Cam Tucker

Struggling Flyers believe they control their playoff destiny

There are numerous clinching and elimination scenarios for Saturday. For the Philadelphia Flyers, their inclusion in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs as an Eastern Conference Wild Card team may come down to winning both games this weekend.

Win both of those and they would reach 96 points.

The highest point total both the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins — the only other teams that haven’t clinched a post-season berth — can achieve is 95. Both of those teams have one game remaining on their respective schedules, and they’ll close those out during a busy Saturday around the NHL.

The Bruins host the Ottawa Senators. The Red Wings are on the road versus Antti Raanta, instead of Henrik Lundqvist, and the New York Rangers.

The Flyers have lost three straight, with one of a possible six points in that time. Those losses have come against the rival Penguins, a Red Wings team still looking to lock up its 25th straight playoff appearance, and the Maple Leafs, who have been in the running for Auston Matthews for months now.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

If either Boston or Detroit loses in regulation, the Flyers just need one win in their final two games to secure a playoff spot.

“Two months ago, if you would have told us we’d be in this position, we would take it,” captain Claude Giroux said.

But their position would be less precarious if they didn’t lose in succession to Pittsburgh, Detroit and Toronto by a combined 13-5 margin. The Flyers have not led at any point in those three games, and their power play has been a combined 0 for 10.

On Saturday, the Flyers host the Penguins. In their last meeting, Pittsburgh crushed Philly by four goals, which started this inopportune downturn for the Flyers.

By the time the Flyers hit the ice tomorrow versus the Penguins, the results could start rolling in from Boston and New York. If the Bruins and Red Wings are victorious, Philly would need a win versus red-hot Pittsburgh plus another win Sunday against the New York Islanders in their finale.

But if either the Red Wings or Bruins lose in regulation, the Flyers can clinch with a win.

The Flyers would be eliminated from playoff contention if they lose in regulation, and the Bruins and Red Wings both earn at least a single point in their respective games, or if the Flyers lose in overtime or the shootout and the Red Wings and Bruins both win in any fashion.

Will the Flyers have a playoff spot locked up before Sunday? Will they be eliminated by then? Or will their post-season fate rest on Game 82?

Lake Erie Monsters forward Brett Gallant ‘alert, conscious’ after collapsing at bench

lake-erie-monsters

There was a frightening incident during Friday’s AHL game between the Lake Erie Monsters and Toronto Marlies, as Monsters forward Brett Gallant collapsed at the bench, according to multiple reports.

From the Columbus Dispatch:

The AHL game against the Toronto Marlies continued shortly after Gallant was taken from the bench via stretcher.

Gallant, 27, has played four NHL games, all with the New York Islanders during the 2013-14 season. He signed a two-year, two-contract with the Blue Jackets this summer as a free agent.

The Monsters later provided an update on Gallant’s condition.

“All indications are that he’s fine,” said Monsters coach Jared Bednar, as per The Hockey News.

“When he left here, he was up talking and walking around. They were going to take him to the hospital to run some tests and make sure nothing more serious was going on. We haven’t heard anything more than he’s doing fine.”

The Penguins have been on a roll — and that’s without Malkin

Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin. left, celebrates his goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the New York Rangers in Pittsburgh, Thursday, March 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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WASHINGTON (AP) Do the Pittsburgh Penguins need Evgeni Malkin if they have Matt Cullen?

Probably. But while the star Russian center has missed 14 consecutive games with an upper-body injury and is expected to miss the first round of the playoffs, the Penguins are 13-1-0 and rolling toward the end of the regular season with Cullen a surprising leader on offense.

Cullen embodies Pittsburgh’s success under coach Mike Sullivan, especially since Malkin went down. The journeyman forward has six goals and five assists since getting bumped up the lineup.

“Obviously you’re happy anytime the puck goes in the net,” Cullen said after his two-goal game Thursday against the Washington Capitals. “It’s been good. I’ve been fortunate I’ve gotten to play with a lot of good players this year, and I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of nice plays.”

At age 39, Cullen is on his eighth NHL team and making some of the best offensive contributions. His 16 goals are his most since 2009-10, four teams ago.

Cullen is also a top penalty-killer for the Penguins and has played the 13th-most shorthanded ice time among forwards league-wide. Sullivan appreciates Cullen’s contributions beyond the rink, too.

“The way I look at Cully, he’s almost an extension of our coaching staff,” Sullivan said. “He’s a great pro. I don’t know how else to say it. He’s a good person, he’s got a great influence on our group. And he’s still a terrific hockey player. … Regardless of what we ask him to do based on what our lineup looks like, he accepts that role and makes his adjustments.”

Cullen won the Stanley Cup in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes and has 74 games of playoff experience, something many of his younger teammates are lacking. He is an alternate captain despite this being his first year in Pittsburgh.

