Flyers rally in third to knock off Sabres

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Flyers rally in third to knock off Sabres

You knew the Flyers were headed for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs.

And its gonna happen.

Matt Reads goal late in the third period broke a 1-1 tie at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday night as the Flyers defeated the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1.

Coupled with Pittsburghs victory over the New York Rangers, this cements the Pens as the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference with the Flyers finishing 5th.

Game 1 of the Pens-Flyers quarterfinal series is tentatively set for Wednesday, April 11 in Pittsburgh.

Read took a brilliant stretch pass from Jakub Voracek up the left boards and maneuvered quickly Sabres defenseman Robyn Regehr for a free pass on goalie Ryan Miller.

It was Reads 24th goal of the season tops among all NHL rookies.

Buffalo had the slimmest of leads 1-0 until the 6:05 mark of that final period when Andreas Lilja gave Marc-Andre Bourdon a pass in the right circle.

The rookie defenseman wound and nailed a hard slapper past Miller for his fourth goal as a Flyer.

For all the talk by both the Flyers players themselves and coach Peter Laviolette about coming out with some jam in the first period ... well, it was as if the Flyers were on a sleep aid.

They looked more or less lethargic. Truth is, the Sabres, who were supposed to be fighting for their playoff lives werent much better with just three shots.

The Flyers had one power play in the period and got just one shot on Miller.

It wasnt until the periods final minutes that someone grabbed the Flyers attention when Cody Hodgson roughed up Claude Giroux, incensing the entire line on the ice, including mild-mannered Jaromir Jagr.

The Flyers had nine shots, but their best scoring chance came shorthanded in the final 2:05 as Miller broke up his breakaway.

Miller, incidentally, is the main reason why the Sabres were even in a position to challenge for a playoff berth in the second half of the season.

Coming into play, since the All-Star Game, he was 19-5-5 and 8-2-2 in his last 12 starts.

Jody Shelley, playing in just his ninth game since February began, led the Flyers near the end of the second period with three shots.

One of those was his own rebound on Miller early in the period that slid across the goal crease and nearly went into the net for his first goal of the season.

It didnt because Sabres defenseman Andrej Sekera cleared it on the line. That line with Shelley, Eric Wellwood and Zac Rinaldo had two scoring chances.

Right after them, Brayden Schenn shot wide of an open net too.

Leave the Sabres to hang around and they will burn you.

And they did. Ex-Flyer Ville Leino scored at 17:26 on a crease rebound on Ilya Bryzgalov amid boos from the crowd.

And just like that, the possibility of the Flyers dropping to sixth and meeting the Florida Panthers became a reality.

(more coming...)

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

Flyers Stay or Go Part 3: Brandon Manning to Michael Raffl

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Flyers Stay or Go Part 3: Brandon Manning to Michael Raffl

In the third 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. Part 1 and Part 2 can be found by clicking the links. Today, we begin with Brandon Manning.

Brandon Manning
2015-16 stats: 56 GP, 1 G, 6 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: I don’t see Manning as a long-term fit here — he’s a restricted free agent — but he showed enough this past season to stick around another year. If a prospect beats him out in training camp, so be it. If not, he’s a good placemat until one of them is ready to take the reins.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Manning, an inexpensive pending restricted free agent, will be back next season. Is he a long-term answer on the Flyers’ blue line? I can’t say he is, but Ron Hextall liked his growth and the soon-to-be 26-year-old is capable enough to keep a defensive spot warm before the prospects arrive.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Manning isn’t in the category of one of those guys to build around. In fact, he’ll already be 26 in just over a week. But Manning was very good in his third-pair role alongside Radko Gudas late last season and proved he can stick. He’s a RFA, but proved he should be back, at least in the short term. He’ll be fine again in the same role or valuable NHL-ready depth if someone ahead of him is hurt or fails to play well enough to stay in the lineup. Odds are he’s with the big club in some capacity when the season begins.

