Joel Farabee

Lightning-Flyers, Avalanche-Golden Knights play for top seeds

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Jon Cooper wants to stop the conversation now: Steven Stamkos isn’t fit to play until he says so.

The coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning ruled out Stamkos for his team’s final round-robin game Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers (8 p.m. EDT, NBC) that will determine the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia won’t have top-line right winger Jakub Voracek, so neither team is at full strength.

”Injuries are unpredictable,” Cooper said of Stamkos. ”As of right now, he’s out indefinitely until he’s not. And I’ll be the person to let you know when that is. But you should know that he’s working his tail off and he’s eager to come back.”

The Lightning beat Washington and Boston without Stamkos and will again turn to Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy as their starting goaltender. Carter Hart starts for Philadelphia, which is also 2-0-0 in round-robin play and will have rookie Joel Farabee on the first line in place of Voracek.

Coach Alain Vigneault would only say Voracek isn’t available to play against Tampa Bay.

”Jake’s got a unique skillset: a veteran guy that’s been around and has played in some big games,” Flyers defenseman Matt Niskanen said. ”We’ll welcome him when he comes back and in the meantime keep chugging forward with the guys we have.”

Cooper said the Lightning have been focusing on peaking for Game 1 of their first best-of-seven series, which will be next week. Vigneault’s Flyers have been attempting to balance between winning and tuning up for when their season is on the line.

Tampa Bay-Philadelphia will decide which team faces Montreal after the Canadiens knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins in the qualifying round.

”We know they got some top players that have a lot of skill and they got a really good power play,” Hart said of the Lightning

In the Western Conference, the Vegas Golden Knights set the goal of earning the No. 1 seed from the first day of training camp last month. That will be on the line Saturday when they face off against Colorado (3 p.m., NBC). The Golden Knights are going hard for home ice in the West even though there are no fans and all games are being played in Edmonton.

”The higher the seed, the easier path you get,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. ”When I say easy path, you get the lowest-ranked opponent, you get last (line) change, you get the benefit sometimes of a home dressing room over a visitor dressing room. There’s small benefits to it. I like the fact that our group thinks it’s important and we’ve played that way and prepared that way.”

Vegas isn’t 100% healthy yet with winger Max Pacioretty still not ready to play. DeBoer continues to say Pacioretty is close, though he’ll have to quarantine in Edmonton and produce four negative coronavirus test results before being eligible to practice or play.

The Golden Knights came back from deficits to beat Dallas and St. Louis, and look like a buzzsaw no matter who’s in goal between Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner. The Avalanche similarly have a two-headed goaltending monster in Phillip Grubauer and Pavel Francouz, and coach Jared Bednar isn’t eager to tip his hand on which one he’ll go with in the next round.

The Avalanche are also healthy. Grubauer, Francouz, captain Gabriel Landeskog, winger Mikko Rantanen and star rookie defenseman Cale Makar all missed time with injuries during the season.

With the whole crew together, Colorado is undefeated in two round-robin games and living up to the expectations set internally to get the top seed.

”We want to try and get home ice,” Bednar said. ”It’s been a goal of ours and we want it and our guys are playing like they want it. I like the focus and the intensity from our group at this point. Hopefully it takes even another step here for Vegas so we know that we’re good to go coming out of it.”

Flyers stay hot, beat Bruins: Notes from NHL Return to Play round-robin game

Flyers beat Bruins in first NHL round-robin game
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Whether you weigh their last few wins all that much or not, the Philadelphia Flyers remain on a roll. The Flyers beat the Bruins 4-1 in the first NHL Return to Play round-robin game on Sunday.

Heading into the pandemic pause, the Flyers saw a nine-game winning streak end against the Bruins. Being that the Flyers won on Sunday and also their exhibition against the Penguins, this team’s been on quite an upward trend.

Again, there’s only so much you can take from these past two W’s, but it’s better to be on the winning side than not.

Round-robin game notes for Flyers, Bruins

The goalies: Hart gets some time in, mixed bag for Halak in relief of Rask

  • Yes, this was technically Carter Hart‘s “playoff debut.” No, this game didn’t give us the best idea of how the young goalie will respond to top-level pressure. Because this felt more like somewhere between an exhibition game and a regular season contest. With that caveat in mind, Hart performed very nicely against the Bruins, making 34 out of 35 saves.
  • Again, Hart didn’t face a keyed-in Bruins squad. Or, at least the Bruins have to hope this isn’t a keyed-in effort.

