For Flyers, it's all about passion (or lack thereof)

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For Flyers, it's all about passion (or lack thereof)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Posted: 3:12 p.m.
By Tim PanaccioCSNPhilly.com

Passion.

Its within the fabric of hockey, Rick Tocchet used to say.

Passion, according to Kimmo Timonen, is the essential element that has been missing from the Flyers for quite a while now.

And unless they rediscover it quickly, their playoff run will be short-lived.

Flyers captain Mike Richards addressed his teammates after the shocking 5-2 surrender in Ottawa.

He said the right things and I dont see the purpose why everybody would have to talk, said Timonen, who does occasionally address the team, as well. We addressed the issue and passion is the biggest one.

We have to find the passion within our game. We cant just go through the motions like we have been. We have to find a way to win games. Only us, the players, can do it.

Down the stretch, the Flyers have not resembled the team that led the Eastern Conference for most of the second half. Since Feb. 26, they are 6-8-5 in their last 19 games. Over that span of 13 losses, they have just 17 points.

Theyve lost four games in succession and face the fiercely-competitive Sabres on Friday in Buffalo.

Lindy Ruffs club has been playing playoff hockey for two months now. Theyre where the Flyers were last season: survival mode to make the playoffs. The Sabres level of passion is several degrees higher than the Flyers.

A year ago, the Flyers went into the playoffs having lost eight of their final 12 games. Yet one thing that was different with that team versus this team is that the Flyers were in survival mode the entire stretch run, trying to gain points.

This club, as players have admitted this week, has been in cocktail mode, sitting atop of the East watching everyone else scramble for playoff positioning.

Now, the Flyers suddenly find themselves in a precarious situation in which they could fall all the way to the fourth seed.

Its hard to compare every year, but this year was different because weve been pretty much leading the conference the whole year, Timonen said. Its human nature to drop down a little bit from the first 60 games we played.

Now its time to put it back together. For me, I bring this passion up all the time, because passion brings everything. If you bring it in the game, you usually play well. The skating issue is our second issue.

Richards also addressed skating, as well. The Flyers outskated Pittsburgh a week ago in their building and pretty much did the same to the New York Rangers last Sunday.

Against Ottawa? Wasnt there.

It doesnt matter who you play against, Timonen said. If the other team is outskating you, they are going to win the game. Thats been an issue over the last 10 or 15 games. We do it sometimes, and then we dont. And we dont, we suck.

The regular season ends with the back end of the back-to-back Saturday night at Wells Fargo Center against the Islanders.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has been remarkably restrained in not lashing out at his players like he did back on Oct. 25 after a 2-1 loss in Columbus in which the Flyers failed to show up.

Over the past two months, Laviolettes criticisms have been guarded, or muted a bit, as he works toward trying to keep a positive mood around the team, regardless of the situation on the ice.

He said it was more than passion that carried the Flyers in the first half of the season when they had 71 points at the All-Star break.

I feel like a good heavy dose of work and competitiveness will take care of a lot of things, Laviolette said. If we ratchet up our intensity and our speed and our passion. All those intangibles that are so important to a game.

Not the passing, or the turnovers, or the power play, but more of what makes us great as a team or makes you great as an individual. If we could harness some of that. We need to do that.

His 2006 team in Carolina had some of these very same issues late in the season and still won the Stanley Cup.

We staggered down the stretch with less than .500 hockey, he recalled. That doesnt make it OK. Its not OK. What we do here, we have a lot of pride in it and Tuesday night was upsetting for everybody.

Were not happy with it, the teams not, the organization is not, and I know the fans arent. Were going to strive to be better.

Richards said its not like turning a light on and youre in playoff mode.

Its not just flipping a switch, he said. Its doing all the right things and having a mindset of doing it. In the game, your mindset has to be to try and outwork the other team.

There are a number of potential playoff opponents for the Flyers. One of them is Buffalo. Another is the Rangers.

Given the bad blood between the Flyers and Rangers, you wonder if the latter wouldnt be a better first-round opponent. Flyers-Rangers remains one of the nastiest rivalries in sports. If ever passion came into play, its Flyers-Rangers.

But what if the Flyers play Buffalo? Or Tampa Bay? Can either of those teams elicit the same kind of on-ice response from the Flyers that John Tortorellas club can on Broadway?

Probably not. But dont tell that to Laviolette.

The playoffs bring that out in you, Laviolette argued. Youre either winning in the first round or going home. I think that comes with the playoffs itself. Thats why we play the regular season

And Kimmos right. You dont really need to know the game that well to figure out what happened last night. We got outworked. We need to be more accountable to our work ethic as individuals and the group and I think we will.
Bob starts playoffs
Less it become an unnecessary distraction on what is already a tense time these days, Laviolette announced that rookie Sergei Bobrovsky will be his playoff starter and Brian Boucher will be the back-up in Game 1.