Verdict: STAY

Steve Mason
2015-16 stats: 23-19-10, 2.51, .918 SV%; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $4.1 mm cap hit

Dougherty: We touched on this two weeks ago. Mason is the starting goalie, though Michal Neuvirth will push him even more than he did this season come September. But that’s OK. Mason led the Flyers to the playoffs with terrific goaltending down the stretch before running out of gas. There’s no reason to move him this summer. Some teams envy the Flyers’ goalie situation. I’m sure if you call the Dallas Stars, they’ll tell you the same thing.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: I’ve said I believe the Flyers would benefit greatly from trading one of their two No. 1 goalies before they can become unrestricted free agents following the 2016-17 season. I feel Mason has a better chance than Michal Neuvirth at sticking in Philadelphia down the road. The man who carried the Flyers’ torch into the playoffs is more proven and less injury-prone.
 
Verdict
: STAY

Paone: As Tom and Jordan mentioned, we tackled the goalie question in an End to End last week. I mentioned there I am of the belief that the Flyers don’t have a No. 1 goalie, nor do they have a No. 2 goalie. They have two very good goaltenders whom they have the utmost confidence in when either is between the pipes on a given night.  And they’ll need both again next season as both have had injury issues. Some will only remember how Mason’s season ended with a thud in the playoffs against Washington and not how he put the Flyers on his back down the stretch and led them to the playoffs. And that’s just not fair. But Mason will be back. Now’s not the time to move either goalie, especially when Mason and Michal Neuvirth’s contracts are both up after next season. Let the goalie prospects, specifically Anthony Stolarz in Lehigh Valley, get some more seasoning and reassess the situation at the end of next season.

Verdict: STAY

Colin McDonald
2015-16 stats: 5 GP, 1 G, 0 A; Contract: Signed through 2017-18, $637,500 cap hit

Dougherty: McDonald proved himself to be a very valuable AHL player last season. He played a few games during the regular season with the Flyers, and a couple in the playoffs. I really liked the energy he brought and wouldn’t hate to see him on the NHL roster. But they need scoring, and he’s really just another role player. He signed an extension mid-season, so he’ll head back to Lehigh Valley.

Verdict: GO

Hall: McDonald had a leadership impact at AHL affiliate Lehigh Valley and served the Flyers as a reliable insurance policy. His experience is valuable within the organization, but much more so with the Phantoms full-time, being available for the Flyers when needed.
 
Verdict
: GO

Paone: Depth is so valuable, not just at the NHL level, but throughout the entire organization. And depth player is the category McDonald, a veteran forward, falls into. He’s a guy with a physical edge who can be called up at a moment’s notice and fill almost any role that’s asked of him. Don’t expect him to make the big club out of camp, barring injuries or anything else unforeseen. So that’s why I’ll say go. But don’t be surprised if he’s among the first names on the call-up list during season.

Verdict: GO

Evgeny Medvedev
2015-16 stats: 45 GP, 4 G, 9 A; Contract: Unrestricted free agent

Dougherty: I like Medvedev’s game, but he didn’t work out. Hextall brought him over from Russia on a one-year deal and while I’ve seen some say it’s Hextall’s worst move as GM, it was not a bad move.  Overall, Medvedev wasn’t a killer on the ice. In fact, he didn’t make a ton of mistakes, but when he did, it would be a big one and lead to Hakstol benching him. He’s a puck-moving defenseman and NHL teams need them. His legal troubles could be a deterrent for teams, though. If he wants to continue playing in North America, he'll have to look elsewhere.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Medvedev brought an intriguing offensive game but struggled in his own zone. To be frank, though, there’s no way he returns. Medvedev turns 34 in August, will be an unrestricted free agent and faces legal trouble following an arrest shortly after the Flyers’ playoff exit.
 
Verdict: GO

Paone: Ron Hextall took a no-risk flier (no pun intended, I promise – I just couldn’t think of a better word) on the 33-year-old Russian defenseman last summer. And while Medvedev showed flashes at certain points, his lack of playing time at the end of the season was telling that the marriage just wasn’t going to work out. Getting his cap hit off the books puts a nice chunk of change in the Flyers’ pocket. Plus, his recent legal issues certainly don’t help his cause of returning to Philadelphia. He just seems ticketed for a return home to Russia and the KHL.

Verdict: GO

Michal Neuvirth
2015-16 stats: 18-8-4, 2.27, .924 SV%; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $1.625 mm cap hit

Dougherty: See above. Neither goaltender is leaving. A Mason-Neuvirth tandem puts the Flyers in good hands. Both have injury history, too, so keeping both makes a ton of sense. Neuvirth was signed here last summer to push Mason and give the Flyers a solid backup. He proved to be far more than that. As noted above, he’ll push Mason even harder this season.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Neuvirth carries solid trade stock and will be a nice card for the Flyers to play up until the deadline. I could see Hextall pulling off a surprising move this offseason but, more than likely, the Flyers will have both their goalies entering the 2016-17 season.
 
Verdict
: STAY

Paone: Neuvirth played extremely well last season when healthy. He was sterling in his three playoff starts. But healthy is the key word there as his troubling career arc of not being able to stay healthy at key moments continued. But he’ll be back. Why? See that Mason part above. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Verdict: STAY

Michael Raffl
2015-16 stats: 82 GP, 13 G, 18 A; Contract: Signed through 2019-20, $2.35 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Raffl isn’t going anywhere. He signed an extension before the trade deadline last season, as Hextall decided extending Raffl made more sense than moving him. He’s well-liked in the room and has enough skill to move up-and-down the lineup. He’s a keeper.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Raffl is coming off a quietly good season in which he was the only Flyer to play all 82 regular-season games while compiling a plus-9 rating, best among the team’s regulars. And, of course, he signed an extension, so he’s here to stay.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: This is an easy one as Raffl, recently a pending unrestricted free agent, signed a three-year extension just prior to the trade deadline. The question isn’t whether he stays. It’s where he plays. If  history is any indication, there might not be a rock-solid answer to that as Raffl has moved from wing to center and line to line numerous times. He’s like the Flyers’ version of a Swiss Army Knife.

Verdict: STAY

NHL Playoffs: Joe Pavelski pushes Sharks to brink of Cup Final berth

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NHL Playoffs: Joe Pavelski pushes Sharks to brink of Cup Final berth

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS -- All the time Joe Pavelski has spent practicing his stick work has paid off big for the San Jose Sharks.

And the Sharks captain has his team on the brink of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

"You think back to some of the best scorers ever, his ability to get his stick on pucks in front of the net from different angles is as good as anybody I've ever seen," coach Peter DeBoer said. "His biggest asset is he works at it."

With the Sharks trailing by a goal, Pavelski tied the game late in the second period and then scored the go-ahead goal in the opening minute of the third period in the Sharks' 6-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues for a 3-2 lead in Western Conference final on Monday night.

"You play a good game like that, you want to ride that," Pavelski said. "Everyone's played a key role so far and it's going to have to continue."

Joel Ward also scored twice, including one of two empty-netters, in the final minute for San Jose, which can close out the series at home on Wednesday night. Joe Thornton had three assists.

"We just keep coming. We're not going to give up and they're not going to give up," Thornton said. "Both teams, we're here for a reason."

The Sharks had a strong response after losing 6-3 in Game 4 in San Jose.

"We've done it all season, all playoff run," forward Logan Couture said. "If we get down, the bench stays pretty even, pretty calm."

Pavelski leads all players in the playoffs with 12 goals and has three two-goal games, one in each series. The Sharks' captain added an assist and is tied with Couture for the postseason points lead, each with a franchise-record 21 points.

"It's good to see Sharks up there," Couture said.

Rookie Robby Fabbri scored and David Backes had an assist for St. Louis. Both were questionable coming off injuries in Game 4.

But star forward Vladimir Tarasenko was silent again. Tarasenko was minus-2 with one shot and is scoreless in the series after getting seven goals and 13 points in the first two rounds.

"He's struggled this series," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He hasn't gotten the looks that he normally gets. But he's one shift away from breaking it open."

The Blues are just 4-6 at home in the postseason, and failed to hold leads of 2-1 and 3-2 in Game 5. They're 6-3 on the road and need another win to bring the series home for Game 7.

"We did it in Game 4," Backes said. "Now, we've got to go in there and do it again."

