Underrated Coyotes pose a challenge for Flyers

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Underrated Coyotes pose a challenge for Flyers

Monday, February 21, 2011
Posted: 5:07 p.m.
By Tim PanaccioCSNPhilly.com

Maybe at some point, people will look at the Phoenix Coyotes as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference.

Maybe it will take a stable ownership group to assure their survival in Glendale. Or maybe it will take a bunch of playoff upsets.

Regardless, the Desert Dogs are once again for real as they swagger into Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, leading the Pacific Division, having won seven straight games in which theyve given up only 11 goals.

I follow them a little more than most people because I played there, said Danny Briere, the forgotten Coyote of long ago. One of my really good friends still plays there the only guy from my time there Shane Doan.

Theyre kind stuck in that time hole there where they are not completely out West. But theyre not East and people kind of forget about them a lot. Im not really surprised. The season they had last year and they continue to play better this year. Im happy to see that. Im happy for Shane. Hes gone through a lot of tough years there.

Its hard to believe, but Keith Yandle, that reigning superstar on skates, leads the team, with 51 points not to mention he leads every defensemen in the NHL in scoring, as well.

Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov has been a stud in net with a 2.56 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. Hes stopped 190 of 201 shots over his last seven games during this win streak.

And, of course, ex-Flyer Scottie Upshall, universally loved by his teammates, fans and every single female in Philly, has 16 goals. Upshall needs just three more to break last seasons career-high.

Current Flyer Dan Carcillo came to the Flyers in that 2009 trade deadline deal that sent Upshall out West. This will be Upshalls first game back here.

Much like Upshall was here, Carcillo is a bit of a prankster at the rink.

They gave me my start and I will always be grateful for that, Carcillo said of the Coyotes. Wayne Gretzky was a big part of that and hes not there right now. I will always be grateful to him, the organization and Don Maloney who gave me a chance to play.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette treats all games with equality. Still, the fact remains the Flyers have a losing record against the Pacific Division 2-3-1. No matter how you view it, this is a statement game for the Flyers, who are 7-5-3 overall against the West.

Last year, that was the talk they surprised teams, Laviolette said. Theyve come out and had another really strong start. They dipped there at the beginning, but right now theyre red hot behind the New Jersey Devils, who are probably the hottest team in the league.

You got respect the fact that theyre going to come in here and play a good hockey game. We have to make sure we do our work.

Laviolette said he didnt sell this game to his players as a benchmark game.

Theres no matching up, he said. We have a big hockey game against a very good hockey team.

From the Flyers side of things, fans get their first, up-close and personal look at Kris Versteeg. And hes nervous about his Philly debut, too.

This was a very intimidating place to play, said the former Blackhawk about last Junes Stanley Cup Final. The whole orange thing and the fans, how revved up they get. It was always an exciting place to play in even though you were on the other side. Now its exciting just to be part of the Flyers and playing at home.

Versteeg said he would be lying not admit was nervous coming into Philly last June.

Coming into an intimidating building like this was, it was hard, he said.

Like another new Flyer this season, Sean ODonnell, Versteeg saw a lot of Phoenix in the West.

Theyve been this good for over a year now, Versteeg said. Its no fluke. Theyre doing it again this year. They play a team game. All four lines roll. They come at you wave by wave. It should be a big test for us.
Related: Panaccios Flyers Week in Review: Feb. 14-20 Buy Flyers gear
E-mail Tim Panaccio at tpanotch@comcast.net

NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

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NHL Playoffs: Sharks win to reach 1st Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After 25 years, the San Jose Sharks will finally play for the Stanley Cup.

Captain Joe Pavelski scored an early goal, Joel Ward added two of his own and the Sharks advanced to their first Stanley Cup final in franchise history by beating the St. Louis Blues 5-2 on Wednesday night in Game 6 of the Western Conference final.

Joonas Donskoi also scored, Logan Couture had an empty-netter and Martin Jones made 24 saves as a Sharks team notorious for postseason letdowns will now play for the championship that has eluded stars such as Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau for so many years.

Thornton assisted on Pavelski's goal less than four minutes into the game to set the tone and Marleau had two assists in the third period that set off chants of "We Want The Cup! We Want The Cup!"

Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final will be Monday night. The Sharks will either host Tampa Bay or visit Pittsburgh, depending on which team wins Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

With the loss, the Blues' postseason woes continue as the franchise still seeks its first championship and first trip to the Cup final since 1970. Coach Ken Hitchcock's second goalie change of the series did not work as Brian Elliott allowed four goals on 26 shots in his return to the net.

