Henrik Lundqvist yet to prove himself in playoffs

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Henrik Lundqvist yet to prove himself in playoffs

As good as he has been, as dominant as he has been, as absolutely overpowering as Henrik Lundqvist has been against the Flyers in particular, this could be the defining spring for him.
 
Only once in his past seven playoffs has Lundqvist been able to get the Rangers to an Eastern Conference finals.
 
Some observers think it has to change, and it begins in the opening round against the Flyers on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
 
That Vezina Trophy that Lundqvist won in 2012 can’t erase the fact that he hasn’t been a clutch goalie in the playoffs, in which he's put up a 30-37 record. That's when reputations are forged in the NHL.
 
Gotta Cup?
 
Lundqvist said he’s come to realize postseason play is not assured anymore.
 
“You definitely don’t take it for granted,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “You have to earn it and you have to work really hard to get here, and for each round you appreciate every moment, I think. It’s part of getting older, too, realizing how lucky you are to be in that position.
 
“When I was younger I expected it a lot more. Coming here, I played a lot of finals back home, coming here, maybe it’s been a little bit of a different approach. But now I just look forward to the challenge. And try to win, that’s the ultimate goal now. I’m just really excited to get started.”
 
His coach, Alain Vigneault, believes pressure hones your skills. He had Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and saw firsthand: Luongo never won the so-called “big one.”
 
“Obviously, I believe having been in that situation before, playing in big pressure games should help a player,” Vigneault said. “In Hank’s case, he’s been through the biggest games possible except for the Stanley Cup finals.
 
“So he’s been waiting for this moment, I would say just like the rest of our team. We had to first get in, now we’re one of the 16 teams that has a chance for the Cup, and I would say all the teams have a chance at it and we’ve got to take it one game at a time. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
 
Assuming he plays, at the other end of the ice, Steve Mason has just four playoff games on his resume. All with Columbus. All in his rookie year. And all losses.
 
Lundqvist has played in 67 playoff games. He’s battle-tested.
 
“I don’t know if it’s a help,” he said. “I’m going to be honest with you. Being younger, you look at the game differently, you learn from it every year and maybe I have a different approach now than when I was 20 or 23.
 
“But the emotions you feel during the game are pretty much the same. You’re nervous, you’re excited, and the highs and lows are incredible, actually, through the playoffs and the series. The way you feel, some days are tough and some days are unbelievable. When you’re winning big games at home, that’s probably the best feeling.”
 
Winning Game 1 is paramount for the Flyers, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Craig Berube’s players are highly cognizant of the fact they have not won at Madison Square Garden in three years (see story).
 
To lose another game would only greatly increase the pressure to absolutely win Game 2 or go home facing a possible sweep. The Flyers can’t afford that.
 
For the Rangers, to lose Game 1 would plant an element of doubt into a team that fought the Flyers tooth and nail down the stretch for second place in the Metro Division. They split the season series, 2-2.
 
“I don’t know how important it is,” Lundqvist said of Game 1. “I think we just want to go out and have a good start and not overthink it or put too much pressure on ourselves.
 
“It’s the first to four wins, it’s about getting that first win, it’s about getting that fourth win. The mindset going into this, it’s always important.”

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

Changes coming? Ron Hextall says Flyers 'not very happy right now'

WASHINGTON — As the Flyers filed into the visiting locker room of the Verizon Center, no temper tantrums were thrown, nor were any chairs.
 
In the end, “What good does that do?” head coach Dave Hakstol asked.
 
Instead, the Flyers’ dressing area Sunday felt like a morgue. Players quietly and somberly stuffed their gear away. Once all dispersed, in walked Ron Hextall — and none too pleased.
 
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks for us,” he said softly, “and quite honestly, we’re not very happy right now.”
 
For a man that loathes losing more than anyone, nobody expected him to be. That much was already understood during the third-period catastrophe of his team’s demoralizing 5-0 defeat to the Capitals.
 
What wasn’t known was what follows? The Flyers have gone from 10 consecutive victories — the franchise’s longest winning streak in 31 years — to 11 losses over the following 14 games and a state of dismay.
 
As the Flyers limp into their NHL mandated five-day bye week, do players sense an imminent shakeup within the roster?
 
“It’s a good question,” Claude Giroux said, “but I don’t know.”
 
Despite never losing his sense of prudence, Hextall ruled nothing out.
 
“Obviously we always keep an eye on the big club and the Phantoms, as well,” Hextall said. “Right now, we’re going to stick with what we’ve got here and move forward. But on a day-to-day basis, I always look at how we can make our club better and, if there’s something that we think makes our club better, we’ll do it."
 
