Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers

TGIF: Five games to watch this weekend

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Saturday: Philadelphia at Pittsburgh (3 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. Neither side yet knows its opponent in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers could finish third in the Metropolitan and take on the Rangers, or they could end up with a wild-card spot and meet Boston or — *rubs hands together* — Pittsburgh. For the Penguins, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets are the two other potential match-ups. While I don’t typically like to read too much into what happened during the regular season, if it’s Pittsburgh and Columbus, expect to hear that the Penguins beat the Jackets in regulation all five times they met, and by a combined score of 16-7.

Saturday: Chicago at Nashville (8 p.m. ET)

On NBCSN. Streaming live, too. Obviously, it hasn’t been a great season for the Predators, who will miss the playoffs for a second straight time. Will Barry Trotz be back as head coach? No shortage of speculation his long run is over. But consider what he said here: “I would say this is — and I’ve been here a long time — one of the best [coaching jobs we’ve done]. This staff did a really good job. I’m talking as a staff — we put a lot of work into stuff. We were on the ball. … This staff pulled together. I’m really proud of this staff, actually.” When you don’t have a goalie like Pekka Rinne for most of the season, it’s going to be tough sledding. Especially for a team that has trouble scoring. In fact, Trotz said the Preds had to completely “reinvent” themselves after Rinne went out of the lineup. “We changed everything from the forecheck to the neutral zone system … we had to change everything, almost … and [we were] doing it under fire.” It’s also worth noting that the Preds actually have 34 regulation/overtime victories, the 16th most in the NHL, and more than Detroit (33).

Sunday: Detroit at St. Louis (12:30 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. It was in this space, all the way back at the beginning of November, that I first started touting a Ryan Miller-to-St. Louis trade. Today, I still think the trade was a good idea, but I’ll admit I’m starting to feel some doubt creep in. I wonder if Doug Armstrong is, too. “I’ve got to find a way to make a save. It’s been two weeks of this,” Miller said yesterday after his third straight shaky performance. Moreover, in seven of his last nine outings, he’s finished with a save percentage below .900. All but one of those seven sub-.900 performances were Blues losses.

Sunday: Colorado at Anaheim (8 p.m. ET)

Yes, I’ve written a lot about the Avalanche’s reliance (over-reliance?) on goalie Semyon Varlamov. No, I don’t necessarily think (like some do) that Colorado is bound to flame out in the playoffs. And Varlamov is exactly the reason why. A goalie can absolutely steal a postseason series. Just ask the 2010 Washington Capitals. Or the 2010 Pittsburgh Penguins. Both those teams ran into a red-hot Jaroslav Halak, before he came back to earth against the Flyers. There’s no question, though, that the stats community is watching the Avs even closer now. At the same time, a lot of Colorado fans are getting pretty defensive about their team’s success, and how that success is being perceived. But hey, at the very least, people are talking about the Avs again.

Sunday: Dallas at Phoenix (9 p.m. ET)

On NBC. Streaming live, too. And possibly for the final wild-card spot in the West. Dallas could clinch beforehand with a win tonight versus St. Louis. And failing that, the Coyotes could be eliminated tomorrow if they don’t get the right result against San Jose. Safe to say missing the playoffs wouldn’t help the Coyotes’ attendance issues, not to mention the lost postseason revenue. Phoenix currently ranks last in the NHL in crowd size, averaging just 13,697 per game at Jobing.com Arena. We hesitate to bring up that “out clause,” but it’s hard to ignore when the best way to build positive buzz in any market is winning.

Report: Connor McDavid undergoing concussion protocol

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 23:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 23, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Connor McDavid is going through the league’s concussion protocol, according to multiple reports during Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

Per Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun, McDavid was ordered to undergo the protocol after falling to the ice when he got tangled up with Jared Spurgeon. As McDavid fell to the ice, his face hit hard and he appeared in immediate discomfort.

McDavid held the NHL lead with 34 points in 26 games coming into Sunday’s contest.

More to come.

The Flyers have won five straight and Steve Mason has been solid in goal

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason reaches up to make a glove save against the Colorado Avalanche during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Denver. Philadelphia won 4-2. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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The goaltending in Philadelphia has been talked about plenty this season, mainly because it had struggled.

That is only until recently, even with Michal Neuvirth still out with an injury.

The Flyers are on a five-game winning streak, reaching the mark with a 4-2 win over the Nashville Predators on Sunday. Wayne Simmonds had a pair of goals and he now has six points in his last six games.

