Flyers

Streaking Flames scorching everything in sight

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Streaking Flames scorching everything in sight

TAMPA, Fla. -- Johnny Gaudreau had a goal and an assist, Mike Smith made 33 saves, and the Calgary Flames beat the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 5-1 on Thursday night for their fifth straight victory.

Micheal Ferland, Sam Bennett, Mark Jankowski and Matthew Tkachuk also scored to help the Flames improve to 11-5-4 on the road. Gaudreau has nine assists and 10 points during a five-game points streak.

Brayden Point scored for Tampa Bay.

The Lightning lost All-Star defenseman Victor Hedman midway through the second with a lower-body injury.

Hedman was hit on side of his left knee during a collision with Calgary's Garnet Hathaway and needed assistance to the locker room. In Tuesday night's game against Carolina, Hedman could not put any weight on his left skate heading to the bench with three minutes left in the second but returned two minutes later.

Ferland opened the scoring 29 seconds into the game during a 2-on-1 off a pass from Sean Monahan. Ferland added an assist and has a four-game points streak (four goals, eight points), while Monahan has points in five straight (five assists, eight points) (see full recap).

Hurricanes beat Caps on day team sale is finalized
WASHINGTON -- Victor Rask broke a tie on a delayed penalty with 9:06 left to give the Carolina Hurricanes a 3-1 victory over the Washington Capitals on Thursday night, hours after the team's sale to Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon was finalized.

Rask's 11th goal of the season came with goalie Scott Darling pulled for the extra attacker after Tom Wilson was whistled for a penalty. The puck pinballed off several players in front and went to Rask at the side of the net.

By improving to 9-7-8 in one-goal games, Carolina leapfrogged the idle Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins to move into a playoff position after 42 games. Winger Justin Williams, who left Washington after two seasons, said the difference between the Capitals being in first place in the Metropolitan Division and the Hurricanes down the standings was success in tight games.

Co-captain Jordan Staal also scored and Sebastian Aho added an empty-netter for Carolina, which got 26 saves from Darling. Lars Eller scored and Braden Holtby stopped 30 of 32 shots for Washington, which had its five-game winning streak and NHL-best 11-game home winning streak snapped.

It's the Capitals' first home loss since Nov. 30 (see full recap).

Okposo, Sabres snap 5-game losing skid
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Kyle Okposo had a goal and assist, and the Buffalo Sabres snapped a five-game skid with a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Benoit Pouliot and Jack Eichel, with an empty-netter with 6 seconds left, also scored. Linus Ullmark stopped 44 shots in his first NHL game of the season.

Ullmark stopped the first 39 shots he faced before having his shutout bid foiled on Artemi Panarin's power-play goal with 6:15 remaining.

The Sabres ended an 0-4-1 skid and won in regulation for the first time in nine games. Buffalo's last victory was a 4-2 win over Philadelphia on Dec. 22.

The Blue Jackets had a two-game win streak snapped and failed to complete their sweep of a three-game season series against Buffalo. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 26 shots, but had little chance in stopping either of the two goals he allowed (see full recap).

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.