Flyers

Rangers top Sabres in Winter Classic thriller

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Rangers top Sabres in Winter Classic thriller

NEW YORK -- J.T. Miller scored a power-play goal 2:43 into overtime to lift the New York Rangers to a 3-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in the NHL's 10th Winter Classic at Citi Field.

Paul Carey and Michael Grabner scored in the first period for the Rangers, who improved to 4-0 in regular season outdoor games. Henrik Lundqvist, who has been in goal for all four of the wins, stopped 31 shots to help New York improve to 6-2-3 in its last 11 overall.

Rasmus Ristolainen had a goal and an assist, Sam Reinhart also scored and Kyle Okposo had two assists for the Sabres. Robin Lehner finished with 39 saves for Buffalo, which has just 10 wins this season but is 4-3-5 in its last 12 games.

The Rangers went on the power play 2:15 into overtime when Jacob Josefson was whistled for tripping Jimmy Vesey. Miller scored the winner on a rebound in front off a shot by Kevin Shattenkirk.

The game, played at the home of baseball's New York Mets, was on the 10th anniversary of the Sabres' 2-1 shootout loss to Pittsburgh in Buffalo in the first Winter Classic. This was also the league's 24th regular season outdoor game.

Buffalo was 1 for 5 on the power play after coming in 30th in the NHL at 12.4 percent. The Rangers went 1 for 3 with the man advantage.

Lundqvist made a sensational save on an attempt by Zemgus Girgensons with 2:12 remaining to keep the score tied.

The national anthem was performed by a group of children born in 2008, the year of the first Winter Classic. The Goo Goo Dolls, a rock band that started in the Buffalo area, performed during the first intermission.

Despite the official temperature at puck drop at 20.5 degrees, the game drew a sellout crowd of 41,821.

There was a shadow across about half the ice lengthwise at the start of the game. Lehner in the Sabres' goal was in the shade and Lundquist was standing in the sun just beyond the shadow. By the middle of the opening period, the shadow was at least partially covering about two-thirds of the ice, with the team benches in sun on the side facing where home plate usually sits.

The playing surface was completely in the shade at the start of the second period, except for the side boards to Lehner's right on the first base side of the field.

The Sabres trailed 2-0 after one period before Reinhart cut the deficit in half in the opening minute of the second period. Lundqvist stopped a slap shot by Rasmus Ristolainen but Reinhart knocked in the rebound at 56 seconds.

Shortly before that, Lehner made a stellar stop on a short-handed breakaway by Grabner that would've given the Rangers a three-goal lead.

The Sabres tied it in the opening minute of the third. Ristolainen fired a wrist shot off a pass from Ryan O'Reilley for his second at 27 seconds.

To mark the 10th anniversary of their appearance in the Winter Classic, the Sabres gave up a home game to be in this one since the Rangers are contractually obligated to play all their home games at Madison Square Garden for a tax exemption.

New York got on the scoreboard first as Carey got a pass from Jesper Fast and fired it past Lehner from straightaway for his fifth of the season at 4:09.

Grabner made it 2-0 a little more than four minutes later. Marc Staal sent the puck of Lehner's back as he spun around and skated past the left side of the goal, and it came to Grabner at the right side and he put it in for his 18th at 8:20.

Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

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Flyers' focus shifts toward another busy NHL draft

With the Flyers' elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the team's third-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft was officially transferred over to the Red Wings.

What was originally a fourth-round selection in the acquisition of goaltender Petr Mrazek was upgraded to a third-rounder once Mrazek won five regular-season games and the Flyers qualified for the postseason.

The Flyers could potentially still owe the Red Wings a third-round pick in the 2019 NHL draft if Mrazek is re-signed. However, that seems unlikely with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth already under contract for next season and Mrazek’s poor play over the final five weeks of the regular season.

In all likelihood, the Flyers will have the 19th overall pick in the June draft, which is scheduled for June 22-23 at American Airlines Center in Dallas. If the Blue Jackets are eliminated before the Eastern Conference Finals, then they will select 18th with the Flyers slotted in at the 19th selection.