Vladimir Tarasenko, a 40-goal scorer in the regular season, got his first points of the series when he scored twice in the third period but it was too late for the Blues, who still trailed 4-2.

Despite making the playoffs 16 times in 18 seasons and winning the second most games in the NHL since the start of the 2003-04 season, the Sharks have been known for their soul-crushing playoff disappointments.

They won just three games in three previous trips to the conference final, were knocked out twice in four seasons by an eighth seed and most notably blew a 3-0 series lead to lose in the first round to Los Angeles in 2014.

The impact of that loss lasted for an entire year as San Jose missed the playoffs entirely last season. But led by first-year coach Peter DeBoer and bolstered by some key acquisitions by general manager Doug Wilson, the Sharks recovered this year and are now only four wins away from a championship.

This was the first time in San Jose's history that the team played with a trip to the Stanley Cup final on the line. The atmosphere in the Shark Tank reflected the high stakes with the fans at a frenzy during pregame introductions and the "Let's Go Sharks!" chants starting soon after the puck dropped.

The Sharks fed off that energy and were buzzing early as Hitchcock predicted before the game. St. Louis nearly silenced the crowd when Alexander Steen got a chance in the slot early in the period but Jones robbed him with a glove save.

That led to a breakaway for Thornton, who missed the net on his chance. But Pavelski recovered the puck behind the net and before Elliott knew what was happening, Pavelski tucked the puck in on a wraparound for his NHL-leading 13th goal of the playoffs.

San Jose added to the lead early in the second when Ward tipped a point shot from Brent Burns past Elliott to make it 2-0.

The Sharks had a chance to add to it when Scottie Upshall was called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty. But the Blues managed to kill San Jose's potent power play and started to take over the play after that. They couldn't get a goal the rest of the period, however, as San Jose kept them mostly to the outside and Jones made a great pad save against Jori Lehtera.

Ward's second goal and another by Donskoi in the third period removed any drama and allowed the fans to celebrate.

Notes
Marleau played his 165th career playoff game, the most ever for someone who never played in the finals. Thornton is next on the list with 150 games, followed by Curtis Joseph with 133. ... The only franchise that has played longer than San Jose without going to a Cup final is Arizona, which began NHL play as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979-80.

Flyers Stay or Go Part 4: Matt Read to Mark Streit

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Flyers Stay or Go Part 4: Matt Read to Mark Streit

In the fourth 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, Part 2 and Part 3 can be seen by clicking the links. Today, we begin with Matt Read.

Matt Read
2015-16 stats: 79 GP, 11 G, 15 A; Contract: Signed through 2018-19, $3.975 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Read is a two-time 20-goal scorer but is coming off his second straight disappointing season. Simply put, he’s not that player anymore. But he’s not as bad as you would think if you were to search his name on Twitter. He can play on both special teams, which is valuable. He’s not a terrible ninth forward or fourth liner. Read is signed for two more seasons, but the Flyers desperately need goal scoring and I think Hextall finds a taker for Read this summer.

Verdict: GO

Hall: You wonder if a role change will help Read rediscover himself (see story). Maybe a change of scenery does the trick. Or, perhaps Read is simply the player we’ve seen over the past two seasons. He’s a third- or-fourth-liner in the NHL, and that’s OK. But he’s making $14.5 million over four seasons with the Flyers through 2017-18, which doesn’t help. Read will be back but fighting his tail off for playing time. Ultimately, though, Ron Hextall will start looking at all avenues to part ways with Read — it’s just a matter of when.
 
Verdict
: STAY

Paone: No Flyer’s game has fallen off more over the past few seasons than Read’s. After a 22-goal campaign in 2013-14, the 29-year-old forward has scored just 19 goals in the past two seasons combined. That’s a span of 159 games. He struggled so much this past season that he was a healthy scratch at one point. This just screams of a situation where a change of scenery could benefit both parties. The question is how that gets done. Will someone take a chance on Read via trade? Or is a buyout with a projected cap hit at $875,000 next season before going up to $1.375 million in 2017-18 an option? Time will tell. But Read’s time in Philadelphia seems to be up.

