Tim Thomas, Mike Richards

Five Thoughts: Flyers and Bruins give us lots to chew on

We know that there were two potential elimination games yesterday but when one team fights off elimination while the other is bounced out, we’re a bunch of negative nellies here and want to focus on the team who got tossed out while lauding the winner. Hey, we’re good at that here aren’t we?

1. It’s quite remarkable to see two teams roaring into the Eastern Conference final the way we’re seeing both Tampa Bay and Boston doing that. Boston’s sweep of Philadelphia and Tampa sweeping out the top seeded Caps should translate into these two having an incredible series. The coaching matchup is also worthy of intrigue. Both Claude Julien and Guy Boucher are noted defensive tacticians but their teams are scoring tons of goals this postseason. Whenever there’s worries about the game slowing down and becoming dull again, these teams have been getting singled out. Their ability to put the puck in the net and push the pace of the game when needed, however, proves differently.

2. Obviously with the Flyers getting swept out, there are a lot of questions that need to be answered there. GM Paul Holmgren and coach Peter Laviolette will be dealing with queries into the team’s goaltending until they do something different. Whether you believe they need to go with an affirmed number one goalie or pick one guy out of the bunch they’ve got and ride him til he breaks, that’s up for debate. One thing that hurt the Flyers more than anything in this series was erratic defensive coverage. Too many times Bruins players were left alone for shots or to follow up rebounds because defenseman were busy chasing ghosts. That lack of dedication to manning up doesn’t cut it.

3. Of course, it does come back to goaltending for the Flyers ultimately and given how well Sergei Bobrovsky played in spite of losing in Game 4 makes you wonder why he lost his starting job after one bad game against Buffalo in the opening round. It can be tough to stomach a bad start in the playoffs, but pulling the plug on a rookie goalie that carried the team for most of the year after one bad game seems really dumb in retrospect. While the goalie shuffling worked out decently for Philly last year, this year every change carried that air of panic. Whether or not the Flyers choose to address this in the offseason will be fascinating. Bobrovsky is a talented young guy but there are free agent options to be had out there that better fit the bill if looking for a #1 guy.

4. If the Milan Lucic who showed up in Game 4 is the guy that’s going to show up against Tampa Bay, the Lightning have their hands full. Lucic was buzzing the net and asserting himself all game long, something he had yet to do at all in the playoffs. Getting the mix of physical play and goals from Lucic is key because if he’s got his game going the Bruins just seem to be more at home on the ice. With Patrice Bergeron potentially out for a while with a concussion, they’ll really need Lucic to be a force.

5. We’re not ignoring the Red Wings and Sharks too badly here but with how thin the margin of error has been for all four games of this series, it’s crazy to think how much closer this series could be. It’s crazy to see four one-goal games like this and think that either team has definitive control over the series.

That said, if Detroit pulls out a win tomorrow in Game 5 it’ll make for a good test of will for the Sharks. After all, they’re just one win from the Western Conference final and while Detroit isn’t about to roll over easily, they are the kind of team that if given the opportunity can rattle off four wins in a row. If the Sharks want to avoid making history, they’ll repeat what they did in Game 5 against Detroit last year and snuff out all Red Wings hope. Otherwise they’re inviting danger into a series that’s seen fortune smile upon them.

Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

“We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

“I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.