Erik Gustafsson answers the bell with timely goal

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Erik Gustafsson answers the bell with timely goal

He came out of the penalty box and went screaming down the ice all alone. That he shouldn’t have been in the penalty box in the first place suddenly didn’t matter (except for the fact that it set him up nicely with a clear path). What mattered at that point was watching Erik Gustafsson, a blur of orange, charging hard for the Rangers’ net.

It was an important moment for him in the spotlight after so many other moments spent in the shadows. Gustafsson was the forgotten man for the first five games of the Flyers-Rangers playoff series. Or, if he wasn’t forgotten, he was a mere addendum to conversations that had less to do with him than his teammates. When Nick Grossmann suffered tendon damage to his right ankle in Game 4, the question was who might replace him. Gustafsson was mentioned. So was 39-year-old veteran Hal Gill. Gill got the nod for Game 5 -- then struggled mightily.

Gill was bad enough that people wondered, rightly, whether Craig Berube could possibly go with him again in Tuesday’s Game 6 at the Wells Fargo Center. Berube decided against it. Gill was out. Gustafsson was in.

"Obviously, I was a little disappointed I didn't get to play [Game 5],” Gustafsson said. “[Berube] had his reasoning and I accepted that. When I was told that I was playing [Tuesday], I couldn't tell you how excited I was."

Which brings us back to Gustafsson’s moment, which had as much to do with his redemption as the team’s. The Flyers were up by two goals in the second period. It was a nice enough cushion even though it wasn’t quite enough to make them comfortable. How could they relax when the Rangers were capable of deleting their lead and sending them into the offseason sooner than they wanted?

But if there was any anxiety about New York mounting an unfortunate and ill-timed comeback, it evaporated when Gustafsson came out of the penalty box. Braydon Coburn put the puck on Gustafsson’s stick. Gustafsson did the rest. He skated down the ice unimpeded and beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist without much trouble. As the horn blared and the fans went mad, Gustafsson gave what must have been a very satisfying fist-pump.

"It was a lot of fun when I saw the puck come down to me,” said Gustafsson, who helped the Flyers beat the Rangers, 5-2, to force Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday evening (see Instant Replay). “I think it took a fortunate bounce. I almost thought Lundqvist was going to get it but luckily the puck went in."

It was the second playoff goal of his career. And it might not have happened if not for the penalty that landed him in the box in the first place -- the penalty that shouldn’t have been called because it wasn’t a penalty at all.

With about eight minutes left in the second period, the puck was behind the Flyers’ net and off to the left side. Gustafsson and Rangers winger Derek Dorsett gave chase. As they neared the boards, Gustafsson peeled off. Dorsett kept going. They crossed paths but there wasn’t any contact. Well, there wasn’t any contact except for when Dorsett kept going and sort of face-planted himself into the plexiglass like a confused bird smacking hard into an unyielding office window. Dorsett went down. Gustafsson got called for high-sticking.

(It should be noted that Dorsett got a two-minute penalty for embellishment in the third period. It was the kind of thing that made believers in karma and make-up calls nod approvingly.)

The Gustafsson penalty that shouldn’t have been a penalty was killed off by the Flyers. That’s how Gustafsson found himself in such an advantageous position. If he didn’t merit being in the box in the first place, he surely didn’t mind coming out of it to score a goal thereafter (see 10 observations). Following the game, Gustafsson was asked about that -- about the irony of a penalty he didn’t deserve setting him up for such a big goal.

“It worked out,” Gustafsson said with a grin.

It did indeed.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Jonathan Bernier

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Jonathan Bernier
Age: 28
Height: 6-0
Weight: 184
Last team: Anaheim Ducks
2016-17 cap hit: $4.15 million

Scouting report
After being drafted 11th overall in 2006, Bernier was a highly-touted goaltender coming up in the Los Angeles Kings system and performed well in a backup role for five seasons in L.A.

But with Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles, Bernier was blocked from getting a viable opportunity to be a No. 1 with the Kings. In June 2013, they shipped him to Toronto.

