Flyers-Blue Jackets: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Blue Jackets: 5 things you need to know

After back-to-back shootout losses to two 50-win teams, the Flyers (39-27-9) will close out their season series with the Columbus Blue Jackets (38-30-7) on Thursday.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. (CSN) at Wells Fargo Center.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. The final countdown
The Flyers have just seven games remaining this season. They will continue their playoff push Thursday with a crucial matchup against the Blue Jackets, who own the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and are four points behind the Flyers for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

Things haven't gone well for the Flyers against Columbus this season. The Jackets have won two of the first three meetings and have scored four or more goals in each contest.

The Flyers do have one major factor in their favor: Wells Fargo Center. Columbus has never won here in South Philly, going 0-5-0 with one tie in its six visits.

The last time the Jackets were in town, the Flyers roared back for a 5-4 victory on Dec. 19, 2013. The comeback was spearheaded by Flyers captain Claude Giroux, who had two goals and two assists in the third period to rally his club to a victory. Former Blue Jacket Jakub Voracek picked up three points (one goal) and defenseman Mark Streit had two helpers.

The Flyers have survived a stretch of 10 games in 18 days against some of the toughest competition in the entire NHL. They've gone 6-2-2 during that stretch but are coming off back-to-back shootout losses. Every point matters. Two against a division rival on Thursday would be huge as the Flyers enter the matchup three points behind the New York Rangers for second in the Metro with two games in hand. Time to buckle down.

2. At long last ...
It could be the matchup we've all been waiting for. Will former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky finally make his return to Philadelphia and go head to head against the man he ran out of Columbus? It sure looks like it.

All signs point to Bobrovsky making his first start as a visitor at Wells Fargo Center. The Russian netminder, who returned to the Columbus lineup on Tuesday after missing two games with the flu, did not accompany the Jackets to Philadelphia earlier this season because he was recovering from a groin injury.

Bobrovsky, the NHL's reigning Vezina winner, will likely be opposed by none other than Steve Mason. With the emergence of Bobrovsky in Columbus last season, Mason became expendable to the Jackets and was traded to the Flyers for Michael Leighton and a 2015 third-round pick. Since then, Bobrovsky has continued his stellar play for the Jackets and Mason has firmly taken hold of the starting job in net for the Flyers.

The Jackets have relied heavily on Bobrovsky to lead them back to the postseason and will continue to do so as they are in the thick of a heated fight for a playoff spot. Bobrovsky has done an admirable job handling the pressure, posting a 27-19-5 record with a .919 save percentage and 2.47 goals-against average this season.

Ray Emery put up an excellent performance in the Flyers' 1-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday, but don't be surprised if you see Mason in this tilt. Mason is 8-2-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average in his last 11 home starts.

3. Stay focused
The Flyers' stretch of strong play has included a weekend sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, a split against the Blues and a win over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.

So what does head coach Craig Berube think of his team earning 14 of a possible 20 points over its last 10 games?

“It’s good,” he said (see story). “We’ve done a good job of staying focused and playing hard, playing with energy. We've got to worry about tomorrow’s game [against Columbus].”

The Flyers had a complete day off Wednesday to rest. Berube wants his team fresh for this important divisional clash.

Keep an eye on the top line of Giroux, Voracek and Scott Hartnell in this one. The trio has combined for three goals and seven assists in three games against the Jackets this season.

4. Injuries
Kimmo Timonen missed Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury but is expected to return against Columbus.

“He’ll be ready to go,” Berube said (see story). “I wouldn’t say we gave him a breather. He’s an older guy and you’re a little banged up and stuff, it’s important to get a little bit of a break.”

Steve Downie, who is also suffering an upper-body ailment, is listed as questionable.

For the Jackets, Nathan Horton (lower body), Jack Skille (upper body), Ryan Murray (knee) and Nikata Nikitin (lower body) are all out.

5. This and that
• Vinny Lecavalier has three goals in his last three games after potting just one in his previous 10.

• Ex-Flyer R.J. Umberger, who is expected to play after being scratched the last two games, has two goals against his former club this season.

• The Flyers have eight players with 10 or more goals. Michael Raffl and Streit each have nine.

• Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski has five points in his last four games.

• Luke Schenn watch: He still needs three points to reach 100 in his NHL career.

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.