Flyers turn to winner Vigneault to snap championship drought

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VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) — The Tampa Bay Lightning team that just flamed out in the first round of the playoffs is dotted with former New York Rangers who played in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final:

Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Anton Stralman, J.T. Miller all helped the Rangers to get within three wins of their first championship since 1994. Five years later, a new team and a stunning elimination. They were used to deeper runs in New York with Alain Vigneault running the show. He led the Rangers to the Cup Final in his first season and bumped the win total by eight in his second.

After a year out of coaching, Vigneault takes over a fallen Philadelphia Flyers franchise. He seems to expect a similar quick fix.

”I was looking for was an opportunity to win; an opportunity in the short term to win a Stanley Cup,” Vigneault said Thursday.

Vigneault also led the Vancouver Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final, is a former NHL coach of the year and will spend the summer as the head coach for Team Canada at the world championships.

”It’s unusual and difficult to find coaches like Alain,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.

Indeed, Vigneault has done it all on the bench except win the Stanley Cup and he joins a franchise mired in one of the longest championship droughts in the league. The Flyers haven’t won it all since 1975 or even played for the Stanley Cup since 2010. Even worse, they missed the playoffs this season and haven’t made it past the second round since 2012.

And he thinks the Flyers can win in the short term?

Maybe, because the talent is there: Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek, James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier all have some heavy miles on their skates but are still productive veterans. There’s still untapped potential in a group of promising 20-somethings that include Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom, Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick. All have shown flashes of stardom along with infuriating inconsistency.

”I can get them to be more consistent. The way that I prepare a team for games I believe permits a player to understand what he needs to do against that team to be successful,” Vigneault said.

Couturier will get an early peek at Vigneault’s system at next month’s world championships in Slovakia. So will Carter Hart, the 20-year-old rookie goalie who nearly carried the Flyers into the playoffs after his December call up. He won eight straight games and pushed the Flyers (37-37-8 for 82 points) to the verge of a wild card spot until they collapsed over the final two weeks.

The Flyers used a record eight goalies this season. Vigneault knows a true No. 1 should be enough to carry the load in a championship chase. Vigneault rode Henrik Lundqvist in New York to within three wins of a championship and Roberto Luongo had four playoff shutouts when the Canucks reached the Final in 2011.

”I was very fortunate to have maybe two Hall of Fame goaltenders,” Vigneault said. ”Maybe we have a young goaltender that’s got a tremendous amount of potential and might become one of the top goalies in the league.”

One thing Vigneault won’t do is ask former Flyers coach Dave Hakstol (fired in December) and former GM Ron Hextall (fired in November) for a scouting report on the team. Both men are part of his staff at worlds. Giroux, the Flyers captain, is the only player Vigneault has called.

Vigneault, who turns 58 in May, has coached 16 NHL seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers. His teams made the playoffs 11 times and he was named NHL coach of the year in 2006-2007 with Vancouver.

”Players look for direction. If you give a player and a team a path and you do this, you do it this way, you put in the time, you’re going to have success,” Vigneault said. ”You do the same thing with your team, they’re going to follow you.”

History suggests players will follow Vigneault. He took two teams in major hockey markets to the Final and did it in large part because of a hot goalie and an overachieving roster. The Rangers wore down because almost every series went the distance (four Game 7s) and Vigneault took them way behind their talent level.

Vigneault has an offensive superstar in Giroux (82 points) but Patrick (a former No. 2 pick) and van Riemsdyk have more name value than skill. No matter, the coach always pays the price in Philly: Vigneault is the fifth coach since the start of the 2013 season, and he’d like this commitment to last.

”You know what we have to do? We have to win,” he said.

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WATCH LIVE: Rangers visit Flyers on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday afternoon’s matchup between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Pride will be at stake between the Rangers and Flyers when they meet in the first game on Star Sunday on NBC.

The Flyers were officially eliminated from the playoffs after a tough 5-2 loss on Saturday against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Rangers, meanwhile, have been out of contention for a while, missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time in 15 years.

“I think the poor start is the reason that we’re in this position,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after Saturday’s game. “Every year it feels like it’s the same story. We need to figure it out…we know we can make the playoffs and be a dangerous team, but we can believe whatever we want. We just have to go out there and make it happen.”

For New York, stopping the Flyers’ six-game winning streak against them — including their three previous meetings this season — will be top of the order. The Flyers haven’t swept the season series since the 1984-85 season.

Philly put up a valiant effort this season after firing the general manager and head coach they began the season with. The Rangers began the season on a rebuilding foot, having brought in David Quinn while selling off several key pieces at the trade deadline.

Despite where both teams find themselves, there won’t be lacking for motivation.