Bernier did not capitalize on his opportunity with the Maple Leafs, however. He never established himself as a high-end starting goalie in three seasons despite a strong first year.

In 2013-14, Bernier was 26-19-7 with a 2.68 goals-against average and .923 save percentage with the Leafs but that save percentage continually dropped the next two years.

Toronto decided to cut ties with Bernier after the 2015-16 season and traded him to the Anaheim Ducks for a conditional draft pick. He spent last season backing up John Gibson.

Appearing in 39 games last season for the Ducks, Bernier posted a 21-7-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and two shutouts.

One note about Bernier: Flyers general manager Ron Hextall was an assistant GM in Los Angeles when the Kings drafted him in 2006, so there is a connection there.

Dougherty's projection
I don’t think Bernier is the best option available for the Flyers but the most likely. Maybe I’m putting too much weight on the Hextall connection here, maybe not. We’ll see.

Bernier fits what the Flyers appear to want in a goalie going forward: a short-term veteran option who can share the net with Michal Neuvirth in a platoon situation.

Hextall isn’t looking for the Flyers’ goalie of the future this summer. He believes he has that in the system already but needs to bide time for Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom.

But he will be looking for a goalie who he can trust playing around 40 games or more next season and give the team quality in net. In that role, Bernier would be a solid fit.

He hasn’t panned out as projected and we could use him as one example of why we don’t see many goaltenders drafted high in the first round. They’re tough to project.

With that said, Bernier has found success in the past, including last season in Anaheim, in either a platoon or backup situation. He’ll come at a reasonable price, too.

A tandem of Neuvirth-Bernier would not be the worst thing in the world for the Flyers; it wouldn’t be the best, either. I think it would give them enough in net to compete.

If I had to predict which goaltender on the market will be here next season, it is Bernier.

Hall's projection
I see Bernier as one of the least realistic options for the Flyers.
 
The 2006 11th overall pick hasn't quite lived up to the hype, but he still has some cachet, probably too much for the Flyers in this spot.
 
He turns only 29 in August and in a backup role last season, his 2.50 goals-against average and .915 save percentage still ranked in the top 15 among NHL goalies that played 39 games or more.
 
The role and price in which the Flyers will offer shouldn't attract Bernier much. From the sound of Hextall, I expect him to be judicious in adding a goalie. This sounds much more like a stopgap, temporary position than anything future oriented.
 
There's a connection with the Flyers' GM here, but that might be it when it comes to the Bernier scenario.

Paone's projection
I find Bernier to be an intriguing option for the Flyers.

First and foremost, there is plenty of familiarity with Bernier within the Flyers' organization. Hextall and current Flyers goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh were both parts of the Kings' organization when Bernier was drafted in 2006 and worked with him during his development into an NHL goaltender. They not only know the type of player and competitor they'd be getting, they also know the type of person they'd be getting and that plays a role, too.

Bernier had a very strong campaign for the Ducks last season. That certainly makes him an attractive option for the Flyers. He did his best to prove he can be a reliable option again after things soured for him in Toronto. But, hey, a lot of things went sour in Toronto during those times.

But that strong campaign with Anaheim last season will have Bernier wanting opportunity and more of it. With Neuvirth entrenched here, how much opportunity would there actually be for Bernier here? Would the Flyers present the type of opportunity he's looking for after last year's showing with the Ducks? My guess is no. He'll likely want an opportunity to take on much more of a workload.

So while the option is intriguing for many reasons and it certainly isn't out of the realm of possibility, I ultimately feel this is an option both he and the Flyers pass on.

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

Flyers re-sign defenseman Mark Alt to 1-year, 2-way deal

One day after extending qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents (see story), the Flyers re-signed Mark Alt, who was unrestricted.

The Phantoms' defenseman agreed to a one-year, two-way deal on Tuesday that will play him $125,000 in the AHL and $650,000 in the NHL.

The 25-year-old has played four years with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. 

He had one goal and 11 points last season in 40 AHL games.

Alt's only NHL appearance was his debut as a Flyer on March 28, 2015, at San Jose.

Alt has 68 points (12 goals) in 237 AHL games.