PITTSBURGH As omens go, it didnt seem foreboding. It was closer to cuddly, actually.Outside the CONSOL Energy Center, quite a few Penguins fans paused to take pictures with a guy (gal?) dressed in a white bear costume. It had a grinning cartoon head, oversized paws, the whole campy package. It wasnt exactly a scary sight. It looked like a scene that might play out at an amusement park kids and adults wrapped their arms around their giant furry friend. Except, like Yogi, this wasnt your average bear. The life-sized stuffed animal was decidedly pro-Pittsburgh. It had a sign that said, welcome to the woods.Before the puck dropped, the bear made its way inside and joined another bear a brown one. The two of them sat not far behind the Flyers bench and ended up on the giant video scoreboard that hangs above center ice. The crowd liked that."You know, I'm not afraid of anything," Ilya Bryzgalov said in advance of the Flyers first-round playoff series against the Penguins. "I'm afraid of bears bears in the forest.These bears were in downtown Pittsburgh, which doesnt have too many trees. But you get the idea. It was a good night for the bears and the Penguins at first. Then it was not such a good night for them. At some point, after falling behind by three goals in the first period, Bryzgalov and the Flyers did what they have done so many times this season: they made a crazy comeback. In an improbable twist, the Flyers beat the Penguins, 4-3, in overtime on Wednesday to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals (see story). Weve been in that situation before a couple times this year, Bryzgalov said. Pittsburgh is a great team, you know. They have great players. What we did today was unbelievable.He was right. It was unbelievable.Sidney Crosby scored the first goal a little under four minutes into the game. The second goal was a two-on-one: Jordan Staal found Tyler Kennedy, and then Kennedy found the back of the net. The third goal came courtesy of Pascal Dupuis, who took a pass from Steve Sullivan and somehow pushed the puck past Bryzgalov.All of that happened before the first intermission. Bryzgalov allowed three goals on 13 shots in the first period. They werent all his fault, not by any stretch, but three goals should have signaled the end for the Flyers.Instead, Danny Briere scored twice, while Brayden Schenn and Jakub Voracek each scored once. And while all that was happening, Bryzgalov started looking good really good. After that ugly first period, he stopped all 15 shots that came his way. It was a remarkable transformation to watch. In one evening, Bryzgalov morphed from a guy who let three pucks sneak behind him to a guy who kept every puck in front of him.I thought our goaltender really made some brilliant saves, and not only on the power play but five-on-five, Peter Laviolette said. Everyone really dug in a little bit. Our game got better When we did have opportunities come at the net, Bryz made the saves.There were all sorts of storylines going into the series, but one of the biggest was obviously which Bryzgalov would show for the playoffs. If it was the early-season Bryzgalov, the one who was lost in the woods and babbled about humongous big existential nonsense for the benefit of the drooling HBO masses prior to the Winter Classic, it was generally agreed that Flyers were probably in trouble. That Bryzgalov wasnt very good, and he certainly wasnt worth the 51 million contract the Flyers gave him during the offseason. But if the other Bryzgalov appeared the one who was the NHLs First Star of the Month in March, posting a 1.44 goals against average and a .947 save percentage that would make things awfully difficult for the Penguins.It seemed simple enough. With the good Bryzgalov, the Flyers could beat anyone in the playoffs, including the Penguins. With the not-so-good Bryzgalov, they seemed destined to be on vacation or playing golf before too long. In Game 1, the Flyers got a little bit of the latter Bryzgalov but they also got a whole lot more of the former Bryzgalov.After the first period, youre down three goals, in their own building, thats not easy, Bryzgalov said.While Bryzgalov was talking to the media, an unknown teammate with a sense of humor let out a Bearzzzz you know, instead of Bryzzzz. The joke was loud enough for everyone to hear, and a lot of people laughed. The guys (gals?) in the bear costumes obviously werent in the locker room when it happened. It was for the best. They probably wouldnt have found it amusing.E-mail John Gonzalez at email@example.com.
Each week, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.
Going End to End this week are Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone, all producers/reporters for CSNPhilly.com.
The question: Which Flyer has the most to lose in 2016-17?
What Shayne Gostisbehere accomplished in his rookie season was unforgettable. He set Flyers records, broke some NHL rookie records and finished with 17 goals in 64 games.
The list can go on and on. He can become the first Flyer to win the Calder Trophy when the NHL Awards are announced on June 22. We all want to see what "Ghost" can do as an encore.
