TJ Brennan one step closer to realizing childhood dream with Flyers

TJ Brennan one step closer to realizing childhood dream with Flyers

EDMONTON, Alberta — South Jersey’s TJ Brennan is as close as he’s ever been to realizing his childhood dream.

The Moorestown, New Jersey, native who grew up cheering for the Flyers, and refined his game as a teenager with the Little Flyers, joined the 23-man roster Wednesday for the first time since signing a two-year contract in the summer of 2016 (see story).

Brennan was awoken out of bed by Phantoms coach Scott Gordon early Wednesday morning. Gordon informed Brennan that he was called up to join the Flyers. Brennan gathered his gear and rushed to the airport, finally arriving in Edmonton around 2:30 a.m. local time (4:30 a.m. EST).

With little time for sleep, Brennan was still jacked when he hit the ice for the morning skate that he snapped his stick on the first slap shot he took.

"If I'm being honest," Brennan said, "personally, I just try and keep faith. There’s a young kid inside me that has a dream and I still follow that and stay true to that. Maybe as you get older, that window shuts a little more, and sometimes that sounds negative or harsh, but it is a reality.

"With something like this happening, you just try and enjoy it as much as you can and take advantage of any opportunity and see what happens.”

Getting on a roll
It's imperative for the Flyers to string together some victories as they attempt to work their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, currently eight points back of the Penguins for the second wild-card spot.

After finally erasing a 10-game losing streak Monday in Calgary, the Flyers now must attempt to carry that momentum over and turn in a similar performance Wednesday in Edmonton.

So far, they’ve been unable to get on an extended roll.

"I think we've felt that way over a good stretch here," Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said, "and obviously we've got some ground to make up to scratch and claw our way back into it. I don't think things really change.

"We had a good result [Monday] night. The group in the locker room has had a real good mindset. They're on the same page and they're together, so none of that has to change. Our reality is we’ve given up a lot of ground so we’ve got to scratch and claw in the present here to do as well as we can to gain points.”

The Flyers, in games following a win, are currently 1-5-2 and have strung together back-to-back victories just once this season — beating the Capitals and Panthers in their first two home games of the season in mid-October.

Clean-shaven Jake
Jakub Voracek rolled into Rogers Place Wednesday afternoon and was nearly unrecognizable, having completely removed his trademark red beard he’s been sporting for the past few years.

"No, didn't know who the hell it was," Hakstol said jokingly. "You don't see it too often. It's a different look for him and he's coming off a heck of a game in Calgary."

It had nothing to do with the 10-game losing streak, Voracek said.

"I just woke up around 8 o'clock and had some time because of the time change a little bit," Voracek said, "and just said, 'F--- it' and shaved."

The biggest adjustment for Voracek isn't the five years younger he looks with the beard gone, but when he straps on his helmet.

“Usually my beard is touching my chin strap, and now there’s this much room,” Voracek said, holding out two fingers roughly several inches apart. “It’s crazy.”

A different shade of Maroon
Flyers general manager Ron Hextall once said the organization needs to hit a home run with one of its late-round draft picks. Perhaps 2014 fifth-round pick Oskar Lindblom will round into that type of player, but watching Edmonton power forward Patrick Maroon is a reminder of what could have been.

The Flyers, then with Paul Holmgren as GM, drafted Maroon in the sixth round (161st overall) in the 2007 draft. While Maroon brought a unique package of skill for his size (6-foot-3, 227 pounds), his lack of conditioning was a concern for teams who passed up on him during the early rounds and his lack of maturity forced the Flyers to move him to another organization.

Less than a month after Maroon had an incident that was considered "conduct detrimental to the team," Holmgren traded the winger as part of a four-player swap to the Anaheim Ducks in November 2010.

“I know me and Paul had a little falling out,” Maroon said. “We see each other and I thank him all the time. Paul’s a really good guy and he treated me well. I wish I could turn back the time in my third year when they sent me home.

