Penguins' Neal, Asham suspended by NHL

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Penguins' Neal, Asham suspended by NHL

The long days journey into night finally ended for the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night when NHL Lord of Discipline, Brendan Shanahan handed out some more suspensions.

Penguins forward Arron Asham has been suspended four games for his cowardly attack of Flyers rookie Brayden Schenn during the first period of Sundays 8-4 Flyers rout in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Asham jumped Schenn from behind and punched him in the back of the head while down on the ice.

The more significant suspension, however, was forward James Neal, a 40-goal scorer this season. Neal was suspended one game for a blind side hit on Flyers rookie center Sean Couturier late in the third period. He will miss Game 4 on Wednesday.

Given the Penguins are down 0-3 to the Flyers, Neals suspension is a huge loss for Pittsburgh going into an elimination game, especially considering his centerman, Evgeni Malkin, has yet to score a goal.

To make matters worse, on Tuesday morning, Pens winger Craig Adams drew an automatic one-game suspension for an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of the game, while coach Dan Bylsma drew a 10,000 fine.

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said it didnt matter how many players the club lost, the focus is on staying alive in the series.

It doesnt matter, Crosby told reporters earlier in the day in Pittsburgh. Whoever is out there, weve got to find a way to win. We cant worry about anything else. We cant worry about whos in the lineup.

We cant worry about whats happened the last three games. All of our energy will be going towards winning that game. Thats where our mind has got to be. No one can waste any time or energy worrying about that stuff. If weve got to play with 10 guys, weve got to find a way to win. Thats really what it comes down to.

E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net.

Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

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Claude Giroux, Shayne Gostisbehere, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare added to World Cup rosters

Turns out the hip and abdominal surgeries for both Flyers captain Claude Giroux and rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere weren’t a deterrent from making their countries’ respective World Cup of Hockey rosters.
 
Also going will be center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who was added to Team Europe’s roster.
 
All three Flyers were “add-ons” to Team Canada, Team North America and Team Europe as the final rosters were announced on Friday night.
 
The World Cup of Hockey tournament begins in September 17 and ends on Oct. 1.

Giroux, 28, has twice represented Canada at the World Championships and once in World Junior competition.
 
Gostisbehere, 23,  represented the U.S. internationally once the World Juniors. Team North America is all players 23-and-under or “Young Stars” as some refer to them.
 
Despite his poorest offensive output in three years, Giroux still led the Flyers with 67 points this season, playing in his 500th career game and scoring his 500th point. He won the Bobby Clarke Trophy as team MVP.
 
Gostisbehere took the NHL by storm as a November fill-in for the injured Mark Streit and ended up becoming a Calder Trophy finalist. That award will be announced in late June. 
 
He quickly ended up as the team’s first unit power play quarterback, and led all rookie defensemen in points (46), while establishing several club rookie records, including goals by a Flyers defenseman (17).
 
Gostisbehere was voted the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the team’s best defenseman and the Gene Hart Memorial Award, given by the Flyers’ fan club to the players possessing the most “heart.”
 
Bellemare, 32, had 14 points this season as a valuable fourth line checking center and penalty killer. He also celebrated his 100th game as a Flyer. He figures to be a role player for Team Europe.
 
Ghost and Giroux both had off-season surgery on May 17. Their recovery is approximately 10-12 weeks. Both are expected at Flyers’ training camp in September.
 
Incidentally, the Flyers had just 167 man-games lost due to injury this past season. That’s the fewest number of injuries since 1998-99 when they had 120.
 
In all, the Flyers will send eight players – Bellemare, Giroux, Gostisbehere, center Sean Couturier (North America), defenseman Mark Streit (Team Europe), and three players from the Czech Republic – defenseman Radko Gudas, goalie Michal Neuvirth and forward Jakub Voracek.
 
Eight teams will compete in the tournament with every game being played at Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
 
Philadelphia was one of the host cities for the inaugural World Cup of Hockey in 1996 when the Wells Fargo Center first opened as the CoreStates Center.

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 isn't necessarily the determining factor in negotiations with the Flyers. He'll be back in his familiar roles next season.

Verdict: STAY