The Sharks are 6-2 at home in the postseason and need one more win to reach the Cup Final.

"I think we're reminding them we're not there yet," DeBoer said. "There's a lot of heavy lifting yet."

The Sharks were 2 for 3 on the power play after entering 2 for 15 in the series.

Troy Brouwer batted in a rebound from midair for St. Louis and Ward scored a similar goal for San Jose with his first of the game.

Brouwer leads St. Louis with eight goals in 19 games this postseason after totaling seven in his first 78 playoff games.

Pavelski was left alone in the slot on a power play at 18:33 of the second and beat Jake Allen to tie it at 3-3. He redirected Brent Burns' drive from the point 16 seconds into the third to put the Sharks in front to stay.

San Jose goalie Martin Jones allowed three goals on the Blues' first 13 shots, but stopped all seven shots in the third period.

"He's a great goalie," defenseman Roman Polak said. "He's mentally strong. No matter what happened in the first or second, it doesn't matter."

Blues goalie Jake Allen made 21 saves in his second straight start of the postseason. Hitchcock said he hadn't decided whether Allen or Brian Elliott would start in Game 6.

"Numbers aren't my thing," Allen said. "Never have been, never will be. Wins are all that matter right now."

The Sharks scored first on Marc-Edouard Vlasic's first goal of the postseason from the point at 3:51 of the first period.

Jaden Schwartz snapped a 13-game goal drought to tie it on a rebound at 7:04 of the first.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 2: Claude Giroux to Andrew MacDonald

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Flyers Stay or Go Part 2: Claude Giroux to Andrew MacDonald

In the second 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’s Part 1. Today, we begin with Claude Giroux.

Claude Giroux
2015-16 stats: 78 GP, 22 G, 45 A
Contract: Signed through 2021-22, $8.275 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Easy call here. Giroux’s the captain on a long-term contract and the team’s leading scorer. He shouldn’t go anywhere, and no, the Flyers should not strip him of the ‘C,’ either.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Despite tallying just one point in six games of the Flyers’ first-round playoff series loss, Giroux had another productive season and was likely playing hurt through a good chunk of it. That may have been why his goals (22), assists (45) and points (67) were his lowest in a full season since 2009-10. Regardless, the 28-year-old was strong and steady. He’s under contract for quite a while and is obviously staying put.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: This is a rhetorical question about a 28-year-old who has the most points (116 G, 251 A – 367 P) in the NHL over the past five seasons, led the Flyers in points five of the last six seasons, is a four-time All-Star and one of the best players in the world, right? Um, yeah, he’s back. 

Verdict: STAY

Shayne Gostisbehere
2015-16 stats: 64 GP, 17 G, 29 A
Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $925,000 cap hit

Dougherty: Another easy one here. Gostisbehere came up to the Flyers when Mark Streit underwent pubic plate dislocation surgery and never looked back. He’s a Calder Trophy finalist, and one of the most exciting young defensemen to watch across the league. He’ll be back next season, though we should temper our expectations a bit.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: This guy wasn’t too bad in his first NHL season. I think he’s staying.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: “Ghost” took the NHL and, more specifically, Philadelphia by storm in 2015-16 with his spectacular rookie campaign. If you ask Flyers players, they’ll tell you they can’t pinpoint when this season turned around. But it’s no coincidence the picture started to brighten when the Calder Trophy finalist arrived. The question isn’t whether he’ll be back. The question is what will he do for an encore in his sophomore campaign?

Verdict: STAY

Radko Gudas
2015-16 stats: 76 GP, 5 G, 9 A
Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: I’m not a huge fan of Gudas’ game, but it’s hard to ignore what he did last season once he figured out how to legally check players in the NHL. Once the discipline came, Gudas turned into an effective defenseman and was used as such. He’s a restricted free agent, but Hextall hinted at a long-term contract. He’ll be here, and he should. Plus, Gudas is a right-handed shot, which goes well with the coveted prospects.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: I’m not sure what the allure is with Gudas. Maybe it’s the physicality and thumping hits that bring fans back to the golden days. There’s no denying Gudas played better down the stretch of the regular season. He’s a restricted free agent and likely returning, but I wouldn’t mind if the Flyers let him walk to open more opportunity on the blue line and for the future.