“You want to win hockey games, especially when you’re playing a division rival,” Quinn said.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

WHAT: New York Rangers at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 31, 12 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Rangers-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

RANGERS

Chris KreiderMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Vladislav NamestnikovFilip ChytilVinni Lettieri
Jimmy VeseyLias AnderssonRyan Strome
Brendan LemieuxBrett HowdenBoo Nieves

Brady SkjeiKevin Shattenkirk
Marc StaalTony DeAngelo
Brendan SmithNeal Pionk

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

FLYERS

James van RiemsdykNolan Patrick — Claude Giroux
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Ryan HartmanScott LaughtonTravis Konecny
Michael RafflCorban KnightPhil Varone

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbeherePhilippe Myers
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Ed Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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

After tough start, JVR is showing why Flyers brought him back

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For a while there, JVR felt a little … well, JV for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Two main factors seemed to complicate things for James van Riemsdyk as he tried to justify that five-year, $35 million contract to return to Philly. The first was a freak injury, right in the beginning of the 2018-19 season.

The other was even more out of JVR’s hands than the bad luck of getting hurt: the Flyers were transitioning from Wayne Simmonds to JVR, particularly on the power play, and it wasn’t exactly a seamless passing of the torch.

[JVR came into this season under pressure.]

Bumpy start

Flyers coach Scott Gordon saw JVR’s season firsthand, as he went from hurt and a bit lost to his current red-hot streak, where van Riemsdyk now has 10 goals in his last 11 games.

“I think being out that time and not really …he almost didn’t have a role with the team for a while there,” Gordon said, via Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post. “He wasn’t playing as much power-play time, not playing as much top-six ice time and so now I find he’s skating more consistent, getting involved in the play up and down the ice and just has the puck more often. Getting to the front of the net more often obviously, whether it’s a tip or a rebound, that’s critical for anybody but to do that you’ve got to be around the net and he’s been around the net more.”

The turnaround truly has been remarkable, as JVR now has 25 goals and 42 points despite being limited to 56 games played.

2019 has been kind to JVR, so far

JVR is tied for the second-most goals since 2019 began with 20, and no player has more goals than his nine since the Feb. 26 trade deadline.

As with any sniper who’s scoring at an even higher level than usual, a hot streak will eventually be iced, and that’s true with JVR. His 18.8 shooting percentage overall this season is a little high – even for a player who has a knack for getting to the areas of the ice where you can get quality shots, and one who is among the best at finishing such chances – and his luck has been even better lately.

But, to me, it’s the renewed clarity of it all that bodes well for JVR’s short-term future, and the Flyers’ chances of getting the most out of him in 2019-20.

Yes, scoring nine times on 35 shots on goal (25.7 shooting percentage) is unsustainable, but it’s a great sign that van Riemsdyk is firing the puck that often.

It sure seems like JVR isn’t just getting the green light, but that he knows it. Not only does he have eight goals in as many March games, but after averaging 16:26 TOI or less in previous months this season, he’s averaged 18:18 per game during March. That’s an exciting development for a player who went from heavy usage during Toronto’s awkward years, to being shuttled into more of a specialist role during his final two seasons with the Maple Leafs. The thought was that JVR scored incredibly well considering a bit under 16 minutes of ice time in 2016-17 and a bit under 15 in 2017-18, so imagine what he could do with fuller minutes … but he was sort of relegated to that same, more supporting duty through most of this first season.

If the Flyers carry over this finish to giving JVR a heightened role in 2019-20, they might just enjoy the sort of rewards that would get people to look at his $7M as a bargain.

… At least for a while.

Will it all line up?

Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher faces an interesting question, with an invisible deadline from Father Time: can he put a few more pieces together to take advantage of what this team has, before a decline happens?

JVR is already 29, and will turn 30 in May. Jakub Voracek is 29 as well, while Claude Giroux is 31.

For every Sidney Crosby, Patrice Bergeron, and other player who continues to play at a high level past age 30, there are scary examples of other steep declines. The stories are especially frightening for power forward-types like JVR. Wayne Simmonds himself has already been showing signs of decay, while Milan Lucic and James Neal rank as some of the starkest examples of how steep the falls can be.

Will the Flyers be able to best take advantage of the remaining high-level years of productivity, however many there might be? As much as Philly can look at many positive developments heading into 2019-20 (and beyond), it remains to be seen if they can make all the pieces fall into place at the perfect time to contend – for real – for at least a few years.

If nothing else, JVR looks far more capable of being a big part of that solution as of today, compared to earlier this season.

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Flyers in desperation mode vs. Penguins

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Philadelphia’s odds of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs hang by the thinnest of threads. Back-to-back regulation losses will do that to a team.