If Hextall wants to add some fresh blood from within, the organization is not lacking for young and spry prospects full of energy down at Lehigh Valley, where the Phantoms are 24-10-2 and third among the entire AHL entering Monday.
 
For the Flyers, who have surrendered a league-worst 144 goals, could defensemen T.J. Brennan, Travis Sanheim or Robert Hagg be options? Brennan owns NHL experience, has 30 points and is a plus-10 with Lehigh Valley. Sanheim, a big and touted prospect, is also a plus-10 to go along with seven goals and 11 assists. And Hagg, a seasoned 21-year-old, is “just about NHL-ready,” according to Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor, via ESPN’s Craig Custance (see Future Flyers Report).
 
“The worst thing you can do is overreact when things aren’t going right and that’s not going to happen,” Hextall said. “But if we can find a way to make ourselves better, we will.”
 
Hextall’s biggest gripe with his current team is its dearth of mental fortitude.
 
“Right now we’re making a lot of mental mistakes and it’s killing us,” he said.
 
And then it snowballs, Hextall said, which good teams prevent from happening.
 
“When things are going wrong, all of a sudden something happens and things tend to really go wrong,” he said. “That’s where we have to get better. Mentally we have to be better, have to be better. If something goes wrong, let’s move on. It happened a lot earlier in the year where things go wrong and we fought through it. Right now, the negative energy seems to be a landslide.”
 
Following the meltdown in Washington, players didn’t question the effort.
 
“We care,” Michael Del Zotto said. “No one likes losing. It’s not fun for anyone. But sometimes effort's not enough. Everyone wants to win in this league. It's a matter of execution. Whether it's offensively or defensively in all situations, we're not doing it.”
 
Hextall believes the effort has been “sufficient.”
 
“Again, the mental mistakes,” he said. “It seems like when something goes against us, it goes against us hard and that’s something we’ve got to battle through. You can’t let a little bit of adversity turn into a lot of adversity. You’ve got to nip it in the bud and we’ve got to do a better job of that.”
 
As for the leadership structure and coaching, Hextall defended both.
 
“Our leaders haven’t been good enough. Neither have our lesser guys,” Hextall said. “Nobody’s been good enough right now. You don’t win 10 and then go through a stretch like this without responsibility being everywhere.
 
“Line changes, different D combinations, flipping [Steve Mason] and [Michal Neuvirth]. Everything that’s there, Hak has tried. In the end, it comes down to our whole group just being better and not reacting the way we do when something negative happens. That’s the game of sports, right?”
 
The game goes away for the Flyers this week (see 10 observations). When it returns, who knows which team we’ll see.
 
“We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror, hold ourselves accountable,” Del Zotto said. “As far as changes and personnel moves, that's out of our control.”
 
That, of course, is up to Hextall.
 
“We’ve got to keep our heads now,” the GM said. “Nobody’s going to get us out of this. It’s the whole group. This isn’t about one thing or one move or one player not playing or one player playing. This is about our whole group.”

Future Flyers Report: Robert Hagg has 'made big strides,' AGM Chris Pryor says

Future Flyers Report: Robert Hagg has 'made big strides,' AGM Chris Pryor says

The Flyers are mercifully on their league-mandated five-day bye week after dropping back-to-back games last weekend by a combined score of 11-3. They need the time off.

As the bye week begins, it's time for our weekly check-in on the Flyers’ prospects playing in the AHL, overseas and at the junior and college levels.

In this edition, we highlight a 2013 second-round pick whom the Flyers believe is on the brink of reaching the NHL and much more in this week’s Future Flyers Report.

Robert Hagg, D, 6-1/191, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
Hagg has been an interesting prospect to follow this season, especially considering the down year he had last season in Lehigh Valley and that he often gets lost in the conversation when discussing Flyers’ defensive prospects. That should change.

The 21-year-old has “made big strides,” Flyers assistant general manager Chris Pryor told ESPN.com’s Craig Custance last week. Pryor had been the Flyers’ director of scouting since 2006 before earning the promotion to AGM this year and has been with the team since 1999. Pryor also told ESPN the Flyers believe Hagg is “just about NHL-ready.”

Pryor’s comments fall in line with what general manager Ron Hextall told Phantoms broadcaster Bob Rotruck Dec. 14 that Hagg has taken “the kind of step we were hoping he’d take last year.” The Flyers are high on the 2013 second-round draft pick.

In his third professional year, Hagg’s two-way style doesn’t garner much flash, but he does a lot of things well when he keeps his game simple and asserts himself. That has been the case this season, and his development has caught the eyes of Flyers’ front office.