Verdict: GO

Paone: Gudas’ season traveled from one end of the spectrum to the other. Once he calmed himself down and stopped taking dumb major penalties that hurt both opponents physically and his Flyers teammates who were forced to pick up for him on the ice after, he was one of the team’s most effective players. His ability to play a physical game can’t be underestimated, especially when he plays it smartly. And when he plays it smartly, he’s a valuable weapon who gets under the opposition’s skin with the best of them. He’s a restricted free agent who will get a raise, but he’ll be back. 

Verdict: STAY

Scott Laughton
2015-16 stats: 71 GP, 7 G, 14 A
Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $863,333 cap hit

Dougherty: The Flyers aren’t going to give up on Laughton after one full NHL season. It’s just not going to happen and it’s not how the business works. Laughton’s first season up didn’t go well and quite frankly, if he wants to be an everyday NHLer, he’ll have to come into training camp with a metaphorical boulder on his shoulder. Why’s that? Because I’m not sure he’ll earn a spot on the roster in camp. The one thing we’ve learned with Hextall is young players have to earn their way. If we consider the Flyers will add a winger or two from outside the organization and Travis Konecny will be pushing for a spot come September, Laughton will have to show another level he hasn’t displayed yet. I could very well see him starting the season with Lehigh Valley.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Remember, Laughton is going to turn just 22 years old in a week. This past season was his first full one in the NHL and he saw just 10:26 of ice time per game. Give him some time. Laughton said his goal is to be a top-six forward. He’s shown flashes, and I think added opportunity will give him a better chance at NHL success.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: Perhaps no Flyer had more of an up-and-down season than Laughton. And it ended in ugly fashion with that frightening collision into the boards in Game 4 against the Capitals that left him motionless on the ice for several minutes. The former first-round pick found himself a healthy scratch as the Flyers made their playoff push at the end of the season. I do believe he has plenty more to offer. But two things have to happen for his situation to be more conducive to success. Whether at center or at wing, he needs a defined position and, once he gets that, he needs to show his abilities on a more consistent basis. He’ll be back, but he needs to make that consistent impact when he gets his chances. The leash could be short, though.

Verdict: STAY

Andrew MacDonald
2015-16 stats: 28 GP, 1 G, 7 A
Contract: Signed through 2019-20, $5 mm cap hit

Dougherty: MacDonald’s contract hurts looking at it. To his credit, MacDonald handled everything with class last season, spending the majority of the year in the AHL. He came up because of injury and played better than expected … but that’s because the expectations were so low. It’ll be a minor miracle if Hextall is able to move MacDonald’s contract this summer, but it’s very hard to see a Flyers roster come opening night with MacDonald on it. He figures to be on the Phantoms again at the start of the season, unless Hextall chooses to buy him out.

Verdict: GO

Hall: It’s hard to blame MacDonald for accepting what was offered to him, that being his contract. It’s the reason why he’ll be staying in the Flyers’ organization. The 29-year-old defenseman is under contract through the 2019-20 season and brings with him a cap hit of $5 million, according to Spotrac.com. MacDonald is a classy and well-respected player that did actually perform in his 28 regular-season games. Because of his deal, he’ll be here, whether it’s the AHL or NHL.

Verdict: STAY

Paone: Let’s get this straight: MacDonald is not a bad hockey player. He’s a fine No. 4, 5, 6-type defenseman, and he and Gostisbehere had some nice chemistry together as a pairing toward the end of the season. But that contract is a figurative anvil tied to his skates. Would the Flyers prefer to move the money on MacDonald’s contract? Probably. And if we’ve learned anything about Hextall over the past couple of seasons, it’s that nothing is impossible when it comes to him working the phones (see: Lecavalier, Vincent). Could a buyout starting with a $2.02 million cap hit next season be an option? Sure, anything is an option. But would it really be worth it? Defense is at a premium in today’s NHL and MacDonald is a really good depth guy. Add in the hefty contract and my gut says he’s back with the Flyers next season with more easily moveable veterans out the door.

Verdict: STAY