goals and 77 points.

    Then, the playoffs happened.

    Draisaitl had a terrific postseason, racking up six goals and 16 points in 13 games. At the time of elimination he was sitting second among all scorers — trailing only Evgeni Malkin — and was downright brilliant in Edmonton’s seven-game loss to Anaheim, finishing with 13 points.

    More to follow…

     

    Report: Vegas among teams in on Pens draftee Byron

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    Will Butcher isn’t the only college free agent garnering interest in free agency.

    University of Maine senior Blaine Byron, Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick in ’13, has passed on signing with the club and can now ink with a team of his choosing. Per The Hockey News, the four “lead suitors” for Byron are Vegas, New Jersey, Ottawa and Buffalo.

    Byron, 22, is coming off a great year. He racked up 18 goals and 41 points in 36 games, finishing tied for 18th in the country in scoring. It’s unclear where he would’ve fit in the Pittsburgh organization, though, and one has to think the signing of Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese might’ve played a factor in his departure.

    In a recent Tribune-Review piece, Byron did make a list of the club’s top-20 prospects, coming in at No. 17.

    Yesterday, Butcher — the reigning Hobey Baker winner — announced that he wouldn’t sign with Colorado, the team that drafted him four years ago. Instead, Butcher will parlay a successful senior campaign at Denver University into interest on the open market.

    Under Pressure: Barry Trotz

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    This post is part of Capitals Day on PHT…

    When the Capitals hired Barry Trotz three years ago, they said he was “the only coach we coveted,” calling him “an ideal fit to help lead our club.”

    And in many ways, Trotz has been an ideal fit. He’s led to the club to consecutive Presidents’ Trophies, racking up 156 wins over the course of three seasons. He won the 2016 Jack Adams as coach of the year. Players have performed exceptionally well on his watch: Braden Holtby won his first-ever Vezina, Alex Ovechkin racked up a pair of Rocket Richard trophies and both Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov were named All-Stars.

    Despite all this, Trotz is now coaching for his job. Essentially.

    A string of disheartening playoff failures — each more painful than the last — have put him in an uncomfortable and pressure-packed situation. He’s heading into the the last of his four-year deal with no contract certainty beyond.

    Yes, it’s true Caps GM Brian MacLellan didn’t make any changes with Trotz or to his coaching staff following the Game 7 loss to Pittsburgh.

    But MacLellan didn’t offer an extension, either.

    Brian Burke once likened this scenario to being a lame duck. Trotz refused to see it that way, insisting that he wasn’t worried about the spot he was in.

    “No,” he told CSN Mid Atlantic in June, when asked if not having a contract changes his approach at all. “It has 0.0 effect on me, actually. Not at all. I think it might have [had] an effect 10, 12 years ago for me. Not now. It has zero effect.

    “I’m not worrying about that at all.”

    This is pretty much on par with Trotz’s messaging from the moment Washington crashed out of the playoffs. While his players were visibly dejected and downright hurt during locker clean-out day, the 55-year-old was upbeat.

    Defiant, almost.

    Trotz talked about how the team’s window wasn’t closed, and how it would eventually “break through that barrier.” He suggested “laughing at the past” could “ease us into the future.”

    The assembled media took note of this, which contrasted the vibe of his visibly distraught players. So it was asked — why did he seem more upbeat than his players?

    From the Washington Post:

    “Put it this way — I haven’t slept in two friggin’ days. To say that I don’t feel very distraught, that really sort of angers me, because talk to my family to see if I’m distraught.

    “I have to be positive in terms of, ‘do I think we’re going in the right direction?’ Yes, and I’m positive of that. But we haven’t broken through. That’s why I’m probably the way I am. I also said we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to.

    “That angers me. When something doesn’t go your way, you can roll up in a ball and feel sorry for yourself. I don’t.”

    That Trotz took this approach isn’t surprising. Coaching is a leadership role, and there didn’t seem to be any point to piling onto what was already a fairly miserable day in D.C.

    So hey, why not keep that vibe going when it comes to contract uncertainty?

    Trotz will likely continue to do so, even in the face of growing pressure. And pressure will continue to grow. Remember, there’s one final and very important dynamic at play — right next to Trotz behind the Washington bench is assistant coach Todd Reirden. The same Todd Reirden who’s thought to be a head-coach-in-waiting, and has been tied to previous openings in Colorado and Florida.

    Fun times in Washington. As they always are.

    Looking to make the leap: Nathan Walker

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    This post is part of Capitals Day on PHT…

    Should Nathan Walker jump to the NHL this season, it’ll be a significant one.

    Washington’s third-round pick at the 2014 draft, Walker would be in line for his big league debut if he makes the team out of training camp — but that’s not the only milestone at hand.

    Should the speedy forward get the call, he’ll also become the first-ever Australian to play in the NHL. Heady stuff for a 23-year-old who, just six years ago, was playing for the Sydney Ice Dogs.

    Walker’s rise has been a grind. He logged time in the Czech League, the USHL and the ECHL before emerging as a valuable contributor for Washington’s AHL affiliate in Hershey. Last year, he racked up 11 goals and 23 points in 58 games for the Bears — and another six in 12 playoff games — while emerging as a high-energy guy that liked to finish his checks.

    More to the point, Walker’s a pest.

    Despite standing just 5-foot-8 and weight 186 pounds, the Aussie a real edge to his game. It was certainly on display last preseason when, in a game against Montreal, Walker fought Andrew Shaw after Shaw tattooed Connor Hobbs into the boards. Walker would go on to scrap three more times for Hershey last year, one of the club’s more active pugilists.

    That style of play will work to Walker’s advantage, as Washington’s thinned-out forward group has spots up for grabs — especially in the bottom six. Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson and Daniel Winnik are all gone, which means potential promotions for the likes of Tom Wilson, Brett Connolly and others. Wilson and Winnik were wingers on last year’s fourth line — centered by Jay Beagle — and Walker looks to have the inside track on a replacement spot.

    That said, there will be competition. Devante Smith-Pelly was signed in free agency. Riley Barber, who played alongside Walker in Hershey and made his NHL debut last year, is in the mix. Farmhands Chandler Stephenson and Liam O’Brien will battle as well.

    But the Caps like Walker, enough to have signed him to a two-year extension this summer. In announcing the deal, GM Brian MacLellan suggested Walker could very well make history this season.

    “Walker has a good chance of playing,” MacLellan said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “These guys can all come up, and there’s just going to be more opportunity for them to play this year.”