Mike Halford

Surging Flyers lose Neuvirth (illness), so Mason starts again

Not an ideal situation at play for the Flyers on Saturday.

Having jumped back into playoff contention with an 8-2-1 run over their last 11, the Flyers probably would’ve started Michal Neuvirth today after Steve Mason played well in last night’s 3-1 win over Tampa Bay.

Problem is, Neuvirth’s come down with a stomach virus.

As such, Philly’s all but forced to start Mason on Saturday in Florida. Anthony Stolarz has been recalled on an emergency basis from AHL Lehigh Valley, but there’s no chance head coach Dave Hakstol goes with Stolarz in such an important game.

Should the Flyers win tonight and the Red Wings lose in regulation to the Rangers, the two teams would be tied on 77 points for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Mason has been solid in his last three outings, going a perfect 3-0-0 with a .946 save percentage, 1.00 GAA and one shutout.

Jack be quick: Eichel scores with one second left in OT as Sabres beat ‘Canes

Jack Eichel, Marcus Foligno, Rasmus Ristolainen

They’re already calling it the signature moment of Jack Eichel‘s first NHL campaign.

And, to be honest, it’s a hard claim to argue against.

Eichel, the second overall pick at last year’s draft, continued his terrific rookie season on Saturday afternoon, scoring with one second left in overtime to give Buffalo a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

The goal was Eichel’s second of the game and 22nd of the season. That moved him into sole possession of second place among freshman goalscorers, trailing only Chicago’s Artemi Panarin (who has 25).

Some Eichel factoids to throw your way:

It’s also probably worth noting that Eichel is the only rookie forward in the NHL this season to average more than 19 minutes per game. Really speaks to the trust level head coach Dan Bylsma has in Eichel — in all situations.


After 40-game absence, Smith back for Coyotes tonight

Mike Smith
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Arizona will have a familiar face — or mask, as it was — in goal tonight as Mike Smith returns from a 40-game absence to take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

Smith has been out of the lineup since early December following core muscle surgery. That left starting duties to the club’s backup, Anders Lindback, and rookie AHL call-up Louis Domingue — but when Lindback tore his Achilles during pregame stretching in mid-February, the goalie duties were left to Domingue and another AHL recall, Niklas Treutle, who was tending net in the German League last season.

Needless to say, it’s been a tough campaign for Coyotes goalies.

“I just want to play and feel healthy and help the team try to succeed,” Smiths said, per the Coyotes’ Twitter. “It’s tough watching from the sidelines.”

Smith, who’s had his struggles in Arizona, was off to an erratic start before getting hurt. He sandwiched a very good November — going 6-2-0 with a .918 save percentage — between below-average efforts in October and December.

It’ll be interesting to see how he fares in his comeback attempt. Arizona’s lineup is thinned out at the moment, and one thing that won’t help Smith’s cause is the injury to star defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. He’s unlikely to play for the third straight game tonight.

‘No one has really done this in the NHL’: Ott back at Blues practice after major hamstrings injury


Given the severity of the above crash, it’s not surprising St. Louis forward Steve Ott suffered a pretty severe injury.

But now, we’re finding how just how truly severe it was.

“No one has really done this in the NHL,” Ott said following Blues practice on Friday, his first since rehabbing from a surgery in which his torn hamstrings were re-attached. “I guess we’re writing the paper for it all.

“I feel sorry for the poor bastard that does it again. Because you know what? Whoever does this, they’re going to be in one, for the amount of rehab and work we put in to get me ready, to be ready before playoff time.”

Ott tore both his hamstrings in that horrific crash, and the injury was so significant some wondered if it might effectively end his playing career.

“To have something repaired the way they pulled your hamstring back up, re-attached it and then sitting on your butt for the first six weeks, not be able to do anything to let it heal, then the amount of rehab to get it going… it’s an up early, leave late kind-of-thing,” he explained. “But all of us would do it. You want to play in the League, and for myself, I think I’ve got a lot left in me and I’m starting to feel good.”

The 33-year-old had appeared in 21 games for the Blues this season before getting hurt, registering two assists while playing just under 11 minutes per night. Those numbers don’t jump off the page, but Ott’s value comes with his distinctive style of play — gritty, agitating, physical — three traits that will come in handy during the playoffs.

Still, there’s no exact timetable for when he’ll be back. Ott was hesitant to put a specific date on a return, but there was some suggestion he could draw back in after St. Louis’ current five-game road swing, which begins tonight in Dallas.

Wideman text message saga takes another turn

Calgary Flames defenseman Dennis Wideman controls the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013, in Anaheim, Calif. Ducks won the game 3-2. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)

One of the most contentious issues in Dennis Wideman‘s appeal of a 20-game suspension for hitting linesman Don Henderson — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman obtaining Wideman’s cell phone and text records, and using them as evidence — has become a real can of worms.

The latest issue? Who exactly Wideman was in conversation with.

The key text message in question, where Wideman wrote “the only reason I’m here is the stupid refs and stupid media,” was sent to Flames captain Mark Giordano, the NHL told TSN.

But in Wideman’s appeal to third-party neutral arbitrator James Oldham, Oldham — who reduced the suspension to 10 games — suggested the text was sent to Columbus forward Gregory Campbell.

That’s Gregory Campbell, the son of NHL senior VP Colin Campbell, who handed down the 20-game suspension.

So yeah.


Appropriately, the parties involved have engaged in something resembling a game of telephone to explain their positions. In a fairly lengthy interview with the Dispatch, Gregory Campbell admitted he exchanged texts with his “good friend” Wideman following the incident.


“Obviously my dad made the ruling. Dennis leaned on me for support. As a friend and as a player, I support Dennis. I know what kind of person he is.

“They took his phone and they had exchanges between him and I on the phone.”

Campbell and Wideman have never played together, but they’re part of the same workout group and spend their off-seasons in the same Canadian city.

“He knew my dad was doing the hearing and wanted to lean on me for support,” Campbell said. “I fully supported Dennis. I know it’s a tough call, but I know the type of person he is. I didn’t think it was intentional.”

Campbell said he doesn’t recall the specifics of his conversations with Wideman, so there’s no way of knowing if he received a “stupid refs, stupid media” text.

Wideman, in a conversation with Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos, lent credence to notion Giordano was the one that received the text in question:

(It should be noted the possibility exists that Campbell and Giordano received the same type of “stupid refs, stupid media” text, and that both may have been accessed by Bettman and Oldham.)

Regardless of who received the text in question, or how it was analyzed and interpreted, this whole situation has cast further doubt on the appeal process.

There’s some serious undermining at hand, and one has to think everything — especially the “turn over your cell phone” part — will be scrutinized when (or, if) the NHL and NHLPA decide to review how the suspension appeal process works.

Related: NHL Officials’ Association ‘strongly disagrees’ with the decision to reduce Wideman’s suspension