But now Gostisbehere has expectations. Lofty expectations — fair or not.
Gostisbehere will be expected to quarterback the power play, a job he excelled at this season and wrangled away from Mark Streit, whose injury paved the way for his call-up.
In addition, Gostisbehere will be asked to produce offensively and consistently as well as continue to hone his defensive game, which still has areas that needs improvement.
Seventeen goals will be difficult to duplicate and we should not hold him to — or expect — that number again in his sophomore season. We should all temper our expectations.
But the reason I believe Gostisbehere has the most to lose in 2016-17 is because he's very much still a growing product. There will be growing pains and should he hit those next season, how will he bounce back from it? Defensemen generally develop at a slower pace than forwards, and for Gostisbehere to enjoy so much success in Year 1, how will he react to a step backward in 2016-17? It's a weighted response and one that's geared more toward the long-term, but to me, Gostisbehere has the most to lose next season.
I believe Matt Read will be back next season.
After all, he’s under contract through the 2017-18 campaign.
But his leash will be as short as it’s even been. At 30 years old, he’ll be fighting just to dress. And when he gets playing time, he’ll have to do enough to show he deserves it over other candidates, many of which will be young, spry and hungry for jobs.
Read said he learned a lot last season.
Will he make adjustments and carve out a role in Dave Hakstol’s system?
Next season, we’ll get an answer.
If he doesn’t, his time in Philadelphia could quickly dissolve.
And who knows what that would mean for his NHL career.
Want to talk about having something to lose? How about possibly losing a job, which is a very real possibility for Scott Laughton next season.
The young forward, who will turn 22 on Monday, posted seven goals and 14 assists in a career-high 71 games this season. But much more telling was the fact he found himself in the press box as a healthy scratch down the stretch, as Dave Hakstol felt there were better options as the team completed its improbable run to the playoffs. And that came after he was moved from his natural center position to the wing for the first time since he represented Canada in the world junior tournament.
His inconsistency has come a pretty bad time because as more and more talented prospects come through the system, roster spots with the big club become more and more precious. Laughton will need to have a very good summer and training camp to earn his spot again. The forward prospects will push him during camp, which could be a good thing. But even if Laughton makes the Flyers out of camp when the season starts, the leash could still be short.
Ron Hextall makes no bones about how he prefers to hold on to young talent and let it develop. But we could be at the point where the Flyers want to see Laughton take the next step. And it could be a much different story if you replace young talent with young talent.
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.
Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.
Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.
"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."
The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.
DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.
"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."
The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.
But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.
In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.
"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."
That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.
Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.
Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.
Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.
Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.
"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."
Flyers prospect and Brandon Wheat Kings defenseman Ivan Provorov on Saturday afternoon was named the 2015-16 Canadian Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year.
Provorov, who the Flyers drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2015, recorded 21 markers, 73 points and was a plus-64 in 62 games with Brandon during the regular season.
The 19-year-old beat out Windsor's Mikhail Sergachev and Shawinigan's Samuel Girard for the honor. Both Sergachev and Girard are eligible for this year's draft, which is June 24-25 in Buffalo, New York.
In 21 playoff games with the Wheat Kings, Provorov added three goals and 10 assists. Brandon beat the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL Championship Series to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup. However, in the Memorial Cup, Brandon lost to the Red Deer Rebels on May 25.
What's next for Provorov?
The defenseman will come to Flyers training camp in September with his eye on making the roster. Many believe Provorov is ready to make the jump to the NHL, but Flyers general manager Ron Hextall has built a reputation of being patient, especially with his defensive prospects.
Provorov is one of five prospects in the Flyers' system that has created excitement, joining Travis Sanheim, Samuel Morin, Robert Hagg and Philippe Myers, an undrafted free-agent signing who made noise this season. Could Provorov — or any of the other prospects — join Shayne Gostisbehere on the Flyers' blue line in 2016-17?
After the Flyers' season ended with a playoff series loss to the Washington Capitals, Hextall hinted he'll continue to be patient with his prospects (see story).
“What we're building towards remains the same,” Hextall said after the season. “I'm not an impatient guy by nature. Maybe I was a little bit on the ice, but I've been off the ice for 17 years or whatever it is, so the whole thing that we started to build two years ago — our vision is the same and we're on a path.
“And we're a lot closer than we were two years ago."
But all eyes will be on Provorov come training camp. Can he force Hextall's hand?