Once again, Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will be watching intently during Saturday’s NHL draft lottery, where the Flyers could also acquire the St. Louis Blues' first-round selection.

The Flyers have a 95 percent chance of obtaining the Blues' first pick as compensation in the Brayden Schenn trade that was completed at last year’s draft in Chicago. 

The Blues' pick is top-10 protected, but they have only a five percent chance of moving into the top three — 1.5 percent for No. 1 overall, 1.7 for No. 2, 1.8 for No. 3, 91.8 for No. 14 and 3.2 for No. 15. So, either the Blues draft in the top three, they remain at 14 or fall back to 15.

However, as Hextall discovered just a year ago, anything is possible.

Last year, the Flyers made the monumental leap from the 13th-worst record in the league to obtaining the second overall pick — a lottery move that had just a 2.4 percent chance of falling in their favor. With that selection, the Flyers chose Nolan Patrick.

Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin is the consensus No. 1 pick in this year’s draft and a future cornerstone blueliner. 

The NHL draft lottery is held in Toronto.

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Now the pressure really picks up for Dave Hakstol, Flyers

Dave Hakstol lifted his arm effortlessly with his hand steadily inclining toward the ceiling, almost portraying the takeoff of an airplane.

He was discussing the timeline for young hockey players, which his Flyers have a lot of and will gain only more as the blocks are stacked one by one.

And as the head coach digested a topsy-turvy, season-ending loss, his demonstration depicted what he knew wasn't the case.

"You always want development to be this smooth path and this smooth climb; it doesn't work that way," Hakstol said. "It's kind of a jagged climb, and as long as you're seeing a steady push to improve, then you stick with it and keep pushing in that direction."

The Flyers have been allowed to hit those jagged edges on their climb, like Sunday's 8-5 Game 6 defeat to the Penguins (see story). It was the final swing (and miss) in a best-of-seven first-round playoff matchup with the two-time defending champs, another cut along the grand hike for the Flyers.

But with it came a signal.

This is no longer the bottom of the mountain. The trek has been underway for three seasons and the long view should, expectedly, be coming into focus. In 2018-19, Hakstol will enter the fourth year of a five-year contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The Flyers' core, looking at its peak, will be a year older, as will the foundation pieces, already here and being counted on to drive things forward. 

The Flyers played four rookies in the playoffs, while five of their top eight regular-season goal scorers were 25 years old or younger. 

"For the most part, I liked the growth of our young guys," Hakstol said. "I think they had an opportunity to really see some tough points during the year and figure out how to be a part of battling out of them. They had the opportunity to play through and be part of a playoff push that other teams weren't going away, and we knew that with eight to 10 games to go, we knew that we would have to win our way in. So they had the opportunity to be a part of that and gain that experience of understanding and knowing how hard that is. And they were successful in that."

It resulted in 42 wins and 98 points during the regular season, both highs under Hakstol, surpassing the 41 and 96 set in Year 1. It also led to another first-round exit, the second under Hakstol against a topflight opponent. In those series, the Flyers went 1-5 at home, where they were outscored 26-9.

Harsh yet clear reminders the Flyers aren't where they want to be.

The Penguins, no duh, are. 

"We're working to build toward something like that," Wayne Simmonds said. "I thought we took a step in the right direction this year."

Claude Giroux, the 102-point, 30-year-old captain, sees it, too.

"I know for a fact that we got better as the season went on," Giroux said. "Look at our team last year and look at our team this year. We improved a lot."

While patience is always of the essence with general manager Ron Hextall, Year 4 will demand much more, unlike seasons past. This is Hakstol's team — the blocks are in place, both old and now not so new.

"There's going to be a lot of good and a lot of things that we'll say, 'Hey, these are good steps for our team,'" Hakstol said of this season. "End of the day, we didn't come into this playoff series to make steps, though."

That undoubtedly won't be the objective in 2018-19. It can't be, and the Flyers should know it.