After beating Ottawa 3-2 on Monday, the Flyers put up a dud in a 5-2 loss against the Washington Capitals on Thursday and then choked — hard — the following night in a 7-6 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, a game where they led 5-2 in the second period before five unanswered goals unraveled them and perhaps their season.

“We’re going to have to move on and be ready to go for Sunday,” Flyers forward James van Riemsdyk, who had a hat trick in the Toronto game, said. “It gets to the point where you only have so many bullets left in the chamber. We have to have a pretty good run the rest of the way to put ourselves in a position.”

The Flyers made things interesting when they scored with the net empty and just over a minute left.

“We weren’t mature enough to keep our game where it needed to be and play better with the puck to not give them opportunities to come back,” Gudas said following the game. “That’s what came back to bite us.”

Claude Giroux will be featured on Star Sunday for the Flyers.

The Flyers captain had a hat trick of assists in Friday’s loss and has 76 points in 71 games this season. Giroux is having another fine year, and has six multi-point games in his past 10. He’s doing his job for the Flyers

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Penguins had their three-game winning streak halted by the impressive St. Louis Blues on Saturday as Jordan Binnington made 40 saves in a 5-1 win for the latter.

These things happen when your top line puts up a goose egg. The trio of Jared McCann, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel combined for no points and a minus-nine rating in the game after having 14 points combined during their three-game heater. Their power-play was 0-for-4 after clipping along at 46 percent during the streak and Matt Murray was yanked after giving up four goals on 13 shots. The team allowed five goals total in their previous three games.

It wasn’t for lack of trying from the Pens. They put up 41 shots in an effort to solve ‘Winnington’. The Pens are 7-2-1 in their past 10 games and sit two points up on the Carolina Hurricanes for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Crosby will be the Pens’ featured player for Star Sunday.

Despite being held off the scoresheet on Saturday, he has 35 points in 24 games since the All-Star Break.

Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.


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

‘Wired: Penguins vs. Flyers’ highlights sounds of 2019 Stadium Series

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The ending of the 2019 Stadium Series game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Lincoln Financial Field was riveting television. The Flyers’ comeback, capped off by captain Claude Giroux’s overtime goal, sent the crowd of 69,620 into euphoria and disbelief at the same time.

The build up to that dramatic winning goal was captured by NBC cameras and microphones for “Wired: Stadium Series – Penguins vs. Flyers,” which will air Tuesday, March 5 at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN following coverage of the Minnesota Wild-Nashville Predators game.

“It was as much fun as I’ve had on a shoot that I can remember,” said NBC Coordinating Producer Jack Felling. “It was just awesome.”

Four players from each team, plus Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan and Flyers assistant coach Ian Laperriere, and both referees, Dan O’Halloran and Jean Hebert, were mic’d up. There were also robotic camera on the benches and ISO cameras up high that were used to capture sound for both the television broadcast on NBC and the “Wired” show. Six ENG cameras filmed the action in hopes of giving the hour-long program a more cinematic feel.

“I’ve never seen a project with more footage and more sound,” Felling said.

As the 12 channels of audio were fed back to NBC Sports headquarters in Stamford, Ct., six loggers were on duty to transcribe the sound. By the morning after the game, full transcripts were completed. After a full day of loading the footage and sound, the editing process began with five edit rooms cutting down everything that was captured.

“It’s like looking up at Mt. Everest and you really don’t know how to even start climbing,” Felling said. “You just have to start and chip away, chip away, and eventually you polish to a point where you’ve got a show.”

Mike Emrick’s play-by-play from the game will act as the show’s narrator and guide viewers through some tense moments between the two rivals, like Wayne Simmonds’ hit on Brian Dumoulin that gave the Penguins defenseman a concussion and the scrum that ensued. Simmonds is heard yelling, “Who wants some?” at Pittsburgh players on the ice as the officials attempted to calm things down.

“I’ve been around sports my whole career and been doing this for 20 years,” said Felling. “I thought I knew how intense a professional hockey game would be, and I did not know how intense a professional hockey game would be. That’s what I’m excited for this show to convey, is standing up to that level of intensity is not for mortals. These guys are just different and it was really arresting to watch, the level of intensity and the physicality of play these guys endure night in and night out.”

The access the NBC crew was given allowed them to also tell the story of Simmonds’ final days with the Flyers. The Stadium Series game took place two days before the 2019 NHL trade deadline, and the future of the 30-year-old forward was a big topic on the weekend. As you see in the clip above, following Giroux’s OT winner, the mics picked up the affectionate exchange between the Flyers captain and Simmonds.

NBC Sports will take fans inside the sounds and passion of hockey with a one-hour special – “Wired: Stadium Series – Penguins vs. Flyers” – that will utilize audio from players, coaches and referees from the 2019 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers on NBC. It airs March 5 at 11 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.