“As a player that’s growing and maturing as a person, you learn how to do the right things, you learn how to take care of yourself. Without the Flyers' organization, I don’t think I’d be here in this locker room right now. They drafted me and gave me a chance to live my dream and play in the National Hockey League and the AHL.”

Maroon scored the Oilers' only goal Oct. 21 in Edmonton's 2-1 loss to the Flyers, and he's coming off his best season in the NHL, scoring 27 goals in 2016-17. However, it was two years ago, at the age of 27, Maroon finally had that light-switch moment.

“The summer I got traded to Edmonton, they gave me an ultimatum: ‘Do you want to stay in the league or do you want to commit yourself to this team and this organization?'" Maroon said. "'You can be a really good player. We’ll give you an opportunity to play with Connor McDavid. We believe you can be a really good guy, a really good depth guy for this organization.’

“A light switch hit where my time’s come to an end basically, so I’ve had to dedicate myself to nutrition and cardio. It was more getting in shape and my anaerobics. I’m 30 in April, so I’m not young anymore. The light switch hit that I want to play a couple more years in this league.”

Blue Jackets pull even with Flyers in points

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Blue Jackets pull even with Flyers in points

BOSTON -- Cam Atkinson scored 2:55 into overtime to lift the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 5-4 victory over Boston on Monday night for their eighth straight victory, spoiling a splendid NHL debut for Bruins forward Ryan Donato.

Sonny Milano, Boone Jenner, Thomas Vanek and Artemi Panarin also scored for the Blue Jackets. Nick Foligno had two assists, nd Vanek and Jenner each added one. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 34 shots.

Atkinson cut in on the left wing and fired a wrister past Rask for the game-winner.

Columbus moved into a tie with Philadelphia with 85 points, but the Flyers hold the tiebreaker for third place in the Metropolitan Division and the Blue Jackets hold the first wild card in the Eastern Conference.

Donato had a goal and two assists for Boston, which moved a point behind idle Tampa Bay for first in the Atlantic. Riley Nash, Brad Marchand and David Krejci also scored for the Bruins, and Tuukka Rask finished with 19 saves (see full recap).

Luongo, Panthers blank Canadiens
MONTREAL -- Roberto Luongo stopped 28 shots for his third shutout of the season and 76th of his career, leading the Florida Panthers to a 2-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night.

Aaron Ekblad and Aleksander Barkov scored to help the Panthers inch closer to a playoff position, pulling three points behind idle new Jersey for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. Florida has two games in hand on the Devils.

Antti Niemi finished with 38 saves for Montreal, which was shut out for the second straight game and 12th time this season -- including three against the Panthers. The Canadiens were coming off a 4-0 loss at Toronto on Saturday.

The opening 10 minutes saw two fights, one of which had Ekblad sparring with Nicolas Deslauriers. It may have fired up the big defenseman because he stole a puck from Michael McCarron, deked past defenseman Jeff Petry and beat Niemi with a move to the backhand for an unassisted goal with 1:29 left in the opening period.

Jacob De La Rose thought he had tied it for Montreal 17 seconds later, but a video review showed Alex Galchenyuk was offside by a toenail and it was waived off.

Barkov got his 26th of the season at 6:23 of the third when his shot from the left side went in off Montreal forward Logan Shaw.

Star goalie Carey Price returned to the Montreal lineup after concussion suffered Feb. 20. He backed up Niemi (see full recap).

Rinne makes 35 saves in Preds’ shutout
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Pekka Rinne stopped 35 shots for his eighth shutout of the season and the Nashville Predators set a franchise record by earning a point in their 15th consecutive game with a 4-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

Mike Fisher and Ryan Johansen scored goals 4:34 apart in the second period, and Filip Forsberg and Ryan Hartman sealed the victory by scoring in the final four minutes.

The NHL-leading Predators improved to 14-0-1 in their past 15, and also extended their team-best road winning streak to nine straight.

