Why this year’s Philadelphia Flyers look an awful lot like last season’s Chicago Blackhawks

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It wasn’t always pretty – after all, they needed a shootout win over the New York Rangers on the last game of the regular season to clinch a playoff spot – but the 2009-10 Philadelphia Flyers found a way to mesh together, bought into new coach’s Peter Laviolette’s system and finished two wins away from a Stanley Cup.

While this might paint the picture in the broadest strokes, there were two ways the Flyers could have reacted this season: 1) by fading into oblivion, thus proving that they merely got hot at the right time or 2) prove that they are a genuine contender with a great season. It seems like they went with option two, considering the fact that Philadelphia is the top team in the Eastern Conference right now.

In fact, the 2010-11 Flyers might be in a remarkably similar situation as the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks team that thwarted them for the ’10 championship. Let’s take a look at the intriguing similarities between the two teams, starting with the most important shared characteristic. For the sake of honest discussion, I’ll also discuss a few key differences that keep the two teams’ similarities from being Sedin twins-level creepy.

Long term core, short term depth

Last season, it seemed like the Blackhawks’ salary cap situation would be even more crippling than it ended up being. Yet they still lost some crucial pieces, particularly Dustin Byfuglien and (admittedly struggling) goalie Antti Niemi.

The Flyers don’t face the same dire situation (CapGeek.com estimates their 2011-12 cap space to be more than $3.64 million with 17 roster spots covered), but Philly will likely lose some of their impressive depth players during the next summer or two.

Ville Leino (unrestricted) and Andreas Nodl (restricted) are free agents this summer along with steady, affordable goalie Brian Boucher. Valuable defensemen Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle will be unrestricted free agents while James van Riemsyk – the second overall pick of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft –  will be a restricted free agent in July 2012. Leino and JVR are particularly likely to see considerable raises, which might price them out of Philly.

In other words, the Flyers boast an outstanding group of top-end players such as Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – much like the Blackhawks still employ Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith – but they’ll only be able to boast almost unfair depth for another season or two.

Laviolette = Joel Quenneville

However you feel about the dismissal of John Stevens, the Flyers are clearly a better hockey team under Laviolette. Much like coach Q, the feisty former Carolina Hurricanes bench boss arrived with instant credibility (and a Cup from his time with the ‘Canes). It’s a telling pattern that talented teams flourish with some new blood, from Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh to Bruce Boudreau in Washington and Guy Boucher in Tampa Bay.

Sergei Bobrovsky = Antti Niemi?

Cristobal Huet was supposed to be the man in Chicago. Michael Leighton was supposed to make good on his surprise Cup run this season. Yet Niemi eventually usurped the pricey Huet and Bobrovsky took advantage of Leighton’s poorly timed injury issues to nab the No. 1 gig.

The best part for Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren is the big difference between the two: while Niemi’s contract expired last summer, Bobrovsky’s entry-level deal won’t run out until the 2012-13 season concludes. (Of course, there’s that other major difference: Niemi already won Chicago a Cup.)

Losing to a champion

I’m not sure if the cliche is as valid in the unpredictable days of the salary cap, but many people think that a team “needs to learn how to lose before they learn how to win.”

There’s some truth to that in the way the Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins fell to the Detroit Red Wings before winning Cups the last two seasons. Perhaps the Flyers will take that lessons learned from losing to Chicago and win a Cup this season?

***

So as the Flyers and Blackhawks play for the first time since the two teams grappled in the Cup finals, forgive some double-takes in Chicago. It’s just that they might feel like they’re looking back at their 09-10 selves (only in black, white and orange jerseys).

The Wraparound: Islanders, Hurricanes set to battle in the series of the unlikely

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Prior to the opening of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no teams had bigger odds of hoisting the trophy than a contingent of Metropolitan Division teams.

No one believed in the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Ditto for the Carolina Hurricanes at the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. And despite their second place finish in the division, not many were sold on the New York Islanders against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

All three of those teams were handed 30/1 tags. All three made it to Round 2. And at least one of those teams will progress to the Eastern Conference Final.

The Islanders (100/1 at the beginning of the season) will host the Hurricanes (who were 60/1 in October) in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series tonight (6:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), the first game in 10 days for the Isles, who move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the season after playing in Nassau Coliseum in Round 1.

“I don’t think anyone gave either of these teams a whole lot of credit, and they deserve a lot of credit,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said. “The way they battled the second half of the year to kind of get in [the playoffs], I think resiliency is a good word for them. I think it’s going to be a great series. They’ve got some speed, they’ve got some talent, they work really hard. We need to be ready and at our best.”

The Hurricanes enter the series with far less rest after a seven-game series with the Capitals wrapped up less than 48 hours ago. It had been 10 years since the Hurricanes even sniffed the playoffs and now have a chance to reach the conference final as they did back in 2009.

“I know they’re sitting there, probably licking their chops,” Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’amour said. “I think we all would be the way this series went, seven games, overtimes, the grind that this series was, injuries that were racked up, and they’re just sitting there for 10 days, or I don’t know how long. I know they’re a great team, and that’s why they had a pretty easy [first] round. They know how to win, and they do it right.”

No one fired more shots on goal per game during the regular season than the Hurricanes while no one allowed fewer goals per game than the Islanders. The Isles, particularly, kept true to their regular-season form, allowing just six goals in the series against the Pens, including just one goal in each of the final three games.