Verdict: GO

Brayden Schenn
2015-16 stats: 80 GP, 26 G, 33 A; Contract: Restricted free agent

Dougherty: Schenn became a go-to guy this past season for the Flyers, which is exactly what you wanted to see from him in his fifth NHL season. He found a consistency in his game that has been lacking and showed he can play at wing. He scored a career-high 59 points and 26 goals and you have to think he’s still not done growing. He’ll be here for a while.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Schenn, a pending restricted free agent coming off a career season, is hoping for a long-term deal with the Flyers. Ron Hextall and company, of course, want him back. Schenn will be re-signed. As Hextall said, the Flyers will “get it done.” (see story)
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: No way Ron Hextall and the Flyers give up on a 24-year-old winger (yeah, Schenn’s found a home on the wing) who’s coming off a career-high 26-goal season and showed profound chemistry with Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds on the top line. That’s especially true with the way the Flyers crave goal-scoring. No question Schenn will be back with a not-so-little raise.

Verdict: STAY

Nick Schultz
2015-16 stats: 81 GP, 1 G, 9 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $2.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Schultz is basically the Jason Smith to this Flyers team. He’s respected in the locker room, a guy the team looks to lead and blocks a ton of shots. There’s always room for a guy like Schultz on a roster and it’s good to have him around with the young guns on their way. Ideally, his role decreases next season, but nonetheless, he should stick around.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Dave Hakstol and the Flyers’ locker room routinely extolled Schultz last season for his presence on and off the ice. He’s under contract and will be here for one more year, a season in which he can continue leading by example. And, who knows, maybe a contending team in need of an experienced blueliner will pursue the Flyers at the trade deadline.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Schultz is what he is at this stage of his career. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman who blocks a ton of shots. He’s also a leader in the locker room, and that can’t be undervalued. With just a year left on his contract, Schultz isn’t in the Flyers’ long-term plans. Think of Schultz as a veteran placeholder until a prospect is ready to join the big club. In the meantime, he can fill his veteran leader role on the blue line for the upcoming season and then the Flyers can reassess the defensive situation after the season.

Verdict: STAY

Wayne Simmonds
2015-16 stats: 81 GP, 32 G, 28 A; Contract: Signed through 2018-19, $3.975 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Simmonds is the Flyers’ first 30-goal scorer since Scott Hartnell in 2011. The Flyers need goals. Simmonds scores goals. This is easy. He’s not going anywhere any time soon.

Verdict: STAY

Hall: Simmonds, the emotional heartbeat of the Flyers, is locked up and fresh off a career-best 32-goal campaign. He’s getting better and going nowhere.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: Power forwards who create havoc in front of the net and continue to increase their production year after year don’t grow on trees. Therefore, the Flyers wouldn’t even think of getting rid of Simmonds, who scored a career-high 32 goals and tied another career-high with 60 points. Plus, it’s probably not a good idea to mess with the chemistry Simmonds, Schenn and Giroux had on the top line at the end of the season.

Verdict: STAY

Mark Streit
2015-16 stats: 62 GP, 6 G, 17 A; Contract: Signed through 2016-17, $5.25 mm cap hit

Dougherty: Streit is two years shy of turning 40, but he’s still an above-average puck mover. He didn’t seem to have the same step in his game after returning from his pubic plate dislocation and lost his job as the Flyers’ power-play quarterback to Shayne Gostisbehere, but he still has value. He’s on the last year of his deal. He’s a candidate to be moved to free up a spot for one of the defensive prospects. Plus, I think they could get something of value for him.

Verdict: GO

Hall: Streit said he takes a lot of pride in training and preparing for the NHL grind at 38 years old. He wants to keep playing until his body says no. The Flyers have an ideal trade chip here in Streit. In 2016-17, he’ll be on the final year of his contract, making him an attractive second-half rental for a win-now team. I think he stays but the Flyers find a suitor and complete a deal before the trade deadline.
 
Verdict: STAY

Paone: To me, Streit is the most difficult player on the entire roster to answer this question about. On one hand, the Flyers probably would like to move his salary and free up a spot for a younger player or prospect. But, to me, that just seems like it will be easier to do closer to the trade deadline when teams get desperate and will bite on a defenseman who’ll be 39 this coming December but can still produce and can help out tremendously on the power play. I just feel it will be too difficult for the Flyers to move Streit in the offseason. If they do, they’ll have to add something or someone to entice another team into taking him. The chances of having to do that at the trade deadline are much less. For that reason, Streit stays for now.. Plus, it can’t hurt having Sam Morin or Travis Sanheim play a half-season in the AHL until then.