During the Phantoms’ 6-4 loss to the Hershey Bears on Saturday night, Hagg snapped a five-game pointless streak in picking up his third assist of the season — fifth point. Hagg made a quick pass in the neutral zone to Greg Carey to keep the Phantoms’ pressure going, and Carey eventually deposited the puck into the Hershey net.

Often the forgotten defensive prospect, Hagg appears to pushing hard for an NHL spot sooner rather than later. With a few blueliners coming off the books after this season, Hagg is a legitimate candidate to be apart of the Flyers’ top-six in 2017-18.

Alex Lyon, G, 6-1/201, Lehigh Valley (AHL)
With Anthony Stolarz back in the mix, Lyon understands it’s back to a healthy competition between the pipes for the Phantoms and he’s welcomed the battle.

Lyon told Highland Park Hockey last week that the playing time he’s acquired in the last month when Stolarz was with the Flyers gave him “a little bit of fuel for the fire.” Lyon went on to say the competition between the two will allow them to “push each other.”

Last week, the Phantoms decided to split the weekend with Lyon and Stolarz, who stopped 15 of 17 shots in Lehigh Valley’s 6-2 win over Hershey on Friday. Lyon got the nod Saturday, and the Bears scored five goals on 26 shots on the first-year pro.

Phantoms head coach Scott Gordon has a good problem to have — two strong goalies at the AHL level in Lyon and Stolarz. It’s similar to what the Flyers have at the NHL level with Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth, except the NHL goalies are struggling right now.

With Mason and Neuvirth both on the final years of their contracts, Stolarz figures to have a spot on the Flyers’ roster next season after he showed enough in his call-up last month. But don’t overlook Lyon, who is on a one-year contract and the Flyers like him.

Samuel Dove-McFalls, C, 6-2/207, Saint John’s (QMJHL)
A 2015 fourth-round pick, Dove-McFalls has been centering the Sea Dogs’ third line, and last week, in a 7-6 loss to Cape Breton, he picked up his ninth goal of the year, which knotted the game at five in the third period. Dove-McFalls won 15 of his 20 faceoffs against the Screaming Eagles. He has four points in his last six games, and goals in three of those six games. Overall, he has 31 points in 40 games for Saint John’s.

Quick hits
• Phantoms defenseman Travis Sanheim continues to tear apart the AHL, picking up two more goals in Lehigh Valley’s 6-4 loss to Hershey on Saturday. Sanheim has three goals in his last three games, and seven goals in his last 13 games.

• It might be time for AHL players to stop trying to pick fights with Sam Morin, who bloodied Hershey’s Garrett Mitchell in a fight on Saturday night.

• Rouyn-Noranda’s Philippe Myers remains out with a concussion, but did enough at the world juniors to impress TSN’s Bob McKenzie, who think Myers is NHL ready.

German Rubtsov has yet to suit up for a game with Chicoutimi. Rubtsov got out of his KHL contract last week, but did undergo surgery to repair a broken nose last Monday.

• Victoriaville’s Pascal Laberge had a goal and an assist in the Tigres’ 3-2 win over Halifax on Sunday. Laberge, who has dealt with some head injuries this season, has five goals and 17 points in 23 games with Victoriaville.

• In two games since returning to Everett from the world juniors, Carter Hart has pitched a shutout and was plastered for four goals. He made 22 saves in blanking Kamloops, 4-0, on Friday, but gave up four goals on 38 shots in a 4-3 loss to Seattle on Saturday.

•  Calgary traded Carsen Twarynski to the Kelowna Rockets at last week’s WHL trade deadline. Twarynski picked up an assist Friday, his second game with the Rockets.

 Felix Sandstrom made 15 saves and yielded two goals in his first game with Brynäs IF since returning from the world juniors, a 3-0 loss to Djurgårdens IF on Saturday.

• Michigan center Cooper Marody centered the Wolverines’ top line last week in back-to-back weekend losses No. 9 Minnesota. Marody was held pointless.

Tanner Laczynski picked up an assist in No. 10 Ohio State’s 6-1 win over Arizona State on Friday, his first game back since the world juniors. He was pointless Saturday.

• Clarkson defenseman Terrance Amorosa had his first two-assist game since the season opener in the Golden Knights’ 7-2 rout of Brown on Saturday night.

• Not the best week for Merrick Madsen, who was pulled in No. 2 Harvard’s 4-0 loss to Rensselaer on Friday after allowing four goals on 20 shots. He picked up another loss Saturday, when Harvard fell, 2-1, to No. 11 Union, but he was stronger with 20 saves.

• Western Michigan’s Wade Allison picked up his 10th collegiate goal in the No. 14-ranked Broncos’ 7-2 loss to No. Denver on Saturday night.