Rinne won his 11th straight to match his personal best in a stretch in which he's allowed just 18 goals. The shutout was the 51st of his 12-year career and third in nine games.

And Rinne also improved to 40-9-4 in becoming the NHL's seventh goalie to win 40 games in a season three or more times.

The Predators haven't lost in regulation since a 3-1 defeat to Detroit at home on Feb. 17. And they improved to 12-0-3 in their past 15 road games since a 3-0 loss at Vegas on Jan. 2 (see full recap).

Travis Konecny answering Flyers' call of duty

Travis Konecny answering Flyers' call of duty

Travis Konecny is one of a handful of young Flyers who thrives on confrontation, lining up an opponent in his crosshairs and going for the kill.

And that’s just his profile in Call of Duty — the popular war-based video game he plays occasionally with teammates.

And while Konecny didn't show up on the scoresheet Sunday evening, he still answered his call of duty, leading the charge in a variety of ways in the Flyers' 6-3 win over the Washington Capitals that inched the Flyers within four points of the division-leading Caps and two points of Pittsburgh for second place. All three teams return to action Tuesday with the Flyers in Detroit.

Battered, bloodied and perhaps a little beaten, Konecny was determined that the Capitals weren’t going to get the best of him.

“I just think I’ve learned in the two years I’ve been here it doesn’t matter what your role is on the team,” Konecny said after the game. “Everybody buys in, everybody blocks shots, everyone goes to the net, everyone backchecks. I think it’s a part of me that’s learned to become a Philadelphia Flyer.”

The orange and black uniform was only a cover for the black and blue bruises Konecny’s body endured. In the third period, he stood directly in the line of fire of Christian Djoos’s shot and then limped back to the locker room. On his next shift, Konecny blocked another shot from Dmitri Orlov.

Even after giving all the postgame interviews, Konecny was still limping. The playing surface at the Wells Fargo Center may not have had enough ice for all of his sore spots.

“He’s got the heart of a lion and I think you’ve seen that all year long,” said Wayne Simmonds, who tallied twice in the win. “I kept telling him that’s what winners are made of. It’s the type of effort we’re going to need from every single guy in this dressing room. He blocks one shot, he gets up slowly, gets back on the ice, blocks another.”

The clean-cut and rather reserved Konecny that came to the Flyers as a 19-year-old rookie last season has now been replaced with a more brash, tattoo-sporting, always-chirping Konecny with a longer hair style and the appearance of facial hair.

The only missing element to complete the look is a leather biker’s jacket.  

That rugged toughness was on display again when he dropped the gloves with Washington winger T.J. Oshie and bloodied his knuckles 7:41 into the third period.

“I just got high-sticked right before,” Konecny said. “I got frustrated and I finished my hit on him. Not a bad guy to take off the ice when they’re trying to score."

“It was awesome. It was great to see,” said Simmonds. “You see him get high-sticked there. He didn’t quit on the play and kept going. He battles with a guy who’s probably 20 pounds bigger, maybe more than that. It was a great emotional leap for the team in the third period there. Unbelievable job and kudos to him.”

Konecny, who has 19 goals and 22 asissts on the season and has earned Dave Hakstol's trust with a bump up to the first line alongside Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, has quickly rounded into a five-tool player this season with speed, playmaking, a scoring touch with a hard-nosed edge. Much like Brad Marchand with the Bruins, that type of player becomes vital once the postseason rolls around.

“It gives the bench a good injection of life,” said Hakstol. “They love it and guys love to see that on the bench. I think that’s what our guys expect, but it’s always great when you see one guy doing it.”  

Which is probably why Konecny enjoys that other Call of Duty. Another game with a similar approach, except a lot less painful.

Raffl out
General manager Ron Hextall announced Monday morning that forward Michael Raffl will miss two weeks with an upper-body injury suffered in the second period against the Capitals Sunday. Raffl, who has 11 goals and eight assists this year, had been seeing some time on the top line with Giroux and Couturier recently.