Verdict: STAY (for now)

NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

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NHL Playoffs: Penguins fight off Lightning to force Game 7

BOX SCORE

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Pittsburgh Penguins made good on Evgeni Malkin's pledge to force Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final.

Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist, and Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Nick Bonino also scored Tuesday night in a 5-2 victory that evened the best-of-seven series with the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-3.

Game 7 is Thursday night, with the Penguins hoping to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2009 and the Lightning looking to advance to the Cup Final for the second straight year.

"I just told them to embrace the moment. It's a great opportunity for us. These are the type of circumstances to where you have an opportunity to write your own story," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan.

"They had a certain mindset going into this tonight: `We're going to leave it all out there and do everything we can to bring this back to Pittsburgh,'" Sullivan added. "And, certainly that's what they did."

Malkin was the most demonstrative of the players expressing confidence the Penguins could take the series back to Pittsburgh, saying he believed in himself, his teammates and that they could return home for a seventh game "for sure."

Crosby stepped up with his third game-winning goal of the series. The Penguins captain assisted on Kessel's 5-on-3 power-play goal in the opening period and later skated around Tampa Bay defenseman Anton Stralman into the clear before sending a wrist shot between goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy's legs for a 3-0 lead in the final minute of the second period.

"We know the circumstances. It makes you go out there with a mindset of playing desperate," Crosby said. "I think we had confidence in the whole group. I think everyone played great.

"Everyone contributed in their own way. In a big game like this you, don't do anything special, just do your job. I think that's gotten us this far."

Rookie goaltender Matt Murray returned to the lineup after being replaced as the starter for Game 5 by Marc-Andre Fleury, but his 10th playoff victory did not come without a bit of suspense.

Brian Boyle scored twice in the third period for Tampa Bay, with one of the goals bouncing off Kessel before getting past Murray, who finished with 28 saves. The second score drew the Lightning within one goal with 7:17 remaining.

Instead of flinching, the young goalie who turns 22 on Wednesday retained his composure down the stretch to help the Penguins avoid relinquishing a third-period lead for the second straight game.

"I just think it's part of his DNA. He has a calming influence. He doesn't get rattled if he lets a goal in. He continues to compete," Sullivan said.

"That's usually an attribute that takes years to acquire. And to have it at such a young age is impressive. I think one of his biggest strengths is just his ability to stay in the moment."

Rust's breakaway goal at 17:52 of the third gave Pittsburgh breathing room, and Bonino added an empty-netter to finish it off.

"We had a great chance tonight and just tip-toed around a little bit," Boyle said. "We were tentative and weren't aggressive."

Kessel's goal was his team-leading ninth of the playoffs. Crosby had the primary assist, his first point since delivering game-winners in Games 2 and 3, and Malkin also had an assist to extend his point streak to four games after a slow start in the series.

The Lightning had an apparent goal by Jonathan Drouin waived off a little more than five minutes into the game, when Sullivan successfully challenged that the young Tampa Bay winger was offside on the play before tapping in a rebound off Ondrej Palat's shot that bounced off Murray's pads.

Sullivan announced the decision to go back to Murray following Tuesday's morning skate.

Murray started the first four games of the series. Fleury replaced him during the third period of Game 4, then made his first start in nearly two months in Game 5, which Tampa Bay won 4-3 in overtime.

Before Game 5, Fleury had not started a game since March 31, when he suffered a concussion.

Tampa Bay entered the game determined to not come out flat in Game 6 of the conference final for the second straight year.

The Lightning beat the New York Rangers on the road to go up 3-2 in that series, but were badly outplayed at home the next game and had to return to Madison Square Garden to finish the series.

Now, they'll have to win on the road again to make the third Stanley Cup appearance in franchise history.

"I know we can. I've got confidence in this group. We believe we can do that," Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan said. "We've had success on the road in the playoffs. We've had success in their building already. It's going to be a good one."

Notes
The Penguins were 1 for 3 on the power play and are 4 for 19 in the series. The Lightning were 0 for 1, dropping to 2 for 12. ... Malkin was penalized in the first period for slashing Tampa Bay Bay's Ryan Callahan in what appeared to be retaliation for the Lightning forward whacking him across the wrist with his stick. ... Murray improved to 4-0 following a loss. He's 10-4 overall in the playoffs.