Beyond that, it could change. Remember, Laviolette used both Michael Leighton and Boucher last spring.

Bob will also play in Buffalo on Friday. Although Leighton cleared waivers on Wednesday and the club wants to get him a game this weekend, because of the nature of the standings, that may not happen.
Injuries
Center Danny Briere skated, but held back a bit and remains questionable for Fridays game in Buffalo. He has soreness in his groin. He said how he feels over the next two days will determine his availability. Were expecting a long run in the playoffs and theres no reason to push it and then drag that injury through the playoffs, he said. Blair Betts (left knee) did not practice and is doubtful for the Sabres. Defenseman Nick Boynton has sat the past two games, presumably, as a healthy scratch. Yet he wore the yellow no contact jersey in practice. Boynton has a pinched nerve in his neck but feels he can play Friday. Jody Shelley wore a full grid-cage to protect his left eye (orbital bone surgery). Shelley said he expects to get medical clearance to play either Thursday or Friday.
E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net
Related: Leighton clears waivers, will join Flyers Thursday Buy Flyers gear

NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins back in Cup Final for first time since 2009

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The hours before the biggest game of Bryan Rust's life were restless. The nap he tried to sneak in never materialized. The Pittsburgh Penguins forward's mind was simply too busy.

"I was just sitting up there looking at the ceiling," Rust said.

Yet even those daydreams didn't compare to the reality: the rookie forward who began training camp hoping just to make the team scored both of Pittsburgh's goals in a 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals on Thursday night.

Pittsburgh will host Western Conference champion San Jose in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

In a building littered with stars, it was the relentlessness of the 24-year-old Rust and the steadiness of 22-year-old goaltender Matt Murray who provided the difference as the Penguins reached the final for the first time since 2009.

"I'm in that mode where I'm getting the bounces and the breaks right now," Rust said.

Ones Rust and his teammates are earning. The Penguins rallied from a 3-2 deficit by controlling the final two games of the best-of-seven series, winning 5-2 in Tampa Bay in Game 6, then backing it up with what coach Mike Sullivan said "might have been the most complete 60-minute effort we had."

In disarray in December when Sullivan took over for Mike Johnston, the Penguins have sprinted through April and May and will head into June with a chance to win the franchise's fourth Cup, one that would serve as a bookend to its last triumph seven years when stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were still in their early 20s.

They're older now. Wiser. And undaunted by a series of postseason failures that made it seem the window of their primes were closing. Yet here they are after dispatching the New York Rangers in five games, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in six and the defending Eastern Conference champion Lightning in seven.

"They played better hockey than us the whole series," said Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman, who lost a Game 7 for the first time after starting his career 7-0 when pushed to the limit.

Jonathan Drouin scored his fifth goal of the playoffs for the Lightning and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves, but it wasn't enough to send Tampa Bay back to the Cup Final for a second straight year. Captain Steven Stamkos had two shots in 11:55 in his from a two-month layoff while dealing with blood clots, his best chance coming on a breakaway in the second period that deflected off Murray and trickled wide. One of Murray's teammates deftly guided the puck out of harm's way, emblematic of Tampa Bay's inability to keep the puck in Pittsburgh's end with any sort of consistency.

"I thought I beat him," Stamkos said. "It just went through him and out the other side. It was close, but we didn't generate enough offensively in order to win a game."

Mostly because the Penguins didn't let them. It's part of what Sullivan calls "playing the right way," a way abetted by the influx of speed brought in by general manager Jim Rutherford. That group includes Rust, who forced his way onto the roster thanks to feverish skating and a self-confidence that belies his nondescript 5-foot-11 frame.

That effort -- or "desperation level" as Crosby calls it -- provided the Penguins with the boost they needed to overcome a bit of unfortunate history and the return of Stamkos. Pittsburgh had dropped five straight Game 7s at home, including a 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay in 2011 in a series in which both Crosby and Evgeni Malkin missed due to injury.

That loss had become symbolic of the franchise's postseason shortcomings following that gritty run to the Cup in 2009 that culminated with a Game 7 win in Detroit that was supposed to be the launching pad of a dynasty.

Seven long years later, with an entirely new cast around mainstays Crosby, Malkin, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz and Marc-Andre Fleury, the Penguins have returned to the league's biggest stage.

"We've always believed in one another," Crosby said. "Trying to get back, it's not easy."

Not by a long shot.