Ivan Provorov had a productive, two-goal game on Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.

But goaltending has been much better for Philly as of late.

Steve Mason has been in net for four of the last five wins and he’s given his team the goaltending it needs to have a chance for those victories. Take his first win in this stretch: He faced 47 shots against the Bruins and stopped all but two of them.

He didn’t face the same workload Sunday against the Predators but he was still busy, particularly in the third period as Nashville pushed for the equalizer.

He stopped 30 of the 32 shots he faced. In his last four games, he’s allowed only seven goals and no more than two in a game. That save percentage — recently at an ugly .892 — has started to improve. It’s still at .904, which isn’t great. But better than a week ago.

That’s solid goaltending.

And right now, the Flyers are on a roll.

“For me, it’s really the last nine or 10 games. Some of those games, the results didn’t come… games 8, 9 10 ago,” said coach Dave Hakstol.

“But we were playing really complete games. There’s a time or two in a game where the momentum goes against you, but the bench stays strong and they just go out there and try to push the momentum back our way.”

Video: Gaudreau scores in return from injury — and this goal was a softie

Calgary Flames' Johnny Gaudreau celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Friday, March 13, 2015, in Calgary, Alberta. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Jeff McIntosh)
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Welcome back, Johnny Gaudreau.

The Flames forward returned to the lineup Sunday, after missing 10 games with a finger injury. He scored on his very first shift, on his very first shot of the game.

It’s a goal Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonathan Bernier would probably want back.

Gaudreau picked up the puck after briefly losing control and casually fired it toward the net from inside the faceoff circle. It made it’s way through Bernier, who wasn’t screened on the play, giving Calgary an early lead.

Nielsen admits there were ‘some butterflies’ in return to Brooklyn to face Islanders

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 04:  Nick Leddy #2 of the New York Islanders checks Frans Nielsen #51 of the Detroit Red Wings during the first period at the Barclays Center on December 4, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) Frans Nielsen admitted he’ll have “some butterflies” when he faces the New York Islanders for the first time since leaving for Detroit as a free agent last summer.

“For sure it’s not going to be just another game,” Nielsen said Sunday about three hours before the Red Wings faced the Islanders at Barclays Center. “There’s going to be some butterflies for me and some nerves. Hopefully it just gonna take a couple of shifts and I can relax and play my game.”

The 32-year-old Danish center was drafted by the Islanders in the third round of the 2002 draft, No. 87 overall, and had 119 goals and 230 assists over 10 seasons in New York before signing a six-year, $31.5-milion deal with Detroit.

Nielsen, one of three players to leave the Islanders in free agency along with Matt Martin (Toronto) and Kyle Okposo (Buffalo), says he wasn’t looking to go elsewhere, but began exploring other options when talks with the Islanders stalled.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” he said. “I don’t have anything bad to say about anything here. It dragged out for some reason and got to a point where I got a chance to talk to other teams and kind of realized it might be fun to get a new challenge and try something new.”

So what does he cherish most about his time in New York?

“A lot, from playing the first game to scoring the first goal,” Nielsen said. “The first playoff series I was in against Pittsburgh (in 2013). The (Nassau) Coliseum, just how loud it was. I don’t think I’m going to experience that again. To winning a round last year. All the friendships, all the people you met not only with hockey, but away from the rink. … One-third of my life I lived here, so lot of stuff you miss about (not) being here, too.”

Nielsen said it felt `weird’ flying into town Saturday night after Detroit’s loss at Pittsburgh, and then staying in a hotel nearby. When he arrived at the arena, he saw former teammate Johnny Boychuk by the player’s entrance and jumped in his car for the `two-minute ride’ down to the parking level.

The Red Wings were in the market for a new center after former star Pavel Datsyuk decided to end his NHL career and return to Russia. Nielsen has fit right in with his new team, totaling six goals and eight assists in 25 games.

“I love him,” Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. “He’s got inner drive to be great. He’s selfless, he does what it takes to win for the team. He’s an all-around player who plays in most situations for us, penalty kills, power plays, can go up against other teams’ best players. … He’s got lots of experience, he’s a leader-type person. There’s no question he brings a presence just by with the way he handles himself and the type of teammate he is.”

With the Red Wings remaining in town overnight before flying out to Winnipeg on Monday, Nielsen expected to spend time with some of his former teammates after the game.

“The friendship you build up with all these people over the years,” Nielsen said. “We had some really tough times and a lot of the guys went through the tough times here where we weren’t winning. Just going from that to building a competitive team, you just build a special bond when you go through that.”