Friday’s game, and the series in general pits one team that’s looking to remain on the high they experienced a couple nights ago against another than handily dispatched a team that had won two of the previous three Stanley Cups.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 1: Colorado Avalanche at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET. Speaking of teams no one gave much of a chance… The Avs come into this one having knocked off the Western Conference’s best Calgary Flames in five games while the San Jose Sharks overcame a 3-1 series deficit to win in dramatic (and controversial) fashion in Game 7 to advance. San Jose owned the Avs in the regular season, winning all three games they played. Not that any of that seems to matter this year. The Sharks have to contend with Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, something the Flames couldn’t do as the top-line duo combined for eight goals and 17 points in the series. This means Martin Jones will need to be in Game 5 to 7 mode and not Game 2 to 4 mode where he was pulled twice and allowed six in the game he was allowed to remain in. (NBCSN; Live stream)

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

PHT Morning Skate: Meaning of NHL regular season; Kadri regrets cross-check

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Format not to blame for wild Round 1 upsets. (Sportsnet)

• The cascade of issues that not having a Canadian team in the playoffs creates. (Angus Reid Institute)

• Perhaps your favorite team is out and you’re looking to cheat on them with a new team. Here’s a bandwagon guide. (CBC)

• The regular season means nothing. (FiveThirtyEight)

• Torn ACL likely to mean Zach Hyman will miss the beginning of next season. (NHL.com)

• Mike Modano getting himself into eSports. (TSN)

• A timeline of the recently-ended Calgary Flames season. (Calgary Sun)

• The tragic consequences of the NHL’s science denial. (The Atlantic)

• The seve…. eight deadly sins of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Deadspin)

• The Washington Capitals’ Russian contingent heading to the World’s after their shocking playoff exit. (TSN)

Craig Smith is none too pleased with the Nashville Predators season ending in Round 1. (Tennessean)

• Game 7 controversy could have a ripple effect in the college game. (Jamestown Sun)

• Dubas not playing games after Maple Leafs tossed. (The Score)

Nazem Kadri regrets his silly cross-check. (TSN)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Sharks’ Pavelski unlikely for Game 1 after scary injury

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is unlikely to play Game 1 in the second round of the playoffs against Colorado after being knocked out and bloodied in the first-round clincher.

Coach Peter DeBoer said Thursday that Pavelski is officially day to day but is not expected to be cleared for Game 1 against the Avalanche on Friday night.

Pavelski got hurt Tuesday in a Game 7 victory over Vegas when he was cross-checked by Cody Eakin after a faceoff and fell awkwardly, with his helmet slamming on the ice. He was knocked out and bleeding on the ice before being helped to the locker room. The Sharks scored four goals on the ensuing power play and eventually won 5-4 in overtime.

Pavelski was at the practice facility Thursday but didn’t take part in practice. DeBoer says he is still feeling the effects of the injury.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

The Playoff Buzzer: Coyle plays OT hero; Tarasenko puts on show

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  • The Boston Bruins brushed off a 13-second disaster in the third period as Charlie Coyle scored the game-tying goal and then the game-winner in OT against the Blue Jackets
  • Blues picked up right where they left off in Round 1 thanks to Vladimir Tarasenko, Jordan Binnington and others. 

Boston 3, Blue Jackets 2 [OT] (BOS leads 1-0)

Everything looked breezy for Boston before Brandon Dubinsky and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored 13 seconds apart in the third period to turn the tide of the game. That was until the Charlie Coyle Show made its second-round debut. In the first episode, Coyle played hero, scoring the game-tying goal and then the winner in the ensuing overtime frame. The Bruins deserved it based on metrics and they ended up winning it on merit.

Blues 3, Stars 2 (STL leads 1-0)

The Blues needed Tarasenko to get going and they needed to rally around the same defensive structure that helped them see off the Winnipeg Jets. Job done in Game 1. Tarasenko had scored a brace. The Blues held the line and Binnington took care of the rest. The Blues were also able to penetrate a penalty kill that had gone 15-for-15 in Round 1, so there’s more joy to be had in Joyland for St. Louis.

Three stars

1. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins

Depth. It matters.

Coyle scored his fourth and fifth goals of the postseason, a game-tying goal late in the third period to force overtime and the game-winner off a slick feed from Marcus Johansson in the extra frame.

Boston was dangerous with their two top lines. If they’re getting continued scoring their bottom six, watch out everyone.

2. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues

The Blues needed more from Tarasenko if they were going to taste success in their Round 2 series against the Dallas Stars.

Tarasenko had two power-play goals in Round 1 but didn’t get much-done five-on-five. Tarasenko scored once again on the power play in Game 1 against the Stars and then extended a third-period lead to 3-1 with his first five-on-five goal of the playoffs.

This is a good start.

3. Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

This guy. On Jan. 6 he didn’t have a win in the NHL, now he has five playoff wins under his belt spread across two rounds.

Binnington couldn’t care less about his likely snub in the rookie of the year race. He’s got a much bigger trophy on his mind. Binnington made 27 saves in the game, including 16-of-17 in the third period as the Stars searched for a tying goal. Something about Binnington’s calmness…

Highlights of the night

OT winners are always better:

Don’t give this man this kind of space:

Factoids

Friday’s games

Game 1: Hurricanes at Islanders, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live stream)
Game 1: Avalanche at Sharks, 10 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live stream)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck