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NHL Bubble Wrap: Goalies rule the day, underdogs keep winning

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  • Sunday’s action included a rare buzzer-beating game-winning goal
  • Some dominant goaltending performances
  • More underdogs getting wins

Arizona Coyotes 4, Nashville Predators 3 (Coyotes lead series 1-0)

Pekka Rinne‘s run of 89 consecutive playoff starts came to an end for the Predators on Sunday when Juuse Saros got the call against the Coyotes. It did not go well from the very beginning. A fluke goal off the stick of Oliver Ekman-Larsson opened the floodgates as Arizona stormed out to an early 3-0 lead. The Predators attempted to rally and make it a game late in the third period, but the early deficit was too much to overcome as the Coyotes took Game 1 of their qualifying round series. Predators coach John Hynes did not commit to a starting goalie for Game 2 on Tuesday.

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Boston Bruins 1

The Flyers were rapidly climbing the standings before the season was paused and they took a big step toward securing the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Sunday when they beat the Boston Bruins in the opening of round-robin play. The Flyers received goals from four different players (all depth players: Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Nate Thompson, and Philippe Myers) while Carter Hart stopped 34 shots in goal.

Colorado Avalanche 2, St. Louis Blues 1

Easily the best finish of the postseason (so far). Nazem Kadri‘s buzzer beater with just 0.1 seconds to play in regulation gave the Colorado Avalanche a 2-1 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Blues. It capped off a dominant power play performance to end the game.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2, Toronto Maple Leafs 0 (Blue Jackets Lead Series 1-0)

The worst possible start to the postseason for the Maple Leafs. Not only did they lose to the Blue Jackets, but they did not even score a single goal in a 2-0 loss. Even without fans in the stands the pressure on the Maple Leafs is going to be immense and that is only going to increase as they find themselves down in the qualifying round. Losing in the first round every year is bad enough. Losing in this round would be inexcusable.

Minnesota Wild 3, Vancouver Canucks 0 (Wild lead series 1-0)

Jared Spurgeon was outstanding for Minnesota on Sunday night by factoring into all three goals (scoring of them himself) and playing his usual steady game defensively. The Wild used a pair of power play goals and a rock solid defensive game to shut down the Canucks’ young stars and take an early series lead.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets. At the start of the season goaltending was the big question mark for the Blue Jackets. But the tag-team duo of Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins played a huge role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the race, and on Sunday it was Korpisalo getting the shutout in his first career postseason start. He was definitely challenged a bit and had to make some big saves, and every single time he was up to the task.

2. Alex Stalock, Minnesota Wild. Goaltending was always going to be a big X-factor for the Wild this season, but the popular consensus was that it was going to be Devan Dubnyk backstopping the team to success. It has turned out to be Stalock that is giving the Wild a chance. His play during the regular season helped get them back into the playoff race, and on Sunday night he stopped all 28 shots he faced in a 3-0 win over the Canucks.

3. Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers. Hart is the player that could make the Flyers an absolutely terrifying team in the postseason. They have been waiting for a franchise goalie for decades in Philadelphia, and they might finally have one. He was brilliant on Sunday afternoon against Boston, stopping 35 out of 36 shots to help the Flyers stay white hot (carrying over their hot streak from the end of the regular season) to get two points closer to the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

Highlights of the Night

Kadri’s buzzer-beater is (so far) the play of the postseason.

Korpisalo’s best save of the night was this robbery of Auston Matthews.

This is by far the flukiest goal of the day.

Factoids

  • Kadri’s buzzer-beating goal is just the second game-winning goal scored at the 19:59 mark of the third period in Stanley Cup Playoff history. [NHL PR]
  • Spurgeon is the first defenseman in Wild franchise history to have three points in a Stanley Cup Playoff game. [NHL PR]
  • Korpisalo is only the 14th goal in NHL history to record a shutout in his postseason debut. [NHL PR]

Monday Schedule

Game 2: Rangers vs. Canadiens 12 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Hurricanes lead series 1-0)

Round Robin: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Round Robin: Golden Knights vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Canadiens lead series 1-0):

Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Blackhawks lead series 1-0)

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.

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.

Perry, Spezza, and other NHL free agent forwards with uncertain futures

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When Corey Perry told the Dallas Stars website that “I know there’s more hockey left in me,” Perry was discussing being ready for play to resume. But what about next season, and possibly beyond?

Perry falls into a category of upcoming NHL free agents with uncertain futures. The reasoning is simple: they may or may not get to make the call about retirement. A lack of interest might simply force them to hang up their skates.

Let’s take a look at Perry and some of the most interesting cases of borderline players. To be clear, players most likely to decide for themselves (example: Joe Thornton) are fodder for different posts. This list also skates past players with expiring contracts who already essentially retired, such as David Clarkson and Johan Franzen.

When in doubt, I’ve also focused on NHL free agent forwards who are 30 or older.

This list focuses on forwards. Later this week, we’ll also tackle defensemen and goalies.

Perry and other forwards with uncertain free agent futures in the NHL

Corey Perry

The lasting image of Perry’s first (and possibly last) Stars season was his “walk of shame” after getting ejected during the 2020 Winter Classic.

Perry’s season got off to the wrong foot in a literal way, as he broke it before his first game in a Stars uniform. He never really got any traction from there, managing just five goals and 21 points over 57 games.

Perry’s possession stats were mediocre, and they’ve honestly been that way for a while. The difference is that his offense plummeted, with the drop-off being especially sharp these past two seasons. Combine that decline in offense with Perry being a 35+ contract, and there are a lot of hurdles.

But all it really takes is one team to consider him a low-risk option, much like the Stars did in 2019-20. It’s not that outrageous to give Perry a mulligan. If you want a nasty veteran with some scoring touch, you could talk yourself into a cheap, one-year deal for Perry.