Vasilevskiy, a revelation while filling in for injured Vezina Trophy finalist Ben Bishop, spent most of the night facing barrage after barrage as Pittsburgh controlled the puck and the pace of play for long stretches.

The Penguins finally broke through behind Rust, who managed all of five goals in 55 regular-season games, a total he's matched in just 17 games during the postseason. He gave the Penguins the lead 1:55 into the second when he raced down the slot, took a feed from Kunitz and beat Vasilevskiy over his glove.

Drouin's fourth goal of the series tied it at 9:36 of the second, a wicked wrist shot from the circle that zipped by Murray and seemed to blunt Pittsburgh's momentum.

Only it didn't.

All of 30 seconds later, the Penguins were back in front. Ben Lovejoy's slap shot from the point caromed off the end boards to the right of the net. Rust jabbed at it, squeezing it between Vasilevskiy's left arm and his body.

Their season on the brink, the Lightning recovered but Murray never wavered. His teammates in front of him kept Tampa Bay from getting in his way and when the final horn blared, Pittsburgh's metamorphosis was complete.

"The biggest challenge is ahead of us," Crosby said. "We have to finish it off the right way."

Notes
The Penguins went 0 for 5 on the power play. The Lightning were 0 for 1. ... The team that scores first is now 124-42 all-time in Game 7s, including 5-0 this year.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

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Flyers Stay or Go Part 5: R.J. Umberger to Ryan White

In the final installment of our five-part offseason series examining the future of the Flyers, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster. We go alphabetically. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4. Today, we begin with R.J. Umberger.

R.J. Umberger
2015-16 stats: 39 GP, 2 G, 9 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $4.6 mm cap hit

Dougherty: At the end-of-the-season media availability, Umberger said he expects to be bought out. And he will, unless general manager Ron Hextall can work some magic. He’s a goner.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Umberger expects to be bought out. It seems imminent at this point. Either way, the Flyers need to move on from Umberger.

Verdict: GO

Paone: To his credit, Umberger was a total pro as he went through his immense struggles this season. But to say the writing is on the wall for Umberger in Philadelphia is an understatement. It's like he sees a skywriter spelling it out in the clouds above him everywhere he goes. He even said himself that he expects the final year of his contract to be bought out sooner rather than later. His premonition will come true and the Flyers will take the $1.6 million cap hit that comes with it for next season.

Verdict: GO

Chris VandeVelde
2015-16 stats: 79 GP, 2 G, 12 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $712,500 cap hit

Dougherty: VandeVelde is a Dave Hakstol disciple. He played for him at North Dakota and he played for him here. He was a cog on the fourth line, playing with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Ryan White all season long. But while VandeVelde kills penalties, he doesn’t do anything else. He has no offensive ability and, simply stated, is an AHL player playing in the NHL. The Flyers want to add scoring and to do that, someone has to go. And VandeVelde should be that guy.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Debating a fourth-liner’s status shouldn’t be one of the harder decisions, but it is in this case. That’s because Dave Hakstol adored his final unit of VandeVelde, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. However, the Flyers need better depth and VandeVelde is super cheap, so sending him to the AHL to clear a roster spot wouldn’t be a stomach-churning move. With a tiny cap hit, even an offseason trade is conceivable.

Verdict: GO

Paone: This is a tougher call than one would think for a role player of VandeVelde's ilk. On one hand, he, Ryan White and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare formed one of the most effective fourth lines in the entire league this season and an effective fourth line can be such a valuable weapon in today's NHL. There's chemistry there that you shouldn't want to mess with. On the other hand, VandeVelde is probably the most expendable and interchangeable of that trio. And with the Flyers needing as many roster spots as they can create, another younger and more effective player may be able to fit in there (Scott Laughton to start, possibly). That's why I lean toward saying VandeVelde won't be with the big club to start the season, despite his longstanding ties to Dave Hakstol. Roster spots are becoming more and more valuable in Philadelphia.

Verdict: GO

Jakub Voracek
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 44 A; Contract: Signed through 2023-24, $8.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: This is a no-brainer. He signed an eight-year contract extension last summer, and that kicks in July 1. He had confidence issues this season and battled injury, but there’s nothing of concern there. He should be healthy and back to his productive self next season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Obviously, this isn’t really a question. What is, though, are Voracek’s health and rebound.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: It's no secret the Flyers' star winger struggled with both production and injury this season, a year removed from his spectacular 81-point campaign that earned him a massive eight-year, $66 million extension. That extension just so happens to kick in this year, by the way. You're crazy if you don't think a motivated Voracek will be back in orange and black next season.

