Flyers begin crucial road trip with wild-card hopes in jeopardy

Flyers begin crucial road trip with wild-card hopes in jeopardy

From five teams to three teams.
 
That's how many clubs the Flyers now need to leap frog over to put themselves into the second wild card spot after Sunday night's huge win over the Hurricanes (see story).
 
Even though they are just five points out, because they have just one head-to-head game against a team ahead of them, the odds remain daunting as they begin a four-game road trip Tuesday night in Winnipeg.
 
"We've given ourselves a chance," Jakub Voracek said. "We got to get some points and hope for other teams to lose some games."
 
That said, if the Flyers can harness the emotion, the positive energy and strong play from Sunday's 4-3 overtime win against Carolina, perhaps they can do the unexpected and win out their final 11 games.
 
They will need at least nine wins to grab that wild card.
 
"We have to, we have no choice," said goalie Steve Mason, who will be in net Tuesday in Winnipeg. "This trip will probably determine the outcome of the season. Just based on this trip, there's very little room to make up ground. Four tough tests and it would be ideal to come away with four victories.
 
"Everybody understands the position we're in and what it's going to take in order to come out on top. We have to find that consistency. That is the biggest thing right now."
 
Toronto has 12 games left with 79 points. The Flyers blew their chance at a four-point game against them when they lost 4-2 on March 9 in Canada.
 
The Islanders have 11 games left with 78 points. The Flyers have one game left with them. Tampa Bay has 77 points and the Flyers have no games left with the Lightning. Three of the Flyers toughest games down the stretch come during this trip.
 
The two games against Columbus between now and the end both require wins.
 
"A big win last night but we have to forget about it and think about tomorrow night," Sean Couturier said. "Another big game. We have to win.
 
"If we lose, what we did yesterday is probably worth nothing. We've got to get streaky here and get going a little bit."
 
There was a ton of positive energy in the Flyers dressing room after Sunday's game. Same thing today at practice after their team photo at the Wells Fargo Center.
 
"It's coming off a good win," coach Dave Hakstol said. "We have a pretty strong group in here, mentally. Guys have showed up with a great mind frame all along. 
 
"We talked a little bit about the entire trip. Four games, that's an easy segment. Most importantly, look at the Winnipeg game."
 
If the Flyers win 10 of their final 11, they'll finish with 94 points. The Maple Leafs have a half-dozen tough games left, including facing Columbus twice, Pittsburgh and Nashville. They also face Tampa Bay which hurts the Flyers because someone -- maybe both teams -- will earn points.
 
The Isles? Just five tough games left on their schedule, including the meeting here against the Flyers on March 30.
 
What has to happen? Toronto, Tampa Bay and the Isles need to go on a losing skid with the Flyers nearly winning out.
 
"Nobody knows," Hakstol said. "We don't have a whole lot of margin, that's for sure. I won't worry about the next 11. You can't start looking that far down the road right now. We've got to be very ready to play a hockey game tomorrow night."

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

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John Boruk/CSNPhilly.com

There's a new game in town: The Philadelphia Rebels

The opportunity to watch a Briere play again in Philadelphia will be an exciting reality for hockey fans this season.

No, Danny Briere isn’t coming out of retirement as the former Flyers forward has committed to handling the day-to-day operations of the organization’s newest ECHL team.  

However, Briere will be keeping close tabs on his younger son, Carson, who’s currently on the Philadelphia Rebels' 30-man roster and is setting his sights on making the team’s final cuts during training camp.

“It’s great,” Briere said Monday. “Growing up here for most of my life, I love Philly. It’s fun getting to play in the same city that [my dad] did. Whenever I think of him playing, I always think of that playoff run [in 2010] for the Flyers.”

After spending the past two seasons at IceWorks in Aston, Pennsylvania, the NAHL’s (North American Hockey League) Rebels are moving their operation to the Penn Ice Rink at the Class of 1923 Arena, where they made the formal announcement on Monday. It will be the organization’s third different home rink in the past four seasons after relocating from the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

“It was a no-brainer,” team owner Marko Dundovich said. “When the opportunity presented itself, it was very easy. I think it will give the boys a better opportunity to play, get them seen and I think it’s going to continue to grow here, and our business and organization will do much better here.”

The Rebels and junior hockey simply didn’t attract a broad appeal in the Philadelphia suburbs like ownership had hoped, and as a result, attendance lagged as the team typically averaged around 125 fans a game.

“It was the first time we tried Junior A hockey here,” Dundovich said. “If we had a 300-, 400- or 500-person fan base, we would have been OK in Aston, but I think it was tough to sell a junior hockey ticket in Aston. It’s a difficult sell in a small town.”   

