Flyers-Lightning: 5 things you need to know

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Flyers-Lightning: 5 things you need to know

Wednesday night’s game is sure to be an emotional one for Vinny Lecavalier.

After being bought out by Tampa Bay this past offseason, Lecavalier will play the team that drafted him with the first overall pick in 1998 for the first time in his 15 NHL seasons when the Flyers (10-11-2) take on the Lightning (15-8-1) at Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. (CSN). Here are five things you need to know for the game:

1. Vinny’s return
Prior to signing a five-year, $22.5 million contract with the Flyers, Lecavalier had played every single game of his NHL career with the Lightning.

Over 14 seasons, the 33-year-old piled up 383 goals, 491 assists and 746 penalty minutes for Tampa. He served as team captain two separate times and was instrumental in helping the Lightning win their first and only Stanley Cup championship in 2004.

So how is he approaching his return to Tampa?

“I am excited to go back,” Lecavalier said on Tuesday (see story). “It’s not something I have really thought of. I’m just happy to go back and play against them and hope to play a great game there. I’m excited to go back and see my old teammates and buddies and play hard against them.”

The Flyers, as we all know, got off to a rough start this season, but Lecavalier has been consistent in his first season in orange and black. Despite suffering two injuries in the early going, which cost him four games, Lecavalier enters Wednesday tied with Matt Read for the team-lead in goals with eight.

2. No Stamkos
Tampa’s record would indicate that the Lightning haven’t really missed Lecavalier this season. But right now, they probably wish they could have a center of his caliber in the lineup with Steven Stamkos out for the foreseeable future.

Stamkos remains sidelined indefinitely with a broken right tibia. The high-scoring centerman suffered the injury after he got tied up with Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton and crashed into Boston’s right post on Nov. 11.

It’s nearly impossible to replace the numbers that Stamkos is capable of putting up -- he had 14 goals and nine assists in 17 games before going down -- and the Lightning have struggled at times with him out of the lineup.

Over the last seven games, Tampa has gone 3-3-1 without Stamkos and has failed to score three goals or more in four of those contests. Players like Martin St. Louis and Valtteri Flippula will have to pick up the scoring slack if the Lightning want to remain toward the top of the Eastern Conference.

St. Louis passed Stamkos for the team lead in scoring (24 points) with a three-point performance in Tampa’s 5-0 win over the New York Rangers on Monday. Filppula had two helpers and currently ranks third on the Lightning with 18 points.

3. Bounce back
The Flyers are probably anxious to put their disappointing performance against the Florida Panthers behind them.

Entering Monday 6-0-1 in their last seven, the Flyers severely underestimated the lowly Panthers and missed an opportunity to grab two easy points in the standings.

Florida entered the game the second-worst club in the East but came away with a 3-1 victory. Poor execution, especially in the neutral zone, is what ultimately cost the Flyers.

“We were lackadaisical a little bit,” head coach Craig Berube said after the loss (see story).

The Flyers failed to do the little things that they had done so well during their seven-game point streak. If they want to come away with a victory against the Lightning, they’ll have to get back to slowing things down, winning battles along the boards and coveting the puck.

4.  Injuries
Stamkos, who has been walking without crutches for two days, isn’t the only key Lightning member with an injury. Defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Brian Lee are on injured reserve and also out indefinitely with knee ailments.

Forward Ryan Malone (lower body) and defenseman Radko Gudas (upper body) did not play against the Rangers but are listed as day-to-day. Forward Tom Pyatt (collarbone) returned to practice Saturday and defenseman Keith Aulie (upper body) participated in full-contact drills on Sunday.  

The Flyers enter Wednesday a healthy bunch.

5. This and that
• Wednesday is the first of three meetings between these two clubs this season. The Lightning won two of three games against the Flyers in 2013.

• A pair of former Flyers led the team offensively against Tampa last year. Max Talbot had a goal and two assists in three games, and Tom Sesisto scored both markers in a 2-1 win on Feb. 5 at Wells Fargo Center.

• St. Louis has 19 points during the Lightning’s current 8-2-1 run against the Flyers.

• The Flyers have dropped four straight in Tampa by a 16-5 score.

• Lightning netminder Ben Bishop has won six straight starts at home. He’s allowed just nine goals in his last five games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

Are we there yet? Philly Sports Talk examines the state of the Flyers

All week on Philly Sports Talk on CSN, we examine how our teams got to this point and where they are in the rebuilding process. 
 
Today, we finish up by taking a look at the Flyers.

 
How did we get here?
The Flyers' rebuild had begun when Ron Hextall returned to his old stomping grounds in the summer of 2013 as the team's new assistant general manager.
 
He took over GM duties after one season and the philosophical change was in place. Paul Holmgren was made president and Hextall's imprint, which had already started, was ready to become bigger.
 
What Hextall inherited was a cap-stricken team fresh off a first-round playoff loss, an organization that had tried to spend its way to immediate results instead of putting greater focus on the long game.
 
Some of the past decisions are well-documented: signing enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year, $51 million deal in 2011 after trading for him. With a buyout, the Flyers are still paying Bryzgalov through 2027. Signing veteran center Vinny Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million contract in 2013. And signing imposing defenseman Chris Pronger to a seven-year, $34.55 million extension — nobody could foresee the unfortunate concussion issues that suddenly derailed Pronger's career, but it was nonetheless a hurdle for the Flyers moving forward.
 
Hextall has adeptly maneuvered through much of those rocky waters.
 
Now, the Flyers are a more cost-efficient (partly because they have to be in this salary cap world), draft-oriented organization planning for the future while not ignoring the present. This rebuild hasn't been a total demolition, but more of a retooling — a smart but tricky process, especially down the line.
 
Are the Flyers on the right path back to prosperity?
The youth is coming.
 
Hextall, oftentimes close to the vest, made that abundantly clear at his end-of-the-season press conference.
 
"Our young players, they've done enough," Hextall said in early April. "Our young players are going to get a long look. We don't plan on going out and signing veterans on the back end. Our kids, it's time to give them a shot, and we're going to do that."
 
But the really hard part is just beginning — results. Can the prospects catch up and meet the current core? The pressure for it to start has never been higher.
 
Help does appear to be on the way, though, for a team that regressed this season and missed the playoffs for the third time in the past five years.
 
Anthony Stolarz, Alex Lyon, Felix Sandstrom and Carter Hart give the Flyers future options in net.
 
Two promising prospects are expected to join Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere and company on the blue line.
 
Oskar Lindblom, a dynamic 20-year-old winger, could crack the Flyers' group of forwards, which should have Jordan Weal and Valtteri Filppula for a full season.
 
Also, don't forget forward Mike Vecchione, a Hobey Baker finalist who signed with the Flyers out of Union College in late March.
 
Oh, and the No. 2 pick of the draft — likely a talented center — is in the Flyers' grasp.
 
The 2017-18 season will be a telling time for the Flyers. Patience has been required, but when will it be rewarded?
 
The clock is ticking.