https://twitter.com/HackswithHaggs/status/1290046351405973511

  • Not the greatest outing for Jaroslav Halak. Halak gave up four goals against the Flyers, including one where he didn’t take the greatest angle against Scott Laughton. Halak probably wasn’t too pleased allowing this goal against Nate Thompson, either:
  • Overall, Halak gives the Bruins a strong backup, even if Sunday didn’t go so well. Even so, Tuukka Rask finished as a 2020 Vezina Trophy finalist, so the Bruins have to hope that they can go with (a healthy) Plan A once the First Round rolls around.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Did any Flyers, Bruins get hurt? And other lineup notes from round-robin game

  • Matt Grzelcyk took a puck to the face, but seemed OK.
  • Michael Raffl needed help off of the ice after an awkward fall late in the Flyers – Bruins round-robin game. It’s a shame for Raffl, who played well on Sunday. This might improve Joel Farabee and others chances of taking a spot away from Raffl.
  • While they didn’t make much of an impact, the Bruins must be pleased to see all of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak get some game action in.
  • Bruce Cassidy said Rask had been “feeling better” even if Halak got the nod, for whatever that’s worth.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere didn’t play for the Flyers. Will he eventually work his way back into the mix? This certainly doesn’t seem like the best sign for “Ghost.”

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

Sunday’s other NHL games

Round-robin: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream)

Game 1: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, (joined-in-progress) 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream)

Game 1: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream)

MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Round-robin: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Round-robin: Stars-Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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.

Season on Ice: Flyers want to continue Stanley Cup pursuit

PHILADELPHIA — Gritty is the home school teacher the world needs right now. The furry Flyers mascot offers an education of sorts each weekday on Instagram with “ Gritty’s 1/4 Hour of Power,” and his top student one day this week was forward Joel Farabee.

Gritty played charades with Farabee and the muted mascot held up signs for his pupil to read on the subject of bees. Example: “In Ancient Egypt, people paid their taxes with honey.”

But would extra honey count against the salary cap?

Farabee and the Flyers may have been brushing up on a second-round postseason scouting report instead of getting a science lesson this week had the season not been suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Flyers were the toast of the NHL in early March — they were happy to raise a glass to their prosperity — because of a hot streak that turned them into a postseason threat.

Just how far the Flyers could have gone will never be known – though a proposed plan involves bringing teams back in a few empty NHL buildings to complete some, if not all, of the remaining regular-season games before opening the playoffs – so the slim chance remains they can pick up where they left off March 12, at 89 points (41-21-7) and rising.

But good health and momentum can be tricky to rediscover after a lengthy layoff and there’s no promise better days would be ahead for the Flyers, or any other team, should the season potentially resume in July.

“There’s no doubt that we were playing our best hockey of the season at the time,” coach Alain Vigneault said Wednesday. “Our team was in a good place. It will be all our jobs, from coaches to management to players, to get back to that good spot that we were in.”

Vigneault made all the right moves for the Flyers in his first season on the bench, leading them on a nine-game winning streak that ended in a 2-0 loss to the Boston Bruins on March 10, their last game of the suspended season. Carter Hart, just 21, played every bit like the franchise goalie the Flyers expected. And homegrown talent such as Scott Laughton, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny — drafted amid a franchise rebuild — all turned a team with modest expectations into an Eastern Conference contender.

The Flyers scored an average of 4.33 goals per game and allowed an average of 1.89 during their nine-game streak and hadn’t lost consecutive games since an 0-3-1 stretch from Dec. 31–Jan. 4. The Flyers are 39-0-3 this season when they are tied or leading after two periods.

“Once we get back at it, I’m very confident with the focus of our group that we’ll be at the same page as everybody else and it’s going to be our job to work hard, work smart and do the right thing and get back to where we were,” Vigneault said.

Over the last month, Vigneault, who coached two teams in the Final, retreated to Florida and kept busy on the golf course before he eventually drove home to Gatineau in western Quebec, Canada. Vigneault has seen and heard the devastating effects the COVID-19 disease has on his loved ones. His girlfriend, Monica Cotton, is an emergency nurse at Ottawa Hospital and his sister Nicole Vigneault works for Quebec Health, both doing to their part to help those in need.

The Flyers coach, though, has been helpless like so many others when it comes to communication and contact with senior parents.

“My parents are 84 and 86. They are both in a senior residence. They’ve both been isolated since Day One,” Vigneault said. “My mom’s having a little bit more of a challenging time there mentally in the past few months. My dad is still sharp as he can be. There’s no doubt him going through this by himself, he’s very lonely.”

Vigneault said he’s talked to only five Flyers since the season ended and leaves Chris Osmond and Dan Warnke, the team’s strength and conditioning coaches, to keep tabs on the roster.

“Everybody is trying to stay safe. At the same time, when the season starts again, we want to be as ready as we can,” Vigneault said.

When that might be, no one really knows.

But with Philadelphia at 45 years and counting without a Stanley Cup, what’s a few more months?

“I am very confident that we can get something together that’s going to be very efficient for the players, very efficient to get our team ready,” Vigneault said. “Hopefully that’s what happens.”

