Flyers put together 5-4 comeback win as Ville Leino’s OT goal forces Game 7

If you want an interesting microcosm of everything that’s right and wrong about the Philadelphia Flyers, today’s resourceful 5-4 overtime Game 6 win over the Buffalo Sabres might be ideal.

On the bad side, you have Michael Leighton’s laughably bad first period. Even people who expected the goalie to look rusty were probably surprised to see him allow three awful goals on only eight shots in one period of duty. Another ugly element of the game was Mike Richards’ hit on Tim Connolly. Richards sent Connolly head-first into the boards with a check from behind but only received a two-minute minor penalty.

Before you roll your eyes at the complaint that Richards didn’t get booted out of the game, chew on this: he was on the ice for Philadelphia’s game-tying and game-winning goals. Then again, that love-it-or-hate-it style suits the Flyers really well, as they found to way a win thanks to their deep reservoir of quality forwards.

Philadelphia 5, Buffalo 4 (OT); Series tied at 3-3.

Ville Leino scored a goal that felt a little like a grittier version of Nathan Horton’s OT winner against the Montreal Canadiens last night. Leino found himself on the doorstep when a rebound bounced his way and the Sabres’ defense couldn’t react quickly enough to keep him from scoring that sudden death tally.

The Flyers fell behind 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 in this game but came back every time. This marks the second straight game in which this series went to overtime, but this time Philly came through with their season on the line.

There will be some controversy over the Richards hit for sure; in fact, there might even be a suspension if the league’s feeling courageous (though we wouldn’t bet on it). You can decide for yourself if the Richards hit is suspension-worthy by watching this video of two big hits: Richards on Connolly and Tyler Myers on Kris Versteeg.

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Ultimately, it almost seems proper that this series will go to the limit. After all, every game in this series was decided by one goal (discounting one Philly empty-netter). Each team now has two regulation wins and one overtime victory each. It’s been an even-matched and increasingly contentious series, so Game 7 should be an absolute blast to watch.

Here’s Ville Leino’s game-winning goal in overtime.

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Game 7 outlook

On one hand, the Flyers realize that they can come back from some formidable odds. They managed to tie Game 5 up after falling behind 3-0 but lost in overtime, yet this time around, they were able to dig themselves out of a 3-1 first period hole.

Even if they’ve shown the resiliency to fight back after falling behind, it’s obvious that the Flyers would like to avoid this situation in Game 7. Some might expect a goalie controversy after Leighton’s flop, but with two relief wins, it would be very surprising to see anyone but Boucher in net.

(You really never know when it comes to the Flyers and their goalies, though.)

One thing seems clear, at least if Game 6 is any indication: Chris Pronger simply isn’t healthy enough to be a significant contributor for the Flyers right now. His time on ice was just 4:33 in Game 6.

The funny thing about this series is that Philadelphia receives all this criticism, yet Buffalo has problems of their own. It’s probably unfair to throw Ryan Miller under the bus (he stopped 44 out of 49 shots), but their defense deserves some serious scrutiny.

Buffalo blew a three-goal lead in Game 5 before winning in OT and three different leads in this loss. As dangerous as the Flyers might be, that remains unacceptable for a team hoping to make a dark horse run in the 2011 playoffs.

There are plenty of questions on both sides, but all that does is set up what should be a thrilling Game 7 confrontation. Will the Flyers force their way to the second round or will the Sabres mildly upset the second seed? Either way, the biggest winners are hockey fans.

Under Pressure: Jaroslav Halak

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This post is a part of Islanders day at PHT…

No goaltender went through a season that could be more accurately called a roller coaster than Jaroslav Halak.

The veteran netminder entered the campaign immediately following a superb showing in the World Cup, but he struggled in the first half of the season to the point where he cleared waivers and was then sent to the minors on Dec. 31. Rather than fade away though, he got a second wind in the AHL. That led to him being called up on March 23 and shining in the finals weeks of the campaign.

So after all that, what’s next for Halak? Will he excel like he did towards the end of the season, struggle like he did at the beginning, or end up being wildly inconsistent yet again?

He’s down to the final season of his four-year, $18 million deal and Thomas Greiss has emerged as a strong alternative for the starting gig with the Islanders. Greiss is entering the first season of a three-year, $10 million deal, so he is more firmly established as part of the Islanders’ plan than Halak, but Greiss’ contract isn’t so expensive or long-term that the Islanders can’t re-sign Halak too if the situation calls for it. Especially if Halak were to step up and become a major part of guiding the Islanders back into the postseason after their disappointing 2016-17 showing.

What the presence of Greiss does though is give Halak little leeway in order to reestablish himself as that type of goaltender. If Halak even has a bad October, he might find himself set more clearly in the backup role beyond that.

Perhaps the Islanders are looking to Greiss as their future though and have little interest in Halak beyond this season. Maybe they would prefer a younger and/or cheaper pairing with Greiss once given the flexibility that Halak’s contract expiring affords them. Even in that scenario, this would still be a critical season for Halak as he’ll need a strong showing in order for him to find a gig elsewhere. After all, it wasn’t long ago that the entire league said they didn’t want his contract and while he’s bounced back since then, he still needs to prove this season that he’s worth a new deal.

The goaltender market is always a tough one, especially for those seeking a starting job, but for a great netminder that’s a nonissue. Halak has played at that level at various points of his career. He needs more than ever to be that goaltender again.

Gallant thinks Golden Knights can ‘win and compete consistently’ during inaugural season

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What can we expect from the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18? No one really knows what they’ll look like once they hit the ice because they’ve never played together before.

Of course, the expectation is that they’ll be bad, which is fair considering the track record expansion teams have in pro sports. But are they gonna be “Colorado bad” or will they be able to hold their own more often than not?

“I knew we were going to have a pretty decent team, but the team was better than I thought,” head coach Gerard Gallant said, per NHL.com. “I thought we got better top-end players than I thought we’d get.

“So I think we did a real good job building our team. Is it good enough to win and compete consistently? I think it is.”

Through the expansion draft, Gallant’s team was able to find themselves a quality number one goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and a relatively young backup in Calvin Pickard.

After parting ways with defensemen like Alexei Emelin and Marc Methot, the Golden Knights are left with solid options like Nate Schmidt, Shea Theodore, Colin Miller, and veterans like Jason Garrison, Luca Sbisa and Brayden McNabb. That’s a decent group for an expansion side.

Up front is where things get a little more complicated. They signed Russian free agent Vadim Shipachyov and picked James Neal, David Perron and Reilly Smith during the expansion draft, but they’re also light on scoring depth.

“There’s going to be issues,” added the Golden Knights head coach. “Some nights we’re going to have trouble scoring goals. You look at our roster, there’s a lot of good players. Are there any superstars there?”

It’ll be interesting to see how Vegas’ first year in the NHL will unfold under Gallant and general manager George McPhee’s watch.

Poll: Will John Tavares re-sign with the Islanders?

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This post is part of Islanders Day on PHT…

Is this going to be the last year we see John Tavares in a New York Islanders uniform?

That will likely be the question that surrounds the Islanders as long as Tavares is around and he hasn’t signed a long-term extension with the only club he’s ever played for.

The Tampa Bay Lightning went through this a couple of years ago with Steven Stamkos. In the end, the sniper opted to remain with the club that drafted him. Will Tavares do the same thing? Only time will tell. But what happens if Tavares doesn’t sign before the trade deadline?

The Bolts had to chose between keeping Stamkos for a playoff push and risk losing him for nothing, or trading him for a few assets to make sure they got something to show for him. The situation worked out well for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman.

Players like Tavares rarely make it to free agency, which is why it could be tempting for him to wait until July 1st to see what he could fetch on the open market.

The 26-year-old holds all the cards. He’s already said that he’s in no hurry to sign a new contract extension.

“For me, there’s really no rush,” Tavares told Newsday last week. “I’m trying to determine things, let the process run its course, keep the lines of communication open, keep it all internal and it’s been good so far . . . In terms of signing a new contract, there’s a lot that goes into it. To really dive into all the details, get into all the conversations I’ve had with Garth [Snow], the team and Doug [Weight], I don’t think it’s productive to the situation and the negotiating. I prefer to keep it all internal, that’s the best way to keep it all open, honest and healthy.”

Since he joined the Islanders as an 18-year-old in 2009-10, he hasn’t exactly been surrounded by incredible talent. Sure, New York has had some quality players on their roster, but they’ve always leaned heavily on Tavares.

This summer, they traded away inconsistent forward Ryan Strome to the Oilers for proven scorer Jordan Eberle, who could see some time on Tavares’ wing. Will it be enough to convince him to stay?

The biggest difference between the Tavares/Stamkos situation, is that Stamkos expected to Lightning to be very competitive over the next few years (yes, they missed the playoffs this year, but the future still looks bright). Can the Islanders superstar expect the same from his organization?

Many have already speculated that he could decide to sign with his hometown team, the Toronto Maple Leafs. Even though the Leafs have plenty of talented forwards on their roster, they could still benefit from having a guy like no. 91 around.

Will he stay or will he go? Let us know what you think by voting in the poll below. Feel free to leave your opinion in the comments section.

It’s New York Islanders day at PHT

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Understatement 1: the 2016-17 season was rough for the New York Islanders.

Understatement 2: John Tavares‘ future is a pretty big deal, to Islanders and hockey fans alike.

Many of the worries surrounding the second understatement stem from the first one; last season was rough, to the point that people are worried that Tavares’ confidence might be shaking in the Isles.

Of course, it’s not just about the 2016-17 season.

After all, they’ve only won one playoff series (eliminating the Panthers in 2016) since 1992-93. If Tavares is growing impatient with the Islanders’ process, then 2017-18 stands as potentially integral in keeping him around. Islanders fans cringe at such talk, but there’s no sense pretending that isn’t an issue on Isles day.

Ouch. Sorry.

The Islanders are sticking with Doug Weight as head coach after a largely successful interim run.

As far as changes go, GM Garth Snow traded Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle, a player Tavares has some history and chemistry with. That was a good way to entice Tavares … but trading away Travis Hamonic might not have been the most endearing move. At least since the Islanders didn’t land, say, Matt Duchene for their troubles.

There’s always the chance that a Duchene deal – or some other upgrade – could still be in the works, but as is, this off-season feels more like a lateral move for the Islanders. The draft picks they got for Hamonic probably don’t mean much for Tavares, after all.

Islanders day will explore many facets of the team on Monday. Some might not even revolve around that Tavares fellow.