Conversely, hockey fans in Philadelphia haven’t had much of an alternative to the Flyers since the Phantoms left the city in 2009 for Glens Falls, New York. Rebels forward Aaron Maguyon, who stays with former Flyers captain Keith Primeau throughout the season, feels the team cannot only fill the 2,500-seat ice rink, but the players will greatly benefit from the college vibe.  

“I think it prepares us for the future and playing college hockey, for sure, so in that way, it’s like a sneak peek for what’s to come," Maguyon said. "I think it helps pull guys closer together. We have restaurants we can go to or just activities we can do in the city."

According to the league website, the NAHL set a new single-season NCAA record with 280-plus commitments, and the Rebels had 12 commit to Divison I programs. Head coach Joe Coombs has built a tier-II junior hockey powerhouse over the past two years. Last season, the Rebels finished with the NAHL’s best regular-season record, advancing to the championship game of the Robertson Cup in Duluth, Minnesota, where they came up short in a 2-0 loss to the Lone Star Brahmas. 

“This is business,” Coombs said. “Let’s bring the game to the people. Over the last two years, we struggled with our attendance. I didn’t even know this place was here — UPenn hockey rink — and we couldn’t think of a better venue right here in University City to try and market our brand of hockey and bring our game to the people.”  

And who knows? You might just see a few former Flyers in the seats, as well.  

NHL Notes: Penguins sign defenseman Brian Dumoulin to 6-year contract

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USA Today Images

NHL Notes: Penguins sign defenseman Brian Dumoulin to 6-year contract

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin has turned his steady play for the Stanley Cup champions into a new contract.

Dumoulin and the team agreed to a six-year deal on Monday that will run through the 2022-23 season and will pay him an average of $4.1 million per year.

The 25-year-old Dumoulin had three goals and 11 assists during Pittsburgh's run to the Cup this spring and hasn't missed a playoff game during the team's sprint to back-to-back titles.

Dumoulin averaged a team-high 21:59 of ice time this postseason, and his plus-9 rating was best among Penguins defensemen. Dumoulin was forced to take on a larger roll this spring after injuries forced Kris Letang to miss the playoffs.

Predators: Watson signs 3-year, $3.3 million deal
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators have signed forward Austin Watson to a three-year $3.3 million deal keeping him under contract through 2019-20.

The Predators announced the deal Monday.

Watson will earn $1 million this season, $1.1 million in 2018-19 and $1.2 million in the third year.

The 25-year-old forward is coming off his best season yet with Nashville. The 6-foot-4, 204-pound Watson had a career high with five goals and seven assists in 77 games this past season. Watson scored four goals and had nine points in 22 playoff games helping Nashville reach the Stanley Cup Final.

The 18th pick overall in the 2010 draft, Watson had three goals and 10 points in 57 games during the 2015-16 season.

Now, center Ryan Johansen is Nashville's lone restricted free agent awaiting a new deal.

Sabres: Okposo says he’s healthy after concussion
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said he is fully healthy after a concussion led to sleeping trouble, significant weight loss and a trip to intensive care last March.

Okposo missed the final few weeks of Buffalo's season with a previously undisclosed illness. In a letter posted on the team's website Monday, Okposo said a routine hit in practice caused his mood to change and other problems that required hospitalization.

The 29-year-old said he lost his appetite, had a negative reaction to sleep medications and that at one point he weighed less than 200 pounds. He spent time in the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General Hospital to be stabilized. Okposo's playing weight is listed at 218 pounds.

Okposo played in a 4-on-4 summer league game in Minnesota with other NHL players last week and reported feeling great. New general manager Jason Botterill said Okposo was on track to be ready for training camp.

"I've worked with a lot of different people -- concussion experts and people who have dealt with concussions themselves -- and I feel confident in the fact that I can play hockey again," Okposo said in the letter. "In fact, I know I can play again. I know I can play and not worry about hitting my head, which is a major hurdle for someone who's dealt with this. If I didn't feel 100 percent right now, that probably wouldn't be the case."

Okposo's last NHL game was March 27 against Florida. He had 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points in 65 games during his first season with Buffalo. He signed a $42 million, seven-year contract with the Sabres last summer.

NHL: Gamble to get back Hall of Fame ring
PITTSFORD, N.Y. -- A scuba-diving treasure hunter who found an American Hockey League Hall of Fame ring in one of New York's Finger Lakes is returning it to its owner.

Gary Gavurnik, of Auburn, New York, plans to return the prized ring to former AHL star Dick Gamble on Monday. Gavurnik found it with a metal detector in Canandaigua Lake over the Fourth of July weekend.

The 88-year-old Canadian-born Gamble starred for the AHL's Rochester Americans and retired early in the 1969-70 season. He was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2007.

Instead of wearing the ring, though, he gave it to his son, Craig, who wore it every day for seven years before losing it in the lake. He never told his dad and ordered a replacement.