Long-term outlook for Philadelphia Flyers

Long-term outlook for Flyers Provorov Couturier Konecny
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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

When you look at the Flyers’ core, you should take a moment to appreciate the cleanup job Ron Hextall accomplished. The current regime took the baton and got off to a good run post-Ron, but give credit where it’s due. Hextall inherited a mess.

Now, sure, there are some risks.

One could see how the combination of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Kevin Hayes, and James van Riemsdyk could age poorly, and quickly. Concerns about the Flyers becoming the “next Kings/Sharks” are somewhat justified.

Yet … a lot of those risks are mitigated. Giroux’s contract ends after 2021-22, and there’s a strong chance he’ll still be worth the near-$8.3M. JVR and Voracek are both 30, but the terms could be worse. Same goes for Hayes; yes, it’s risky, but he won’t turn 28 until May 8. Chuck Fletcher (and Hextall) is guilty of some gambles, but not at the “slap the deed of your house on the poker stack” level.

Most importantly, nice to outright fantastic bargains give the Flyers leeway to roll the dice. After last season’s hiccup, Ivan Provorov looks like a gem, and a steal at $6.75M. Travis Konecny isn’t far behind at $5M, and both contracts run through 2024-25.

The Flyers really feasted on a deal with Sean Couturier, and the only bummer (for them, not Couturier’s accountant) is that a raise is coming from that $4.33M after 2021-22.

There’s a lot to like about the Flyers’ core, especially if the aging elements don’t rapidly go rotten.

Long-term needs for Flyers

Pondering the long-term needs of the Flyers, it’s clear the team needs some answers.

To start: how much is it going to cost to truly add Carter Hart to the core? The 21-year-old’s entry-level contract expires after 2020-21. Would it be better to lock him down as soon as possible, or see how he performs during a contract year? What kind of money and term would make sense for an extension?

While much of the Hart conundrums boil down to “good problems to have,” the Flyers need to find out about the future for players dealing with health issues. Beyond a frightening situation for Oskar Lindblom, Philly could use some insight on Nolan Patrick and Shayne Gostisbehere.

The latter found himself in trade rumors, yet “Ghost Bear” wasn’t exactly healthy. You don’t necessarily want to sell low on a player who can at least generate offense, and is still reasonably young (26) and generally cheap ($4.5M AAV through 2022-23).

Depth resonates as a need for the Flyers, at least if some of the above situations don’t work out.

Beyond depth, I also wonder: while the Flyers boast a strong core, can they really hang among the best of the best?

Long-term strengths for Flyers

Even as players graduate to regular or semi-regular NHL duty, the Flyers continue to hunt down strong draft prospects. Cam York, Morgan Frost, and Bobby Brink help the Flyers place eighth in Scott Wheeler’s prospect rankings (sub required), for example.

Could those players provide that extra “oomph” for this franchise?

It’s an enticing thought, especially as Travis Sanheim bolsters the bigger names, while Frost, Joel Farabee, and others attempt to make impressions.

The Flyers have a nice mix of veteran stars, budding younger stars like Provorov and Konecny, and those aforementioned intriguing prospects. Hart also made encouraging steps toward being that long lost goalie.

There are reasons to be optimistic about this team’s chances of being competitive for some time. What a difference a year makes, eh?

MORE ON THE FLYERS:
Breaking down their 2019-20 season
Biggest surprises and disappointments

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.

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Bruins on NBCSN

Flyers Bruins Livestream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers. 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.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins have been the NHL’s two best teams over the past 25 games and they meet on Tuesday night on NBCSN.

The Flyers enter the game riding a league-best nine-game winning streak and are looking to take over first place in the Metropolitan Division. Starting goalie Carter Hart also looks to continue his nearly unbeatable play on home ice.

Boston, meanwhile, is starting to run away with the top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference playoff races. Winger David Pastrnak is also not only emerging as a potential MVP candidate, he is closing in on the 50-goal mark and is in a back-and-forth race with Alex Ovechkin for the goal scoring title.

Pre-game coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN while puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET from Philadelphia.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

 

WHAT: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers
WHERE: Wells Fargo Center
WHEN: Tuesday, March 10, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Bruins-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS

Brad MarchandPatrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick RitchieDavid KrejciOndrej Kase
Sean KuralyCharlie CoyleJake DeBrusk
Joakim NordstromPar LindholmChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon
John MooreConnor Clifton

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

FLYERS

Claude GirouxSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Joel FarabeeKevin HayesTravis Konecny
Scott LaughtonDerek GrantTyler Pitlick
Michael RafflNate Thompson – Aube-Kubel

Nate Provorov – Matt Niskanen
Travis SanheimJustin Braun
Robert HaggShayne Gostisbehere

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.