The offense from Cullen could fade, but his defensive talent and penalty-killing alongside Eric Fehr will remain useful.

“He sees the ice really well and we’ve worked off each other really well,” Fehr said, “so that’s been one of the more fun things this year.”

In Malkin’s absence, Cullen has been centering the third line between Tom Kuhnhackl and Fehr but has been a sparkplug for the offense. In 24 total games without Malkin this season, Cullen has nine goals and seven assists.

Of course, captain Sidney Crosby has driven the bus with a near MVP performance since Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as coach. But the Penguins wouldn’t have vaulted into second in the Eastern Conference without team-wide contributions from Cullen and Co.

“We’re playing hard and we’re playing for each other,” goaltender Matt Murray said. “We’re doing things the right way and we’re not cheating. We’re scoring but we’re not cheating to do it. I think we’re playing a really solid team game right now, and as a goalie watching from the back, it’s fun to watch.”

 

Devils sign Boston College product Santini, who will report to New Jersey for season finale

Steven Santini, a defenseman, talks to the media after the New Jersey Devils chose him 12th in the second round of the NHL hockey draft, Sunday, June 30, 2013, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
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From the Frozen Four to the NHL, Boston College product Steven Santini has signed with the New Jersey Devils, the team announced Friday.

For the 21-year-old Santini, it’s a three-year entry-level contract, which kicks in for this 2015-16 season. He’ll join the Devils for their final game of the regular season, which goes against the Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice Saturday.

Santini was selected in the second round of the 2013 NHL Draft by the Devils. He enjoyed his most productive college season this year — his junior year — with one goal and 19 points in 41 games with the Eagles, and was named the Hockey East top defensive defenseman.

With New Jersey having already been eliminated from playoff contention, the Devils brought up Pavel Zacha from Sarnia in the Ontario Hockey League earlier in the day.

Update: Busy day for the Devils continues. Since this post went live, New Jersey has since signed Boston College forward Miles Wood to a three-year entry-level contract, which kicks in for 2015-16. He’ll report to New Jersey for Saturday.

Update 2: The Devils have also signed OHL defenseman Josh Jacobs to a three-year entry-level deal, which kicks in for 2016-17. As per the Devils, Jacobs will report to the AHL’s Albany Devils on an amateur tryout agreement.

Related: 2016 NCAA Ice Hockey Championship match set: Quinnipiac vs. North Dakota

Harvard product Jimmy Vesey claims 2016 Hobey Baker Award

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 23:  Jimmy Vesey #19 of the Harvard Crimson skates against Steve Santini #6 of the Boston College Eagles during the second period of the 2015 Beanpot Tournament consolation game at TD Garden on February 23, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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And your 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner is … Jimmy Vesey.

The Harvard senior had another big season to cap off his collegiate career, scoring 24 goals in only 33 games played, with 46 points. He beats out Michigan’s star freshman Kyle Connor, a Winnipeg Jets 2015 first-round pick, and Boston College junior goalie and Vancouver Canucks prospect Thatcher Demko for the award.

Now, exactly what does the future hold for Vesey?

You’ll recall the controversy last month after it was reported that he spurned the Nashville Predators, choosing not to sign with that team and opting instead to go to free agency this summer.

That caused quite a stir within the Predators organization.

(Though, you’d hardly know that by looking at this tweet from the Predators during the evening…)

Their assistant GM Paul Fenton even went on radio and outlined how, in February, he says he spoke with Vesey and the Nashville prospect replied by saying he was going to sign with the Predators.

Of course, this claim was disputed.

Here’s part of the statement from his camp at the end of last month:

Nashville now claims and it has been widely reported that they were without knowledge of this possibility and that this lack of knowledge precluded the hockey club from acquiring a player at the Trade Deadline. This contention is not accurate. The Nashville Predators were informed prior to the Trade Deadline that they should conduct their business as they saw fit, and that the potential of signing or not signing Jimmy Vesey should not be a factor in their decision.

As for Demko, he had a huge season for Boston College, posting a 27-8-4 record with a .935 save percentage and 10 shutouts. Naturally, his future plans are of great interest — perhaps even some anxiety, too — to fans in Vancouver. The Canucks selected him in the second round of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Connor, taken 17th overall last year by the Jets, impressed with 35 goals and 71 points in 38 games in his first year with Michigan. Does he now decide to turn pro, or go back to Michigan for his sophomore season?

From the Detroit Free Press:

Connor is a quiet 19-year-old, more comfortable with a stick in his hand than a microphone in his face. Mulling whether to turn pro — he was selected in the first round of the 2015 draft by the Winnipeg Jets — he hasn’t done any media interviews this week.