Sergei Bobrovsky is the odds-on Game 4 starter for Philly; Can the Flyers come back again?

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Despite my bigger picture positivity about the team’s philosophies toward goaltending, there’s little doubt that the Philadelphia Flyers have mishandled their situation in the 2011 playoffs.

If you ask me, the biggest mistake was that the team didn’t use the same wait-and-see approach with Sergei Bobrovsky as they did with Brian Boucher. I understand that Boucher is the more experienced goalie, but the man named “Bob” was a huge reason why this team won the Atlantic Division title in 2010-11.

Bobrovsky earned an nice 28-13-8 record with a slightly above average 91.5 save percentage and 2.59 GAA this season. He was clearly the No. 1 in Philly, earning 20 more appearances than Boucher.

Sure, Bobrovsky had an awful game-and-a-half to start the team’s first round series in the Buffalo Sabres, but Boucher was the goat in two out of three games against the Bruins in Round 2. Sarah Baicker of CSN Philly reports that Bobrovsky is likely to get the start in Game 4, but the obvious question is whether it will be too little, too late.

Let’s take a quick look at the similarities and differences between Philly’s situation in these consecutive 3-0 deficits.

What’s similar

  • Boucher has been weak-to-awful against Boston once again. Boucher lost all three games in this year’s series, didn’t make it through two of those contests and allowed 12 goals overall. He was a bit better last year, going 2-3, although one of his wins was in relief in that Game 7 comeback. He allowed 15 goals in those four full starts, so maybe the Bruins just have his number.
  • Bobrovsky = Michael Leighton? Last time around, Boucher was injured and gave way for Leighton, a relative unknown who helped spur a Flyers comeback. Could Bob have a little more luck against Boston? It’s possible, although he’s probably a more “known entity” than Leighton was in some ways.

How this year is different.

  • Chris Pronger isn’t healthy. If you ask me, a great case could be made for Pronger to be a three-time Conn Smythe winner, even in two losing efforts. He willed the Edmonton Oilers to a full seven-game series against the Carolina Hurricanes with Jussi Markkanen behind him. He was a big reason the Anaheim Ducks won a Cup and was a huge difference maker last year, too. Simply put, a near-100 percent Pronger can make a weak goalie look good. That happened last year, but injuries are keeping him from being a security blanket for Philly this time.
  • The Flyers are a mess. The Pronger point probably bleeds into this one, but the Flyers don’t have the same mojo. Last year, they went into the playoffs on a hot streak. This year, they backed in. That indicates that, despite their deep reserve of talent, Philly just isn’t playing their best hockey right now.
  • Two blowouts already. The Bruins did built a 3-0 lead in ’10, but much like Vancouver’s 3-0 lead against Chicago this year, it was a bit misleading. Those games were mostly close, a point best exemplified by Marc Savard’s emotional Game 1 overtime winner.

Conversely, this year’s series includes two blowouts (7-3 in Game 1; 5-1 in Game 3) and one overtime thriller. That’s not a great sign for a comeback, although the diversity-proven Flyers probably won’t care.

  • This is probably a better Bruins team. Tuukka Rask did a great job last season, but Tim Thomas simply instills more confidence. This year’s roster seems a little bigger, tougher and deeper than the 2010 edition. The fact that they won the Northeast Division this time around strengthens that suspicion.

***

The Flyers are a talented and tough team, so you can’t count them out of this altogether. There are a few reasons for hope, but the cons outweigh the pros this year. Some think that Bobrovsky has a lot of weight on his shoulders, yet in a way, he has nothing to lose.

He didn’t dig this hole, but could he help them out if it? Tell us what you think in the comments.

NHL, NHLPA agree on protocols to resume season

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The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed Sunday on protocols to resume the season, a major step toward the return of hockey this summer.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games and the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the return-to-play protocols would only go into effect if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because CBA talks are still ongoing.

To complete a return, two-thirds of the league’s board of governors and majorities of the players’ executive committee and full membership must vote in favor.

If everything is ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that began in mid-March. Games would resume in late July or early August with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

The agreement was first reported by TSN.

The 47 pages of protocols outline the health and safety measures the league and players agreed to after several weeks of negotiations. Any player has until 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday to notify his team if he’s choosing to opt out of participating in training camp and games.

For those playing, each team is limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for camp and total roster of up to 31 players for games. Each team is limited to 52 personnel in its game city, a group that must include two trainers, a doctor and compliance officer in addition players, coaches and management.

They are expected to be quarantined from the general public during play at least for the qualifying and first two traditional playoff rounds. Family members will be permitted to join when play is moved to one city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

All team and league employees plus hotel, restaurant and arena staff coming in contact with players will be tested daily in the two ”hub” cities.

One player’s positive coronavirus test result is not expected to shut down play entirely. The league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive, acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the remainder of the season.

”The players will be pretty well-protected from being exposed,” Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June. ”It’s going to be a completely different way for you all and us watching hockey and being around a team because players will be really well protected throughout the process.”

The protocols include a provision for Commissioner Gary Bettman in consultation with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr to postpone, delay or cancel games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Assuming the protocols are approved, teams are expected to open training camps July 13 before traveling to the two hub cities for games. Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group workouts since June 8 – nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Returning for the playoffs is seen as a stirring victory for the NHL, which like other top leagues faced the prospect of losing millions more without the television revenue tied to the postseason. There were deep concerns about canceling the rest of the season and word of positive tests didn’t help: 26 players since June 8, in addition to almost a dozen before that.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk called the positive test results ”eye-opening” but expected. A few players expressed concerns in recent weeks about the uncertainty surrounding a return.

”We have obviously a unique situation right now,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. ”The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered.”

If the protocols and an CBA extension cover those scenarios for enough owners and players, there will be a path forward to hand out the Stanley Cup. Only twice since 1893 has the Cup not been awarded: in 1919, when the final couldn’t be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports