Sergei Bobrovsky is the odds-on Game 4 starter for Philly; Can the Flyers come back again?

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Despite my bigger picture positivity about the team’s philosophies toward goaltending, there’s little doubt that the Philadelphia Flyers have mishandled their situation in the 2011 playoffs.

If you ask me, the biggest mistake was that the team didn’t use the same wait-and-see approach with Sergei Bobrovsky as they did with Brian Boucher. I understand that Boucher is the more experienced goalie, but the man named “Bob” was a huge reason why this team won the Atlantic Division title in 2010-11.

Bobrovsky earned an nice 28-13-8 record with a slightly above average 91.5 save percentage and 2.59 GAA this season. He was clearly the No. 1 in Philly, earning 20 more appearances than Boucher.

Sure, Bobrovsky had an awful game-and-a-half to start the team’s first round series in the Buffalo Sabres, but Boucher was the goat in two out of three games against the Bruins in Round 2. Sarah Baicker of CSN Philly reports that Bobrovsky is likely to get the start in Game 4, but the obvious question is whether it will be too little, too late.

Let’s take a quick look at the similarities and differences between Philly’s situation in these consecutive 3-0 deficits.

What’s similar

  • Boucher has been weak-to-awful against Boston once again. Boucher lost all three games in this year’s series, didn’t make it through two of those contests and allowed 12 goals overall. He was a bit better last year, going 2-3, although one of his wins was in relief in that Game 7 comeback. He allowed 15 goals in those four full starts, so maybe the Bruins just have his number.
  • Bobrovsky = Michael Leighton? Last time around, Boucher was injured and gave way for Leighton, a relative unknown who helped spur a Flyers comeback. Could Bob have a little more luck against Boston? It’s possible, although he’s probably a more “known entity” than Leighton was in some ways.

How this year is different.

  • Chris Pronger isn’t healthy. If you ask me, a great case could be made for Pronger to be a three-time Conn Smythe winner, even in two losing efforts. He willed the Edmonton Oilers to a full seven-game series against the Carolina Hurricanes with Jussi Markkanen behind him. He was a big reason the Anaheim Ducks won a Cup and was a huge difference maker last year, too. Simply put, a near-100 percent Pronger can make a weak goalie look good. That happened last year, but injuries are keeping him from being a security blanket for Philly this time.
  • The Flyers are a mess. The Pronger point probably bleeds into this one, but the Flyers don’t have the same mojo. Last year, they went into the playoffs on a hot streak. This year, they backed in. That indicates that, despite their deep reserve of talent, Philly just isn’t playing their best hockey right now.
  • Two blowouts already. The Bruins did built a 3-0 lead in ’10, but much like Vancouver’s 3-0 lead against Chicago this year, it was a bit misleading. Those games were mostly close, a point best exemplified by Marc Savard’s emotional Game 1 overtime winner.

Conversely, this year’s series includes two blowouts (7-3 in Game 1; 5-1 in Game 3) and one overtime thriller. That’s not a great sign for a comeback, although the diversity-proven Flyers probably won’t care.

  • This is probably a better Bruins team. Tuukka Rask did a great job last season, but Tim Thomas simply instills more confidence. This year’s roster seems a little bigger, tougher and deeper than the 2010 edition. The fact that they won the Northeast Division this time around strengthens that suspicion.

***

The Flyers are a talented and tough team, so you can’t count them out of this altogether. There are a few reasons for hope, but the cons outweigh the pros this year. Some think that Bobrovsky has a lot of weight on his shoulders, yet in a way, he has nothing to lose.

He didn’t dig this hole, but could he help them out if it? Tell us what you think in the comments.

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.

NHL to make ‘special announcement’ in China next week

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The National Hockey League has announced it will make a “special announcement” at the LeSports Center in Beijing, China next Thursday.

In January, the league’s deputy commissioner Bill Daly made it clear the NHL has interest in playing games in China — likely starting out with pre-season games before potentially adding in some regular season contests in the future, as well.

Just after the league made its announcement on Thursday, the L.A. Kings tweeted out that they will participate in next week’s event, along with the Vancouver Canucks.

In January, hockey insider Darren Dreger reported that the Canucks and Kings were likely to play NHL pre-season games in China this upcoming September.

Last July, members of the Boston Bruins visited China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, to host hockey clinics in those cities.

Beijing will also host the 2022 Winter Olympics.