While Perry’s production has been putrid lately, he generated 49 points in 2017-18, and 53 in 2016-17. Perry also suffered bad puck luck (6.5 shooting percentage) in 2019-20, so there’s another way teams can talk themselves into signing the 2011 Hart Trophy winner.

Jason Spezza

Once you accept that Spezza is no longer going to push 90 points, it’s pretty easy to embrace investing in the 36-year-old. No, 25 points in 58 games isn’t spectacular, but managing that many with an ice time of just 10:50 TOI per night is impressive.

Check Spezza’s historical isolated impact at Hockey Viz and you’ll notice that, as his offense has declined, Spezza’s become a responsible defensive presence.

Spezza viz, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Hockey Viz/Micah Blake McCurdy

Spezza also mostly took Mike Babcock’s Babcockery in stride, which should count for something. Spezza is a low-risk no-brainer.

Carl Soderberg

Carl Soderberg’s a little older than I realized, as he’ll turn 35 on Oct. 12. Some of his underlying stats are pretty underwhelming, so I wonder if his place in the league may involve ranking lower in the pecking order than he has with Arizona and Colorado in recent seasons?

Ryan Reaves

Honestly, Ryan Reaves seems like the type of player I’d expect to be teetering out of the league at 33. Teams want a menacing presence who can play a bit, though, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him continue to get pretty lucrative deals. And, really, Reaves checks out reasonably well in this RAPM comparison with Spezza at Evolving Hockey, too:

Reaves vs. Spezza, Perry and other NHL free agents
via Evolving Hockey

Other forwards

  • I assume Martin Hanzal will retire, being that he last played in 2018-19, and in just seven games. Then again, he’s merely 33, so maybe he’d give it another shot? Large, defensive-minded centers don’t grow on trees. At least, I have never been to such forest, and would prefer to get that image out of my head now, thank you.
  • Trevor Lewis is one of those supporting cast members from a championship team who garners a somewhat baffling level of loyalty. (See: many, many Detroit Red Wings.) It’s not that Lewis, 33, is terrible. It’s just that I’m not sure how much he moves the needle. His ice time plummeted by more than two minutes (14:01 to 11:54), too, so that’s not a great sign for Lewis.
  • NHL teams sure do love 35-year-old Nate Thompson. The Flyers gave up a fifth-rounder for him during the past trade deadline, and Montreal coughed up two picks for Thompson the year before. All for REASONS! So maybe “Nate Boucher” will remain in some demand?
  • I’m not certain about Patrick Maroon‘s health, but … can the guy catch a break? It would be sad if the 32-year-old spent another offseason twisting in the wind.
  • There’s a subcategory of “I’m surprised that person played so many games in the NHL this season.” Two of the biggest were Troy Brouwer (34, 13 games) and Chris Stewart (32, 16 games, first season in NHL since 2017-18). I’d say that they probably won’t land on teams in 2020-21 but … I’ve already been wrong about NHL free agent forwards before, and likely will be again.

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.

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Philadelphia Flyers.

Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 41-21-7 (69 games), second in the Metropolitan Division, fourth in the Eastern Conference
Leading Scorer: Travis Konecny – 61 points (24 goals and 37 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves: 

• Traded Jean-Francois Berube to the New York Rangers for future considerations
• Acquired Nathan Noel from the Chicago Blackhawks for T.J. Brennan
• Traded a 2020 fourth-round pick and Kyle Criscuolo to the Anaheim Ducks for Derek Grant
• Acquired Nate Thompson from the Montreal Canadiens for a 2021 fifth-round pick

Season Overview: 

The Flyers made some significant changes coming into the 2019-20 season. They brought in a new coaching staff with plenty of experience. Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo have found a way to get the most out of the team in the first season. They may have peaked a little early, but we don’t know for sure because the season was paused in mid-March.

They also added a key free agent in Kevin Hayes. The opinions on the signing varied at the time, but he’s worked out relatively well in his first year in Philadelphia.

The first month of the Flyers’ season was a rollercoaster. They opened the campaign with a win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Prague and followed that up with another victory over the New Jersey Devils. Then, they dropped their next four games before winning three in a row. They closed out October with back-to-back losses.

That feels like a lifetime ago though.

In the weeks leading up to the pause, they turned into one of the dominant teams in the league. In February, the Flyers started making up ground on the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, who were sitting in first and second place in the Metro.

Just how good were they in Feb? Well, they rattled off 10 wins in 13 games. They also won nine games in a row between Feb. 18 and Mar. 7. They dropped their final game before the pause (a 2-0 loss to Boston), but they managed to jump three points ahead of the Pens and one point behind the Caps.

The usual suspects played a key roll in that turnaround. Claude Giroux had 18 points in the final 15 games. Jakub Voracek accumulated 10 points in the last six games, while Sean Couturier had 16 points in 18 contests. After failing to pick up a point in his last three games, Konecny had 17 points in 12 games. As you can see, the contributions were coming from all over the roster.

Let’s not forget about Carter Hart, who won seven of his last eight games. He allowed two goals or fewer in seven of those games. How would he have looked in the playoffs? We won’t know for sure until they happen, but he was well on his way to finishing the season in dominant fashion.

It seems plainly obvious that the Flyers are on the verge of becoming one of the dominant teams in the conference for years to come.

Highlight of the Season:

The top moment of the Flyers’ season happened in January, when they played the Boston Bruins. Philadelphia was down 5-2 in the second period, but they battled back to force overtime/a shootout.

Do you remember what happened in the shootout?

Konecny scored the go-ahead goal and Brad Marchand totally whiffed on his shootout attempt.

A classic.

MORE FLYERS:
Biggest surprises, disappointments

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.