NHL Notes: Sens' Jason Spezza returns to practice

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NHL Notes: Sens' Jason Spezza returns to practice

OTTAWA -- Fresh off their first-round elimination of the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators had a familiar face back on the ice on Sunday.

No. 1 center Jason Spezza practiced with his teammates for the first time since undergoing back surgery for a herniated disk on Feb. 1 and says it was nice to take another step in his recovery.

"It's been a long process and a long season for me," Spezza said. "It felt good to join the team again and get some reps in. It may not seem like it and I may not play this year, but for me it's a small victory."

Despite speculation that Spezza could be done for the season, the fact the 29-year-old took part in a full practice was encouraging for the Senators, who will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second round of the playoffs.

Spezza, who had been skating on his own before joining Ottawa's AHL callups for more training, says he had some "ups and downs" over the course of his recovery but made improvements over the past few weeks that allowed him to take part in a regular practice.

Whether or not he plays this season depends on how his body reacts (see full story).

Hitchcock downplays Halak flap
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said it was no big deal that he and goalie Jaroslav Halak argued about playing time during the playoffs, calling it an "everyday occurrence."

Hitchcock and general manager Doug Armstrong both said Sunday that he didn't anticipate major roster changes after the Blues squandered a 2-0 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings and lost four in a row against the Los Angeles Kings after taking a 2-0 series lead.

Addressing Halak, Hitchcock said he'd have been surprised if the goalie was unhappy about not getting used in the playoffs. Halak wasn't at the Scottrade Center when the locker room opened to media.

"With Jaro that's an everyday occurrence like arguments and discussions that go on with players and playing time that was discussed in the meeting today," Hitchcock said. "If he wasn't disappointed I'd be surprised. I don't care. If you're under contract, you're ready to play."

Halak is among three goalies in the mix with Brian Elliott, who started all six games against the Kings, and rookie Jake Allen (see full story).

Derek Boogaard's family files suit against NHL
The New York Times is reporting that Derek Boogaard's family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the National Hockey League.

In the lawsuit, the family says the NHL is responsible for the brain damage that Boogaard sustained during six seasons as an enforcer in the league, and for his addiction to prescription painkillers.

Boogaard was found dead of an accidental overdose of pain medication and alcohol on May 13, 2011. He was 28. He was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain ailment that is caused by repeated blows to the head.

The Times reports the suit was filed late Friday by the Chicago law firm of Corboy & Demetrio, in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

"To distill this to one sentence," William Gibbs, attorney for the Boogaards, told The Times, "you take a young man, you subject him to trauma, you give him pills for that trauma, he becomes addicted to those pills, you promise to treat him for that addiction, and you fail," (see full story).

Flyers clash with Penguins in cheapest outdoor game this season

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Flyers clash with Penguins in cheapest outdoor game this season

Editor's note: The following is sponsored content written by TicketIQ.

Attending this year’s Stadium Series game won’t come at much of a cost for fans at Heinz Field.

With the Penguins set to host the Flyers in the 68,000-plus seat stadium on Saturday, tickets are the cheapest of all three outdoor games this season. On TicketIQ, CSN Philly’s official ticketing partner, Penguins vs. Flyers Stadium Series tickets now average $202.

Saturday’s game is considerably cheaper than the Centennial Classic and Winter Classic, which were held in Toronto and St. Louis last month, respectively. The Winter Classic between the Blues and Blackhawks averaged a $632 ticket while the Maple Leafs and Red Wings’ Centennial Classic posted a $299 average.

As it stands now, this weekend’s game owns the third lowest average for a Stadium Series game in the last four years, trumped only by a 2016 game between the Wild and Blackhawks at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, which owned an overall average of $160. It is the cheapest two-day-out average that any game has posted, however, inching past a 2015 game between the Sharks and Kings ($203) for that title.