Verdict: STAY

Jordan Weal
2015-16 stats: 14 GP, 0 G, 0 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: Weal was basically a throw-in in the Vinny Lecavalier trade. Los Angeles didn’t want him because there was no room for him on its NHL roster, but the Kings would have lost him for nothing had they placed him on waivers. He came to Philly and didn’t do anything to impress. He’s a restricted free agent. He’ll probably get qualified, but shouldn’t. Let him go.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Ron Hextall knows a lot about Weal. The 24-year-old was often the first player on the ice for extra work before practice. I think there was more than one reason why Weal was included in the trade that sent Vinny Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Kings. I say he’s back at a minimum rate but will head to the minors.

Verdict: GO

Paone: What exactly is Weal capable of at the NHL level? That's a really good question and one we don't have an answer to considering his lack of playing time with in both Los Angeles and Philadelphia this season. His injury after becoming a Flyer did him no favors, either. As I mentioned above when talking about VandeVelde, roster spots in Philadelphia are becoming more and more precious as the influx of talented prospects begins. Weal is really going to have to prove himself during camp to earn one of those spots. But, for right now, starting the season with the big club is a hazy picture for him.

Verdict: GO

Ryan White
2015-16 stats: 73 GP, 11 G, 5 A; Contract: Unrestricted free agent

Dougherty: White is everything the Flyers thought Zac Rinaldo would be. He brings energy, he’s physical and he can even score. He displayed the ability to play on the power play, which is a plus with a player in a fourth-line role. White should be back at least for another season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: White epitomizes what you want. He cares more about the Flyers than money. He’s a terrific teammate willing to do anything. And he’s understanding more and more how to score ugly. A perfect fourth-liner for the Flyers who will be re-signed.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: You want to talk about an almost-perfect fit? That's what White has been with the Flyers over the last season and a half. In 107 games as a Flyer, White has recorded 17 goals and 11 assists for 28 points. In his first five seasons in the league with Montreal, the 28-year-old forward had just five goals and 12 assists for 17 points in 117 games. Even in a mostly fourth-line role, he's made an impact to the point he's earned Hakstol's trust enough to be the net-front presence on the Flyers' second power-play unit. He's a UFA who'll be due a bit of a raise, but White just meshes way too well to not bring back. He knows it, too, saying in his end-of-season media availability that money is necessarily the determining factor in negotiations with the Flyers. He'll be back in his familiar roles next season.

Verdict: STAY

Remembering the Lindros hit from Stevens 16 years later

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Remembering the Lindros hit from Stevens 16 years later

All it took to end the Flyers career of Eric Lindros was one devastating shoulder to the chin from Scott Stevens.

This day, in 2000, just 7 minutes and 50 seconds into Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Stevens, the most intimidating defenseman in New Jersey Devils history, caught Lindros in transition coming across center ice in the Flyer offensive zone … with his head down.

In real time, measured against today’s standards, Stevens’ hit on Lindros is nothing compared to what seems to occur nightly in the NHL at breakneck speed.

The difference is, back then, the Stevens’ hit was deemed legal.

Today, it would draw a five-minute major, game misconduct and possible suspension because the principal point of contact from Stevens’ shoulder was the chin and forehead of Lindros.

Stevens was 6-foot-2, 215 pounds. Lindros was two inches taller — but smaller when he tucked his head down, as he often did when he skated hard and fast. He weighed 25 pounds more. Didn’t matter. Stevens dropped Lindros to the ice and a hush came over the arena now called Wells Fargo Center.

The significance of the hit is obvious. It marked the end of Lindros’ career as a Flyer. Recall, he had missed more than two months because of headaches, and came into the series in Game 6.

The Flyers lost Game 7, 2-1. They lost a series they once led 3-1. And they lost perhaps the greatest power forward of his generation. No player dominated the ice like Lindros. He was unique in that NHL coaches actually had to design game plans around defending him.

Stevens’ hit resulted in Lindros’ sixth concussion as a Flyer, but more significantly, it was his fourth in five months. He would sit out the entire following season with post-concussion syndrome while demanding a trade that would eventually come with the New York Rangers.

Lindros' impact in eight years as a Flyer can’t be understated. He is among the club’s all-time top 10 in goals (290) assists (369) and points (659) and is the third-highest scoring centerman in Flyers history.

Tragically, he was also the NHL’s poster child for post-concussion syndrome. At the time, the Flyers, the league and many neurologists weren’t sure of the ramifications of this medical term, but in coming years, it would become synonymous with head injuries in every sport.

Medically speaking, this remains the biggest impact Lindros had on hockey — he brought much-needed focus to concussions.

Sadly, during his 13-year career, Lindros missed the equivalent of two more seasons because of injuries, most of which were concussion-related.