Only a 2014 Stadium Series game at Yankee Stadium between the Rangers and Islanders owned a lower get-in price ($45) two days out than Saturday’s game at Heinz Field. Penguins vs. Flyers tickets currently start from $67 each in the 500 sections.

The Flyers will play in their first Stadium Series game since the format was created in 2014. It will be their third overall outdoor game after 2010’s Winter Classic at Fenway Park and 2012’s Winter Classic at Citizens Bank Park.

The game comes at a crucial time for the Flyers, who remain on the cusp of a playoff spot in a crowded Eastern Conference. As of Thursday afternoon, they sit just three points removed from the second wild-card spot. Some pushing and shoving will occur over the next two months, however, as several other teams fight for that last playoff berth.

The Penguins play host to their second outdoor game at Heinz Field following 2011’s Winter Classic against the Capitals. It will be the reigning Stanley Cup champions’ fourth outdoor game since 2008. They enter Saturday owners of the second seed in the Metropolitan division behind the league-best Capitals with 82 points in tow.

 

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

Flyers focused on actual game instead of Stadium Series event

VOORHEES, N.J. -- The toughest challenge for the Flyers this weekend might be themselves.

They’re playing the Pittsburgh Penguins outdoors on Saturday as part of the NHL’s Stadium Series event. That should be a big deal.

Yet, given their circumstances right now, how can they possibly enjoy the moment?

Maybe had this game been played in early January, before the team hit a crisis point in the standings, and was winning, it would be easier to relax.

The fact is, the Flyers have lost seven of their last 10 games, are drifting as the 11th team in the Eastern Conference, and the second wild card they held for so long seems far from their reach.

Tough to have fun and soak up the atmosphere when there’s so much pressure to start making up ground in the playoff hunt.

“Yeah, we’re there to have two points,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. “If this was earlier in the season, we could take it in a bit more, but it’s all business for us right now. It’s just playing.”

That attitude extends right up to coach Dave Hakstol, who didn’t break a smile when talking about what’s really important here.

His team is desperate for points. There are 22 games left in the regular season and 19 are against Eastern Conference opponents.

The Flyers need to win a bunch of games and get hot like they did last season in March if they are going to recapture a wild-card berth.

“Honestly, it’s business first,” Hakstol said. “There is something to the event and certainly something important with family and the type of event it is. But, let’s be honest. Right now, it’s business first. That’s what our focus will be.

“Points. Simple as that. It’s two points. We need the two points and it’s a road game and it happens to be in an event-type situation.

“So we’ve got to make sure we handle all of that in terms of our preparation. But the bottom line is it comes down to the two points that are at stake on Saturday night.”

Michal Neuvirth will make his sixth consecutive start in goal for the Flyers. He was a backup to Semyon Varlamov at Heinz Field during the 2011 Winter Classic as a member of the Washington Capitals against Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got to focus on the game,” Neuvirth said. “There is going to be a lot of distractions. Lot of families and friends in town. But we’re gonna go there and it’s all about business and trying to get the two points.”

Hakstol is only slightly concerned about the hype taking away from the players’ focus. If the Flyers were coming into this game on a win streak, he and his players wouldn’t be quite as uptight as they are right now.

You can cut the tension in the Flyers' dressing room these days with a skate blade.

“You need a little mental attention to detail there,” Hakstol said. “That’s what it is. We’re in that mold. I don’t think that’s a big hump to overcome. I think we’ll be OK.”

Heinz Field holds 68,000 people. The NHL expects 60,000 in attendance. Regardless, it will be the largest crowd ever to witness a Flyers game.

“It’s more exciting and a must-win for us,” said Michael Raffl, who played outdoors once in Europe. “A huge game no matter where we would have played it. We could play it at Skate Zone and we’d be excited.”

Giroux said it will be “weird” being on the ice because his past experiences in outdoor games saw him drown out the fans as much as possible. Yet he admitted the sheer number of fans this time might make that difficult to do.

“It’s pretty exciting to play in the Steelers' stadium,” he said. “Playing against Pittsburgh, it should be a great game.”